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This Is Not A Drill: My Thoughts On Lockdown Culture

It happened on a Wednesday.

 I was in math class, two minutes until we were supposed to leave for lunch. My teacher told us we could have the last few minutes to ourselves, pull out our phones, pack up early. With only eight days left of school for the year, everyone including the teachers and staff was cloaked in summer haze and wishing to just be done already. 

The bells in our school sound just like the call noise of an announcement, and it took everyone a few seconds to realize that the buzzing noise was lasting longer than a simple bell.

“Lockdown, Lockdown, This is not a drill.”

Everyone froze for a minute before getting into position. We’d done this a thousand times; what was one more? Except as my teacher guides us to the corner of the room and we file under her desk or sit with our knees to our chest against the wall, I can tell we’re all having that same thought: they’ve never said it was a drill. 

I looked around and could see a single thought forming over our heads: This was real.

I opened my phone immediately, already seeing three little dots indicating my friend was typing. My group chat was blown up with questions and fear, texts full of jokes veiling the panic quickly set in. 

At that moment the only thing I wanted to do was make sure my friends, these people who I considered my family at this point, were safe. When every noise from the hallway, every shift of a sneaker made my heart falter, I told my friends I wasn’t worried, that they would be safe. I told them I loved them and tried to make it not read like a preparation for the worst-case scenario. Just in case. 

I also texted my mom, telling her even though the announcements said this wasn’t a drill, I wasn’t worried. I would be fine. Just in case. 

A few minutes in, my teacher got up from sitting on the counter and opened the door. We had to be quiet, to be silent, but everyone in the classroom looked wildly at each other, begging someone to have answers. We were all thinking that someone would step in, and it would finally happen to us. It was irrational at the time, and I still don’t know what it truly says about me when the first and only thought in my head as my teacher clicked the door open was that I’d have to die for some of my classmates. Just in case. 

My math class was populated by mostly freshmen, with myself and a few other sophomores being the only exception. As someone who grew up with a younger sister, the idea of watching out for younger kids has been ingrained in my bones.  Even though they were only younger than me by a year at most. Even though I didn’t remember most of their names. Even though only two or three of the kids there I considered my friends. Even though the boy I was sitting next to had on countless occasions made homophobic jokes. Even though I was selfish and scared and wanted to see my friends and family again. I was convinced it would have to happen. I was one of the older kids there; I had to protect them. Just in case. 

Just in case my mom turned on the news and saw my name on a list. Just in case a hug outside of ceramics class was the last time I’d ever see my friend; Just in case the last words I said to her were “have fun in AP Gov” and not “I love you” like they should have been. Just in case my Spanish project partner became a hashtag. Just in case this was the moment our lives would change forever. 

Too little and too late, our principal’s voice over the loudspeaker reassures us that there was an incident near our school that had nothing to do with us and that this was just a safety precaution. They told us not to text our friends or our parents to spread false news or panic. They told us we would be safe. But they have no idea.

We are the first generation that has grown up with active shooter drills or lockdowns, to be scared every day in school. I can’t speak for everyone, because I know there are kids who don’t get scared when these things happen. However, I personally can’t help it. More and more shootings are happening all over America, and for more and more of us, it’s not a question of “if’ but “when”. 

Drills for natural disasters like fires or tornados are easy. They are actions practiced when we know we’re not in any immediate danger. There is a large difference between having to leave school and walk down a block and locking a class of kids in the chemistry lab closet, making us sitting ducks for an attacker simply because it’s a solution that won’t get the school sued. 

These drills have created a culture of fear in this generation of students, students who no longer feel safe at school. According to a Washington Post analysis, over four million kids in America went through lockdown drills in 2018 alone. Four million children, some of them as young as five years old, being trained to lock themselves in a room in case someone wants to come in to kill them.

This lockdown mindset we live in has desensitized many of us to the world and it’s accompanying violence. Parents and grandparents, even politicians, blame social media and video games for our lack of emotion as if combat video games haven’t existed for over thirty years, as if snapchat is the reason for our collective fear of gun violence. They and everyone else who hasn’t lived through lockdowns don’t realize that after being told from such a young age the horrifying things people do, after facing that harsh reality on a daily basis, how can we not be desensitized?

I understand that change is hard, that laws take time and there are complex systems to follow. But this reality cannot be excused There are no excuses for living in fear, not when we-as a country-are capable of easily bringing change and creating solutions for our problems. 

Those same people will still say we are too young to try and take this action. We’re too young to talk about gun control, we’re too young to stand up after Parkland. We’re too young to understand. And I agree with them. We are too young.

We are too young to think about dying. We are too young to think about having to sacrifice ourselves for a classmate. We are too young to be scared of fireworks when they sound like guns. We are too young to think about which of our school supplies could be used as weapons, which pen in our backpack would help us fight for our lives. We are too young to see children our age on spray-painted and candle filled memorials on the street, always thinking it could have been us. 

We are too young to be afraid every day. We are too young to be exposed to the terrors of the world that generations before us cultivated. 

But we are not too young to make a change. We are not too young to speak up. And we are not too young to fight back. 

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