Courage, Justice, Wisdom! We're going to need them all!


Email Sandra Nichols

  ". . . loyalty to your gang of friends or your country does not excuse you from the rules of civilized people"

ut of the horror of death and destruction, come tales of courage.

A planeload of people armed only with cell phones apparently sacrificed themselves to prevent a greater tragedy by wrestling a terrorist commandeered plane to the ground in Pennsylvania.

Firefighters, police, volunteers, medical and rescue workers put themselves in harm's way — as they do every day — this time in a frantic effort to save their fellow human beings, entrapped in rubble.

And a lone member of the House of Representatives stood up for what she believed, voting against 420 of her fellow Congress Members and 98 Senators. Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland, registered the sole "nay" against authorizing the President to use military force against the terrorists and those who harbor them. You may not agree with Rep. Lee, but hold your "boos"; she is not the villain.

I want to draw an analogy here between this huge, almost earth shattering terrorist act, and some smaller scale acts of terrorism, considering the way we have been taught in school and by our parents to deal with violence.

At schools, Intruder-on-campus drills teach an immediate response of lock-down and take cover, or evacuate if possible. Conventional wisdom when faced with street violence is also to take cover. Heroes step forth in both situations before the professionals arrive, sometimes to battle the perpetrators, sometimes to pull a child to cover. Law enforcement arrives with the desired effect being protection of the victims and the arrest of the perpetrators, who are then brought to justice in a court of law.

It doesn't always run smoothly! Sometimes the justice system lets us down. Sometimes the guilty walk away based on a legal technicality or some other sort of fluke in the system.

Not long ago I attended a murder trial. The victim had been a friend of mine. The evidence showed that this was not a crime of passion but one of gang turf. The accused was acquitted. It is not for me to judge the verdict. But I do know this; no one was held responsible for the crime in a court of law. Yet the system worked to stop that particular chain of violence. The victim's relatives helped this happen by publicly pleading against gang retaliation. Civilized behavior triumphed over evil, for the good of the community.

Whether it's a school, a gang, or a country, loyalty and competitive rivalry — at times hatred — exist. A member of one gang wreaks havoc upon a member of a rival gang. Retaliation happens!

Sometimes, when you look at the big picture you are faced with such an incomprehensible event that you can not reason through what plan of action would be best. Rep. Lee advocated taking some time to contemplate our response. She said, "There must be some of us who say, let's step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today - let us more fully understand its consequences. Far too many innocent people have already died."

Yes. Far too many innocents have fallen in our schools, in our streets and in our cities. However, loyalty to your gang of friends or your country does not excuse you from the rules of civilized people. What a noble, shining example we would be if we used our clout and financial resources to track down the guilty and bring them to justice in a court of law. This would be a maneuver worthy of the title, "Operation Infinite Justice."

I read an anti-war piece some years back called, "We kill our children and call it glory." I kept the article in my desk and dug it out today. It made me weep, just as I weep for the victims of our national tragedy. The author, Katie Sharrod, wrote that the cry most often heard when soldiers die is "Mama! Mama!"

Parenthood is a huge issue in war. Recent news interviews reported the comments of the new mothers and fathers whose babies were born on September 11 and the days following. These parents were unanimous in their advocacy of a peaceful solution. Top on their minds: what kind of world will we leave for our children?

In schools we deal with the weeping and the fear. We deal with young minds that look to us for lessons about how just and educated people respond to violence. Old Glory is waving at half staff and we are passionate in our solidarity with our compatriots. Let us rise to the occasion and respond with wisdom and justice, in solidarity with not only Americans, but our fellow inhabitants of the planet.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Sept. 23, 2001. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2001