White Man Yelling in a Crowded Hall: How do we react?

Last night, it became crystal clear that my daughter is the generation raised with gun violence as an everyday aspect of their lives.  I knew that, of course.  I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years and we’ve been doing lockdown drills for what seems like forever. But this . . .

We were at an Eric Swalwell town forum on gun violence.  City Hall was packed with standing room only in the back.  It had been planned very quickly in reaction to the three horrible mass murders in the last week, the first being in Gilroy (in a neighboring district), so the fact that there were so many people there was heartening.

Congressman Swalwell started giving his opening remarks when an older white man off to our right started yelling. Turns out he was yelling an affirmation — something about how we are more about love in this district than hate and that love will win.  Who could argue?   At first, all I could think was “oh dear . . . gun reform is getting off to a loud start.”  But as he expressed himself, I found myself thankful for his comment which was met with applause.

My daughter, a young adult, had a different reaction, though.  WAY different.  And I didn’t even see it.

As we were leaving, she brought up the man yelling.  “Mom, I froze.  All I saw was a white man yelling and when I looked at him, his shirt looked bulky as if he might have had something hidden.”  I stopped in my tracks.  She went on.  “I didn’t know what to do.  I pulled my knees up to my chest and wondered if I would be able to hide in between the seats.”  All I could do was hug her.

When I was very young, we had drills in school as to how to shelter in place in the event of a nuclear bomb.  But those faded quickly and I grew up feeling safe in my neighborhood.  There were no social media platforms where I could look up what a nuclear bomb was or what its aftermath would look like.  My own fears, if I had any, weren’t escalated by scrolling through others’ fears.  My world was blessedly small and contained within the few square blocks of my house and my elementary school.  The world was good and full of trust — at least to my young mind.

Try as hard as I could to protect them and shield them from harm, my daughters grew up in a different world.  Since Columbine, mass murders have become commonplace and even the idea of trying to save people from certain death at the hands of assault weapons seems divisive.  School drills and social media has put it all into our children’s hands daily. Even being the parents who didn’t give their children a phone until late in middle school couldn’t protect them when so many of the other kids had phones in their pockets.

When the man’s voice was raised in a crowded space, I wondered what he had to say.  My daughter, a young adult, felt immediate fear and sought shelter.  What a difference in a generation.  What have we done to our children?  When will we say ENOUGH?

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