I’ve Known Gun Violence

I’ve known gun violence. Intimately.

An in-law was gunned down at his front door by police responding to a “Black burglar.” He was fortunate to live. In college, my roommates were threatened by shotgun-toting White student. When my Black roommates complained to the Pennsylvania State Police, the police chose not to investigate. One of my favorite students ever was murdered by someone who had a gun and didn’t have control of his anger. The man I replaced in my first job as principal had actually been shot in the halls of one of our local high schools.

Oh yeah, and months after graduating college, I was shot and left for dead.

So, yes, I want gun reform. In fact, I’m demanding it. But it’s more complicated than it seems.

This might surprise you, but I’m not wholly against guns. In fact, I own multiple guns. But I believe our current gun laws do not keep us safe and perpetuate a vicious cycle of violence that disproportionately affects our communities of color. I believe that politicians have been bought off by an overly powerful gun lobby and they’re selling us out.

It Gets Worse

Now the White House is moving ahead with an absurd and misguided plan to place guns in teachers’ hands—in close proximity of our students.

If I even entertain this ridiculous plan for a minute, the first thing I think is that it will push our Black and Latino students into harm’s way. Meanwhile, these mass shootings are occurring in predominantly White schools.

You see, I already know how this movie plays out. Our communities have for too long endured the consequences of putting guns in the hands of those who purportedly are here to protect us.

Sadly, as insidious as this plan is, Trump is not alone in thinking it’s a good idea.

Local police chief, Mike Chitwood, is also excited to have teachers add guns to their laptops, white boards and gradebooks.

There’s a trend here. Chitwood was one of Philly’s former police chiefs under Rizzo. He has shown deep disdain about communities of color throughout his career. He continues today with his terrible idea about gun-toting teachers and staff.

Chitwood envisions a voluntary program that would allow pre-selected teachers or other school personnel to carry concealed guns in school in order to fire back at an active shooter.

Pennsylvania law bars anyone from carrying guns in school or on school grounds. The ‘Save our Children’ initiative, as Chitwood calls it, would therefore require the state government to make an exception for teachers pre-selected by a school superintendent or the school board.

No Guns in Any School

We are painfully aware that Black communities are over-policed. We recognize that many of our school “dropouts” are in fact students who’ve been pushed out by policies and people who have failed them. We are forced to acknowledge that race colors so many interactions between Black and Brown students and their predominantly White teachers.

Worse, we know that White supremacist thinking and actions in our schools is a real thing. And so is teacher rage.

So, no, I do not want teachers of any race carrying firearms in our school building.

But I will take it a step further: I don’t want a single person having a gun inside of our schools.

Years ago, our students were being assaulted on their way home from school. After much debate, we hired a security team to support “safe corridors” for kids on their way to and from school.

We were horrified when they showed up with holstered guns. We told them they misunderstood.

Yes, we wanted support and safety, but not that way.

We wanted a security team that would be present, build relationships with our students and other community members, and engage youth. Not look like cops.

They insisted, using the very same rhetoric we’re hearing now from those who would arm teachers. It’s for the children’s protection, they said. They are trained to use firearms and have passed multiple tests, they assured us.

But we insisted there would be no guns in our building. We severed the relationship. A conflict between kids or with an adult doesn’t need to have a potentially lethal outcome.

First and foremost, we want our children and communities to be safe. Not sure I can say the same of Chitwood, Trump, and many others.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


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