- - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

High school can be a minefield. Anyone who survives it knows that. But peer pressure, bullying and ambition for good grades aren’t the sort of minefield California’s schools apparently fear most. They’re getting ready for the real thing, deploying mine-resistant vehicles, or MRAPs, against the day an invading army lays a booby trap on the playground. Perhaps they took inspiration from the movie “Red Dawn” about an invading Russian army that took over a Colorado high school.

The San Diego Unified School District insists its new toy, provided by the federal government, is not a tank. It weighs 18 tons and was intended for Iraq or Afghanistan, and it’s painted white with the words “search and rescue” on the side. It’s searching for a purpose.

The Los Angeles school district not only obtained its own MRAP, but three grenade launchers and 61 M-16 assault rifles. When the news got out, school officials, even with all that hardware, beat a retreat. The grenade launchers are going back to the Pentagon. But not the surplus Army rifles at a half-dozen California schools.

California lawmakers won’t let civilians own semi-automatic replicas of the M-16 rifle because they’re scary looking. Schools suspend kids for chewing a Pop Tart into a shape vaguely resembling a gun. Making a pistol with a finger is forbidden. So why the rush to stock an arsenal? To intimidate parents at the PTA meeting?

More likely, no thought at all. The Defense Department has so much surplus it left 850 MRAPs in Afghanistan, not worth shipping them home. Unused rifles are piling up in warehouses. Someone behind a desk at the Pentagon doesn’t care why a school needs a MRAP. He just wants to get rid of it.



Alan Estevez from the Pentagon explained to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee why the Pentagon asks no questions, just ships the stuff out. “It’s very hard for us because we don’t have experience in policing,” he said. “It’s not what we do.” An aide to California Gov. Jerry Brown who signed for the guns would have a blunter explanation: “Why ask why?”

The lack of oversight and common sense in the way police departments and now high schools are being militarized demonstrates an urgent need for adult supervision. The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and 20 other groups Monday asked President Obama’s defense and education secretaries to cut back the out-of-control military-surplus program. “Experts have repeatedly emphasized,” they said in a letter, “that the best way to guard against violence in schools is to prevent it. Many have warned that an approach overly reliant on policing exacerbates the problems that can lead to violence.”

There’s no problem on campus that can be solved with tanks, grenades and fully automatic rifles. Somebody should tell the teacher that “Red Dawn” was a movie, not a documentary.

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