A balm for sorrow: random acts of kindness
As the nation mourns the loss of 26 innocent lives at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the debate already has begun on how to prevent such carnage.
I'm not going to pretend to have the answers here.
But I do know we could all use an extra dose of kindness these days. No, it probably won't ease the grief for heartbroken parents in Newtown, but it can help the rest of us do more than shake our heads at an unimaginable act of violence. It can help us see the good — and the selfless and compassionate and generous, those who give time they don't have and money they could easily spend on themselves. And maybe we can celebrate by perpetuating their examples.
On Friday, as we were still sifting fact from rumor in Newtown, a group of MBA students from Rollins College were donating new 1,100 new toys they'd collected to the young patients in Arnold Parlmer Children's Hospital.
On Saturday, 200 people were spending a precious day off volunteering in Sanford to make sure thousands of Central Florida children would have a Christmas. The nonprofit Harvest Time International opened its doors, as it has each year for the past 14 years, for a free toy shop where impoverished parents could select gifts for their kids. The toys — about 10,000 of them, all new — were donated by individuals, corporations, churches, civic organizations, schools and families.
Early last week, as part of the Toys for Tots campaign run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Disney volunteers helped deliver more than 30,000 toys, games and books collected by company employees in just three weeks.
In late November, on a day set aside this year for charitable giving -- Giving Tuesday -- an anonymous family in Naples pledged to match all donations made to Give Kids The World, up to $10,000. Donors were encouraged to share the opportunity by writing a “2” on their hand (as in two times the donation) and sharing the picture on their Facebook or Twitter page. The result? In just 24 house, the charity for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families had $50,000 in donations pour in.
And in the month of November alone, Floridians from Pensacola to Miami adopted more than 500 children from the state's child-welfare system. For kids who had been orphaned, abandoned, abused and neglected, it meant a fresh start at a forever familiy. Throughout the year, roughly 2,500 other adoptive parents have followed suit.
In fact, you don't have to look too hard to see kindness and generosity surrounding us. Every day, doctors, dentists and nurses volunteer their time and considerable expertise to help patients who can't afford health care. Every day, the record number of individuals who have joined AmeriCorps nd other national service agencies do everything from helping farm workers to tutoring school kids to aiding survivors of fires, floods, hurricanes and blizzards. Heroes among us have gone to the most remote, hostile regions of the globe to help strangers — or stayed home to build houses and donate blood and bring meals to their neighbors.
No amount of good deeds will bring back the children who died in Newtown Friday, nor the adults gunned down while protecting them. But for the rest of us, what we choose to do with our grief will either compound the tragedy or honor those too-short lives.
There's no magic shield as educators struggle to ensure kids are safe
by Sharon Noguchi
On campuses throughout the Bay Area, it was math and phonics as usual Monday -- although in the back of teachers' minds, the tape of the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn., ran, over and over.
School leaders assured parents that their campuses have in place security devices and protocols -- ranging from visitor sign-in requirements to lockdown practices for students. But even as they expressed confidence in those measures, school officials also were reflecting on how they could improve them.
Valley Christian Schools in San Jose quickly plugged what it saw as a hole in its security: On Monday, it added an armed guard to its elementary school staff.
After Columbine, the private school began posting armed guards at its junior high and high school campus. School officials didn't believe the elementary school was as vulnerable, Chief Operating Officer Steve McMinn said. "We've had our opinions changed in a hurry."
The three campuses, which together have 2,400 students, also will boost other measures intended to buy time and reduce casualties in case of an attack.
In general, public schools are looking not for the elusive shield to guard against every possible threat, but a way to better prepare staff members to defuse explosive human interactions, channel students and families to appropriate help and spot early warnings of disaster.
"Anyone with a kid was severely shaken up on Friday," said Jason Willis, assistant superintendent of the San Jose Unified School District.
California schools lack the sophisticated protection systems Newtown had installed. Besides, weather and suburban design led to open campuses difficult to insulate from the outside world. And then there's the sobering reality: Sandy Hook Elementary's electronic and mechanical safeguards didn't deter a gunman who blasted through a locked outer door and killed 26 at the school.
Thus many California schools see as critical tools an alert and trained staff, engaged students and involved community.
"I think it's obvious that a determined individual with assault weapons who knows how to use them is going to overcome any defenses that we could practically have at a school site," said Troy Flint, spokesman for the Oakland Unified School District. The district has its own police force with more than a dozen officers, plus other campus security officers.
In the West Contra Costa School District, newer schools have security cameras and all campuses are surrounded by fences or structures, spokesman Marin Trujillo said. Administrators and others patrol campuses to guard against intruders, he said.
