Letter from the editor: Gen Z is done with just “thoughts and prayers”


Chris Estrada

Gabrielle Abdelmessih is the editor-in-chief of The Oakland Post for the 2022-2023 academic year. She is a senior majoring in biomedical sciences and minoring in journalism.

Feb. 16, 2018

I was a junior in high school, taking an AP Biology quiz. At that moment, mitosis and meiosis were the only things on my mind. Suddenly, sirens started blaring. The fire alarms were going off.

Everyone’s focus in my classroom shifted from their quizzes to the classroom door. “Oh my god,” I thought, “it might happen here.”

Just a few days ago, one might have thought this was a routine drill that got us out of class or that one of the cool chemistry teachers accidentally set off the smoke detectors again after a lab activity – but that was before a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, murdering 17 people and injuring 17 others. A fire alarm, either activated by the smoke from the gunfire or pulled by the gunman, prompted students and staff to exit the shelter of their classrooms and into the rapid gunfire.

My teacher instructed us to stay in our seats as she peered into the hallway to see what other teachers were doing. No one wanted to leave. Our principal even announced over the intercom for everyone to remain in their classrooms while they investigated why the alarms went off.

It turns out a fire alarm was accidentally pulled. Normal classes resumed, but everyone was a bit shaken up — it didn’t happen, but it very well could have.

I share this story because this is the tragic reality of a student living in the United States of America. Taking an AP Biology quiz? Laughing with your friends in the cafeteria? Walking to your locker? You could be eviscerated by an AR-15.

The possibility is always there, and most children, as well as the teachers, staff, and administrators of today, are aware of that harrowing thought. The question is, are the politicians at Capital Hill and Americans who graduated from high school before Columbine?

I grew up attending school during a time when practicing lockdown and active shooter drills were a common occurrence. School shootings were, too. Nothing has changed since I graduated from high school.

My parents didn’t grow up with those practices or the threat of a shooting. Your parents or perhaps you yourself didn’t grow up with that either. They didn’t discuss with their peers where they would hide in their school if a gunman should enter. My friends and I did. Their teachers didn’t keep bags of coins or baseball bats as classroom defense methods. Mine did. If you are a college student or younger, all of this probably sounds familiar to you, too.

The threat to American schools changed after Columbine. It is reflected in Sandy Hook, Parkland, Oxford, Uvalde and unfortunately, many more. And this isn’t the only threat of gun violence — now the leading cause of death for children in the United States — they face.

It is a public health crisis that requires comprehensive public health strategy and gun reform. If we could restrict smoking, mandate car seatbelts and establish the TSA to reduce safety risks, we can do something about this never-ending crisis.

The primarily old, white, upper-class members of Congress, who did not grow up with the threat of school shootings or in environments with stark disparities, can’t get anything done.

I don’t know about you, but I am frustrated by the lack of substantive action.

However, I do have hope. The children who have grown up in this era of violence — who will grow up, obtain positions of power and go on to have children of their own — will not tolerate this any longer.

Gen Z is done with just “thoughts and prayers.”