Security Reigns

Putney, Wilcox: Keep guns out of classrooms


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The ‘Building An Inclusive City’ discussion at the McGlohon Theater.

Erin Keever/WFAE

In a live webcast Monday evening on the department’s Facebook page, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox talked about the steps they’re taking to try to prevent school shootings. The most encouraging sign was the immediate, categorical rejection by both men of the absurd idea of arming teachers.

“I just don’t think adding more guns to an already volatile situation makes sense,” Wilcox said, echoing the stance of state Superintendent Mark Johnson from earlier in the day. “I think it confuses the situation for an officer who has to respond, because who is the good guy, who is the bad guy in that (situation)? We don’t have time for the officer to sort that out.”

“I don’t think you should have guns in classrooms. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Putney said. “I just don’t think that’s even a conversation to have.”

It might have been better if Wilcox hadn’t adopted the Wayne LaPierre good guy/bad guy framing, or if both Wilcox and Putney had chuckled and told host and CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano, “Good one, next question,” but their answers sufficed. Here was the discouraging part: The seeming acceptance by both the chief and superintendent that our public schools are going to have to look and behave more like armed encampments.

This is not intended as a criticism of either. The situation, as former Panthers coach John Fox used to say, is what it is, and what it is is monstrous, appalling; so much of the public conversation about guns in the nearly two weeks since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has seemed hysterical in large part because the reality is, in fact, insane. “Is this the point we’re at now in society?” Tufano asked at one point Monday evening.

How can we keep living like this? For Putney and Wilcox, the answer is tighter security. They mostly discussed restricting access to school properties by all sorts of means: using security wands and magnetometers at school entrances, installing more extensive perimeter fences, reassessing the effectiveness of scannable access cards, decreasing the number of possible points of access to, in the chief’s words, create “a pristine environment” to keep intruders and guns out. Putney also suggested using retired CMPD officers to provide a level of protection beyond school resource officers. Some of these may well be good ideas. But they’d cost, of course, and many CMS campuses aren’t built to be easily protected within a fence; take Myers Park High, with its 62-acre campus and 13 buildings. Of course, MPHS was built in 1951, when the notion of schools designed to protect hundreds of students against mass murder was unimaginable.

It’s reality now, close to being accepted as a given in the absence of any national effort to stem the availability of weapons of war to whomever might want one (or two, or seven). The National Rifle Association has weighed in with their recommendation for school design, given the new reality they’ve enabled. After the Newtown massacre in 2012, the organization published a report that offers suggestions to any school district trying to harden its targets; among the report’s suggestions are stout perimeter fencing, a minimum of trees and bushes that could provide hiding places, minimal windows, and extensive internal and external surveillance—in short, a semi-prison, but with inspirational posters and pencil sharpeners.

Nothing Putney or Wilcox suggested Monday came close to that. But their suggestions moved CMS a step or two closer to it. “You’ve got to stop guns from getting there,” the chief said, “and the more people that it takes on the front end to keep them from doing so, I’m in support of.” You wonder how far down that road law enforcement and educators travel before education takes second place behind merely keeping the kids alive.

Putney took part in another discussion last week, this one a special episode of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks held at the McGlohon Theater and devoted to the idea of an “inclusive city.” The panelists were four people, all African-American, who hold prominent positions in government: Putney, Mayor Vi Lyles, City Manager Marcus Jones, and District Attorney Spencer Merriweather. Never before have so many black people held positions of power in Charlotte, and the episode was devoted to exploring what that might mean.

Most of the conversation boiled down to, Yes, it’s great for black people to attain those offices, but what matters is how they use them. “Nothing gets automatically better just because you have a title before your name,” Merriweather said. “What is true is, you have an opportunity to do work, so it’s incumbent on each of us … to do exactly that.”

Fair enough. During the Q&A period, though, community activist and entrepreneur David Butler asked a provocative question about overcoming Charlotte leaders’ tendency to reject fresh ideas out of hand. “We do a lot of box-checking when it comes to diversity,” Butler said. “What are we doing to ensure there is diversity of thought when attacking these specific ideas and when we’re thinking about solutions?”

Putney, who’s been trying to connect with as many community leaders as he can since the Keith Scott protests in 2016, responded by saying, basically: I’ll hear whatever ideas you’ve got. Then QCityMetro’s Glenn Burkins, who was co-hosting with Mike Collins, took Butler’s premise even further. “I’ve heard that sentiment expressed many times,” Burkins said. “Put a different way, I’ve heard people say that Charlotte is very generous, but it’s very paternalistic in its generosity. [Emphasis mine.] It wants to try things in a certain way. It wants certain people to make decisions.”

“Paternalistic in its generosity.” Is there a better way to describe this city’s (and a lot of others’) attitude toward extending opportunity to its racial minorities? “Inclusion” is one of those terms, like “transparency” and “justice,” with a definition so nebulous you can get lost in it. But Burkins’ point zeroed in on what inclusion actually means: a sharing not just of opportunity but power, a willful surrendering by—let’s be honest—white men of their traditional presumption of leadership.

That, thankfully, is starting to change. The four panelists were evidence of that. So is the new crop of City Council members, whose white representatives don’t seem to see themselves as benevolent father figures. “Public servant” is good enough, and happens to be what their city needs most.

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