But in the South Bay, many campuses are unfenced or have multiple entry points not easily blocked. "I don't think the community wants our schools to look like prisons, where we have barbed wire fence or metal detectors," said Chris Funk, superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. Still, the district's 11 comprehensive high schools all have surveillance cameras and police on campus.
East Side, like many other districts, last week sent parents emails and auto-dial phone calls to express condolences, offer support in helping children cope and reassure parents about security procedures.
How well security protocols work depend on staff. Last year at Morrill Middle School in San Jose, teacher Robert Wright noticed a suspicious person in the yard. For 45 minutes he tried to alert various people in the school office. "I just got voice mail and none of my calls were returned," he said.
Events short of a tragedy put district procedures through a dry run. On Monday, an anonymous caller to Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill threatened "You're next" -- in an apparent reference to Friday's shooting in Connecticut.
The middle school and adjacent elementary campus were immediately placed on lockdown until Pleasant Hill police determined 30 minutes later that there was no threat.
The Cupertino Union School District is reviewing security in the wake of not only the Newtown killings, but also a scare Thursday after graffiti threatening a Monta Vista High School teacher was discovered.
Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies and Berkeley police increased patrols around schools Monday. "The idea is for it to be reassuring," Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said.
Amid the precautions, officials said it's important to remember that school shootings, while horrific, are rare. "The chances of something like this happening are vanishingly small," said Kevin Skelly, superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District. ï»¿"In a free and open society, we want to have schools that are open places that invite community."
And that adult-student connection, officials say, is critical.
"When your school is considered a community, and parents know teachers, and teachers know students by name, it's like having eyes in the back of your head," said Funk of East Side Union. "Everyone's out there taking care of each other."
Forget gun control; give us mental health
by Stephanie Nelson
Given my chosen profession, it's safe to say I'm all for people exercising their right to the freedom of speech.
So, here's mine on the recent school shooting in Connecticut that claimed the lives of 20 children and seven adults.
We can all agree that the death of so many innocent people is trulytragic. When I first heard the news, all I could think of was those parents having to go home and seeing the presents under the Christmas tree. Makes me tear up now thinking about it.
When news of the shooting broke, the discussions began – mostly about the senselessness of the situation (of which I agree), followed closely by opinions on gun control.
I've really given the subject of gun control in this specific situation a lot of thought. It is my belief that gun control, or the perceived lack thereof, had nothing to do with that shooting. That shooting had everything to do with Adam Lanza.
Lanza, from all accounts, was a deeply troubled individual, but that does not excuse his behavior.
It does, however, rest at the root of the situation.
Lanza made a conscious decision to arm himself, kill his mother, shoot his way through Sandy Hook Elementary School and then take his ownlife.
On Tuesday, a retired FBI profiler said that by stockpiling ammunition, smashing his computers and killing his mother as she slept, Lanza undertook considerable preparation before shooting up an elementary school on Friday.
When a determined individual makes up their mind, that's the end of things. Ask a survivor of suicide, drunk driving or premeditated murder.
Each of their motivations is different. Those committing suicide seek only to end their suffering and don‘t consider how their actions impact those left behind. Drunk drivers give no thought past their next drink, and murderers need not be defined.
But school shooters, in most cases, are people who are seeking the one thing they feel they‘d never gotten before – someone to take notice – and no amount of gun control is going to change that.
Forget gun control. What we need is better mental health diagnosis, counseling and treatment plans. I believe that is the main way we can protect our families – not just against school shootings, but also those incidents and the abuse that spirals out from poor anger management control, domestic violence, self-esteem issues and the like.
By treating the root of the problem, we weed out that which destroys our families.
So, instead of casting blame or pointing fingers, send up a prayer.
Heaven knows they're needed, not only by those in Connecticut, but also those suffering abuse or injustice in silence.
Gun buyback in Van Nuys on Dec. 26
-- Los Angeles police will buy back guns in Van Nuys and South L.A. on Dec. 26, an annual event normally in springtime that was moved earlier after the Connecticut school shootings.
Individuals who turn in their weapons will receive gift certificates of up to $200 from Ralphs markets.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced this week that they moved up the annual gun buyback from Mother's Day weekend in an effort to reduce gun violence in the city.
"Cities and states must join with the federal government to do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to keep our communities safe," Villaraigosa said. "It is absolutely critical to provide Angelenos with concrete actions they can take today to make our city safer tomorrow."
