Good afternoon from near Littleton, Colorado where we are located in Chatfield State Park. Chatfield is our third Colorado State Park in the past week or so and is another beauty. We're here for a few days before moving on to nearer downtown Denver for EPF meetings Melanie has this coming weekend.
Those who know me well, know one of my favorite genres of photography is photojournalism. The appeal, in part, is being there, having an opportunity to immerse myself in an event, attempting to see, through the lens, what's happening and to capture for others through images the moments I experience. Couple that with my love of portrait photography and sometimes magic happens.
Such was the case when I took some time to find out what was going on in Civic Center Park downtown Denver on April 20. After our obligatory trip to Voodoo Donuts for decadent breakfast, we made our way downtown, first coming across some protesters in front of Colorado's beautiful state capital. Nice folks out to make a statement on a sunny April day, just as several thousand folks were doing only a block away in Civic Center Park.
As you may expect, Denver's 420 celebration of ganja, weed, pot, marijuana, or whatever you call the green stuff of sweet dreams, was all about peace, love and the art of being high, some of the participants being very, very high. But you can judge that one for yourself. I'm only providing photo evidence for what, for me, was about as eclectic an experience of humans having fun and being themselves I've seen in some time.
April 20 marked 20 years since the 12 students and a faculty member were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Melanie and I attended a memorial service in Clement Park.
Two things. I remembered little about the details surrounding the mass shooting that took place at Columbine High School 20 years ago and I knew nothing about Littleton, Colorado.
As the time drew near to begin the service, I remarked to Melanie that the crowd was..., how shall I put this..., white. Very Caucasian. This came in stark contrast to many, many places we've been on our travels thus far. And because the whiteness of it all caused such a visceral reaction in me, I thought it prudent before I wrote a single word, to do some research into Littleton and into the details of the Columbine massacre.
Littleton is indeed a very white suburb of Denver. They are 93% white. So, for comparison, using familiar territory, not quite as white as Mountain Brook, Alabama, but close. The median income is $67,133.00, or working class compared with Mountain Brook. Their population of just over 45,000 is more than double that of Mountain Brook.
The memorial service was, in essence, a pep rally. It's been twenty years, we're still standing, we feel stronger, healing is on going, but Columbine, hell, yeah.
While we were there, no one mentioned the "g" word. Not once, not in passing, not at all. The word "gun" was not uttered. Not by the preacher from the local mega-church, not the principal, nor the former principal at the time, now the superintendent of schools, and not the current student body president. I remembered, "Guns don't kill people..."
No one talked about the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. since Columbine and what may need to happen to stop it. Nothing to see here, we're doing okay. Columbine, hell, yeah. Nice place to raise a family too.
So, how have they succeeded in making Columbine safer? By investing 3.5 million dollars a year in security for the school district. This includes a staff of 127 people.
In a nation always awaiting the news of another school shooting, no community may be braced for that threat quite like the one surrounding Columbine High, a place forever defined by the 1999 attack that killed 13 people, wounded 24 more and ushered in an Internet-fueled era of mass violence. Twenty years later — the anniversary of the shooting is April 20 — Columbine is constantly invoked as the first name in the ever-growing list of campuses turned into crime scenes. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe — each addition a reminder that this could happen anywhere, any time. Almost as if it were impossible to stop.
But all the while, Columbine has been figuring out how to do just that.
Here in the Denver suburbs, the district has built what is likely the most sophisticated school security system in the country: installing locks that can be remotely controlled and cameras that track suspicious people; setting up a 24-hour dispatch center and a team of armed patrol officers; monitoring troubled students and their social media; getting training from world-renowned psychologists and former SWAT commanders; researching and investing, practicing and re-practicing, all to ensure that when the next significant threat comes, it is stopped before the worst happens again.
And to be fair, the crowd was not really an all white crowd. I fibbed a bit on that. There was one person of color, a man who many in the crowd felt very strongly about and rose to give him a standing ovation when he came up on stage. He then proceeded to lead us all in a cheer, a long and raucous cheer. Columbine, hell yeah.
Least we forget the real import here. We all continue to live in a murder lottery. Every day.