COMMENTARY: A student’s response to hatred

On Wednesday, March 14, students from schools across the nation stood together to mourn the 17 dead in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting a month prior in Parkland, Florida.

One of these schools was Sussex Technical High School in Georgetown, where I am a student. In the wake of the shooting and after hearing talk of the national walkout, a few of us from a creative writing elective decided we would work to make the demonstration a reality at Sussex Tech, and we met with our administration to clarify the message.

The message that we agreed upon was an “activity” (specifically not a protest, as we were told this was not appropriate) supporting school safety, anti-school violence, and most importantly remembrance for the dead.

Our principal, Dr. John Demby, looked me in the eyes and said “I’m considering you the ringleader.” I’d like to thank him for giving us a voice. I was not actually present for the walkout on Wednesday, but I trusted the students of our school to make us proud. For the most part, they did. I have seen videos and pictures of hundreds of my peers holding hands in silence and respect. But there were exceptions. And I am not referring to the flag that has received so much media coverage.

What has not been reported or posted about is the large number of students touting NRA T-shirts, shouting during the silence, and laughing. There has not been a viral picture of the select few holding a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag outside the circle of mourners. There has been no mention of those who made a mockery of our cause.

This past week my friends, who held the United States flag upside down, have consistently received threats via Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat from teenagers and adults alike. Grown adults have referred to “them” (I assume they mean student activists with opinions that differ from theirs) as “diseases that need to be eradicated” and have resorted to degrading and dehumanizing name calling (which I would include if they were not profane and offensive).

The two who held the flag, who I consider friends, have both been berated and attacked. The day after the walkout, I stood with them waiting outside to enter the school, afraid that they would be beaten up for voicing their opinions. For those who don’t know, the United States Flag Code says that the flag should never be displayed upside down unless used as a sign of distress. As a student of a high school, knowing full well that it could have been us that fateful day, I’d argue we’re under distress.

Nearly 19 years ago it was Columbine, then Sandy Hook in 2012, now Stoneman Douglas. This could have easily been Cape Henlopen High, or Indian River, or Sussex Tech. I do not feel safe in my own school.

A statement from Sussex Tech school board president Pat Cooper has been issued. In this statement, Cooper says, “I don’t know the kids and they may not know what exactly they did or they may have” as well as, “it’s just kids being kids.” The article from which I obtained this puts the walkout in quotes.

There are many things I find shocking about this ordeal. I find it shocking that students standing up for what they believe in are written off as unaware, uninformed, and “kids being kids”. I find it remarkable that supporters of the Second Amendment are so afraid of students armed with the First.

I am tired of students’ voices being dulled and watered down. We know full well what we are doing, and our message is clear. I am ashamed by the students who have made threats. I am ashamed of the parents and adults who spewed hate behind a screen. But most of all, I am proud.

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