Villaraigosa announced he was moving up the date of the buyback in response to the Newtown, Conn., shootings that took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
The program is under the auspices of the Mayor's Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office in partnership with the LAPD and community organizations.
Over the years, the city has collected more than 8,000 firearms.
The cost per firearm will depend on its type - up to $200 for assault weapons and up to $100 for handguns, rifles and shotguns. The LAPD Gun Unit will be on site to determine the type of classification of the firearm surrendered.
Police don't ask questions of those who turn in the guns.
The buybacks will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m at two locations: The Van Nuys Masonic Temple, 14750 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, and the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Parking Lot 6, 3939 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.
Utah sixth-grader taken into custody after bringing gun to school, cites mass shooting fear
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah sixth-grader caught with a gun at school told administrators he brought the weapon to defend himself in case of an attack similar to last week's mass shooting at a Connecticut school, officials said Tuesday.
The 11-year-old was being held in juvenile detention on suspicion of possessing a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault after other students at the suburban Salt Lake City elementary school told police he threatened them with the handgun.
Teachers and administrators at West Kearns Elementary School confronted the boy in class Monday after students reported the weapon, said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley. The boy had an unloaded gun and ammunition in his backpack, Horsley said.
The boy waved the gun at others during a morning recess, school officials said. Other students, however, didn't report the threat until classes were nearly finished for the day. There was no immediate explanation for the delay, authorities said.
Authorities have not released the child's name. The .22-caliber handgun had been left at the boy's home by a relative, Horsley said.
The child made statements to administrators and mentioned the shooting rampage last week in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead, authorities said.
The boy told others his parents sent him to school with the gun for protection, which his parents adamantly deny, Horsley said.
“The family is rocked by this. They have been very forthcoming,” Horsley said.
The boy was expected to be charged in juvenile court Tuesday, Horsley said.
“This kid made a mistake, and he knows it,” Horsley said. “He feels bad about it, and his parents are cooperating with the investigation. He will not be coming back to this school.”
No one was injured.
Two other Utah schools were dealing with rumors of gun possession by students that turned out to be false, underscoring fears spread by the Connecticut shooting.
Separately, Utah's attorney general-elect, John Swallow, said he planned to make school safety a high priority and that fortifying schools might be one solution.
“When we had the issue with the airliners, for example, we strengthened the cockpit doors so that terrorists on the plane couldn't get through to the pilot,” Swallow told The Associated Press.
Granite School District officials said they have a high level of security compared to other Utah schools. The district employs its own police force with 16 armed officers on patrol, plus school resource officers who are off-duty police officers.
Sanford panel asked to help heal relations between community, cops
by Martin E. Comas, Orlando Sentinel
SANFORD — A group of nearly two dozen Sanford residents was asked Tuesday night to come up with ideas to build better relations between citizens and the police department in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Over the next six months, the Police Community Relations Blue Ribbon Panel will be asked to take a look at the Police Department's policies and procedures regarding community relations and suggest how those can be improved.
The panel, including businessmen, lawyers, pastors and a former mayor, also will be responsible for coming up with strategies to strengthen community policing and crime-prevention efforts.
"Give us what you think we need to improve the relations between the community and the Sanford Police Department," City Manager Norton Bonaparte told the 11 panelists who attended the introductory meeting. "I don't think that the trust is there [between the community and the Police Department]. So how do we rebuild that trust?...You have the opportunity to re-shape the Sanford community for years to come."
When George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon in a gated community in February, Sanford was portrayed throughout the nation as a city troubled with racism after police decided not to immediately charge Zimmerman.
Protesters marched on city streets, and residents spoke of their long-held distrust of Sanford police.
Zimmerman, 29, has since been charged with second-degree murder. He is currently free on a $1 million bond and awaiting trial.
But the shooting death also rekindled long held fears among black residents regarding Sanford police. Nearly 15 months before Trayvon was shot, Justin Collison, who is white, punched a homeless black man. The attack was unprovoked and a video showed the victim falling forward, hitting his head on a pole and dropping to the ground.
The event sparked outrage, especially among Sanford's black community, when police officers did not frisk or handcuff Collison, whose father was a police lieutenant with the department.
Bonaparte said the panel's creation is part of a "nine point plan" to help Sanford police "heal and reunite" with the community.
Cynthia Schmidt, head of the University of Central Florida's department of legal studies' center for law and policy, was selected to facilitate the panel's meetings.
Allie Braswell, a panelist and president of the Central Florida Urban League, said he wants to see Sanford become known as more than a place where a teenager was killed.
"We want to see a better Sanford, and see Sanford move forward," Braswell said.