Linda and I went to a vigil today in Knoxville for the murdered kids from Florida.
Mainly kids spoke. They spoke about what it was like to be young in America. They were 15-17 years old and all of them knew about death. They knew what it meant to live in fear. They knew things no young person should know.
They talked about the idea that no one should face the threat of military weapons in their classrooms, in their churches, anywhere in their daily lives. One of them said it was really not a Republican /Democrat debate any longer. He felt like it was a debate between decent and indecent people. Too many innocent people had died.
They felt like a government bought and paid for by the NRA was not really government of the people and that was a pointless hypocrisy they saw no need in buying into.
I listened to a girl talk about the death of her best friend. He had died trying to shield two innocent girls by people just looking for someone to kill. She broke down and cried when she got to the words “best friend” but she made it through.
The church we were in was the site of a mass shooting ten years ago. Two of the speakers had been there. One had been six. She talked about hiding and her father finding her out back behind the bushes and the terror in his voice as he screamed her name. She cried softly as she talked. She talked about years trying to learn to live and get past. The other girl had been 8. She was in the children’s play being done that morning. She knows now the shooters aim was 10-15 feet from her when he was tackled. She had also been part of a shooting at her school. She talked about being angry and about looking at every room she came into for a quick exit should the need arise. She talked about trying to decide if her science book or math book was more likely to stop a bullet.
One girl talked about missing her study partner. One morning she didn’t come. She had been murdered the night before by a disgruntled ex boyfriend with an assault rifle.
One guy talked about the day he heard a classmate wanting to shoot up the hallway in his school.
Everybody who talked knew tragedy. They knew a childhood, a youth no longer safe. And they didn’t understand or buy the notion that it was okay for bad guys to have such an easy run. And they didn’t understand about grown-ups telling them it was not a good time to talk about it.
The crowd yelled and applauded but many just cried. I did. I wondered what kind of country we were that our children must live in fear and know such tragedy to protect some “right”. A right that protected my right to acquire the capacity to kill large amounts of innocent people in quick time.
Now is the time. The last speaker, an aged veteran of the Civil rights movement spoke. He talked about overcoming. He talked about peace. He talked about a better place and a better time.
I saw a lot of red eyes when I walked out. Everybody wanted to help. Linda and I hope to go to Nashville next week. We hope to join hundreds of others talking to our representatives giving the simple message. Murder will no longer be accepted as a political necessity by the people of this state and any values that tried to defend it were not values but a betrayal of the people of this state.
Schools should not be combat zones and the children of our state should not have to survive a war to become an adult.