Last month a Marinette high school student took his own life when police rushed into a classroom after hearing shots fired.
It will be some time before all the details come to light, and we may never know the exact cause of why this student took hostages at his high school or why he decided to end his life. Nor do we know whether school officials could have done something to prevent this incident. It is entirely possible that nothing more could have been done.
Nevertheless, an all too frequent statement was made in interviews with people in the Marinette community. “We didn’t think it could happen here.” This follows an all too familiar pattern. School shootings usually take place in suburban and small town schools.
Urban schools, where we think such shootings are more likely, rarely have such incidents. Students might be killed outside the school building or in the city’s neighborhoods, not in the schools themselves.
A few years back, a Wisconsin school administrator was killed in a high school in rural Cazenovia near Reedsburg. Before that, an administrator was shot by a former student at Wauwatosa West. That’s it. To date, no one has been shot and killed in a Milwaukee school or any other large urban district in Wisconsin.
There are two factors which might explain why shootings rarely happen in Milwaukee or any other large school district around the country. And those factors relate to an attitude that “it can happen here” in urban districts.
Urban school officials take virtually every precaution to prevent such shootings. People have to push a button to get into school once the school day has started. Security checks, metal detectors, and cameras are a regular part of the school environment. Safety assistance and police patrol the halls.
But the students themselves may be the greatest deterrent. These city kids have seen shootings in their neighborhoods first hand. They know when something is going down. They have to know these things in order to survive on the streets. And while city students may rarely cooperate with police in their neighborhoods, there is no such reluctance when it comes to their survival in a school setting. They will confide about a gun situation with one of their teachers, safety assistants, or a liaison school police officer if they personally know such adults. The guns are found and incidents are avoided.
Once again, Marinette school officials may have done everything right, and this school shooting still could have taken place. Nevertheless, every community must have the attitude “it can happen here” because it can.