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The land of the free? – Issue 9

It’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to live in other parts of the world, in the USA to be exact, during a pandemic. Luckily, Nexus knows a guy living in the state of Washington – Adam Bertrand has been a frontline worker since COVID-19 shut down his university. Adam notes of his accounts under American politics, disputes, and growing up in a country questionably considered the land of the free.

 

It’s hard to define the time when America came to become the society it is today – if you were to ask the average American in a diverse city, their answers would vary. Some may tell you it began after the attacks on September 11th or after the election of Donald Trump or that it has simply never changed at all. I tend to agree with the latter, however, not in a manner of the answer you’re expecting. There’ll be no boasting of us being the ‘best country’ or claiming to be a ‘patriot’. Personally, I believe that all that is happening now is the result of the curtain being opened on a government that has fueled itself on systemic and institutionalised racism. A country with no moral compass, overpriced medical care, corrupt law enforcement, and of course, the raging gun violence. Nothing has changed for the better – morale within the country has continued to worsen over the previous years as injustices were brought to light with little being done to correct such issues, leading to a divided country taking it on as strictly a political issue. Every time a black life has been wrongfully taken by the police, protests have rightfully gathered in the streets only to be met with a conflicting side who are holding torches and spewing hate at protesters. Eventually this fight for equality and corrupt systems began to grab attention as a liberal versus conservative fight. The notorious MAGA (Make America Great Again – former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan) crowd versus those with different beliefs. I will admit now I am not going to speak fondly of Donald Trump because in my eyes and those of many others, he acted as a catalyst for these racist, angry, white supremacist, patriot-claiming, domestic terrorists to feel comfortable enough to freely display their hate and display the Confederate Flag in yards, on the back of trucks and on bumber stickers. The Confederate Flag was used to represent the Confederacy until 1865. These people toting MAGA even felt bold enough to attempt to overthrow the very heart of the country in hopes to change the result of Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential race. A day, as stated by Senator Chuck Schumer, that will forever live in infamy. This crowd of rioters breached our Capitol building, the heart of our democracy. They took down American flags to replace them with Trump propaganda. Confederate flags flew within the walls of the building for the first time since the 19th century. These people who claim to be “patriots” urinated on sacred statues, destroyed offices, stole confidential information, and had intent to hang former Vice-President Mike Pence for failing to support Trump and his (false) claim that the election was stolen from him. The entire nation watched in shock, disbelief, and fear as these scenes played out live on the news. The Vice-President, Speaker of The House, Congressmen and women, U.S. Representatives and Senators all hiding, only feet away from those who had wrongfully entered the building. 

 

The dispute between the common American was not the only problem of course. To provide a thorough outlook on what growing up and living in America is like up until this point, I am going to take us back to when I was in grade six – the time I started to speak out on things I felt needed to be addressed. The American Education System has many issues that need to be attended to, however, the most heart-wrenching is of course the amount of mass shootings we have had within our schools and universities. Although mass shootings happen at places other than schools (name a place or event and I can guarantee you there has been an incident of gun violence along with it – grocery stores, churches, concerts, restaurants, theatres), they have happened most often within public grade schools. As a kid, I assumed a lock-down drill was implemented internationally in schools, but as I grew older I came to realise that we are the only country who teaches their students how to react when an armed shooter enters the building. Of course, being six years old in grade one you simply follow the directions given to you when the alarm is sounded, unknowing of what you are practicing for. When I was in grade one, the worst mass shooting to date at an American school happened in April of 2007 – in the very state I lived in at one of our most respected universities, Virginia Tech. Of course, the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 was the first significant shooting that captured attention, but it was a rarity still at that time. To me, the Virginia Tech shooting is important because I feel it was the beginning of something that would go on to happen more and more frequently for years to come – thus making our drills more intense and reinforce a growing fear in students. Now, with that being said, I mention grade six because that is when the lockdown drills became more serious and I had my first of many school shooting scares happen at this time. I remember the day vividly. 

 

It was early in the morning and I was in my first class of the day, we had just finished doing our daily morning routine which included reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag, followed by the National Anthem and a moment of silence for fallen soldiers. My teacher began to outline our class work for that day when the schoolwide intercom began to beep, indicating an announcement was about to be made. My teacher paused until the words “Code Red” were stated. We knew what this meant, we practiced for this, but we always knew beforehand when a drill was to take place – and this was not expected. Something was happening within our school halls but we didn’t know exactly what. Immediately, we drop what we were doing and proceed to make our way to the furthest corner of the classroom from the door, ducking down and cramming our bodies behind, under, and around our teacher’s desk. My teacher began to take off her heels to silence the sound of her walking, pushing filing cabinets and whatever she could in front of the door to prevent easy access into our classroom. She went to the lengths of flipping over our school desks and stacking them in front of us in the style of a wall to create a barricade. At that moment, it didn’t feel like a classroom anymore but like a war preparation scene. I can still hear the voice of the girl behind me reciting a prayer to God while tears streamed down her face, thinking the worst was happening. That her short life of only 11 years was soon to be taken from her. After two hours of remaining in this position, the announcement that the lockdown was over was given. Sighs of relief were let out and the tears of the girl behind me and other fellow students ceased. We later learned the lockdown was in place due to a student in the grade eight hall making threats of violence and security was told to take all precautions while they attempted to restrain him and remove him from the building. Even now, those two hours have left a fearful mark.

 

As the years passed, and I started high school, it seemed a mass shooting was a monthly event in America. For such a long time, students like myself had to grow up in fear of these common occurrences and we didn’t feel have a platform for our voices that were pleading for change, pleading to go to school without jumping at the sound of a locker being slammed until the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. It was filmed on Snapchat stories and sparked a nation-wide student protest beginning with the voices of those Parkland students who finally formed a platform we’d been desiring. My school took part in this protest, as we had experienced a mass shooting in our city and gun violence inside a local high school. We walked out of the campus by the hundreds, standing in the football stadium, holding the names of students lost to school gun violence, ringing a bell for each name followed by a minute of silence. However, after months of acting and marching, no change was granted. Threats kept happening, the school shootings continued across the country. Nothing had changed, it was only forgotten and swept under the rug with the rest of the corruptness that America stands firmly on. 

 

It was my second week of University when I experienced another shooting scare – this time with the sound of gunshots. I was walking across campus with a group of friends when loud screams echoed from outside, causing heads to turn around – then the sound of gun-fire began to ring out. I looked at my friends in shock, thinking “this can’t be happening”. Before I could say a single word, my arm was grabbed by one of my friends who pulled me and began sprinting me to the nearest building for shelter as other students were running by, on the phone with their loved ones, hoping the words they were saying were not going to be their last. In seconds, the campus wide siren repeating the phrase “Active shooter, please seek safety and shelter immediately” was sounded, confirming my thoughts that the worst is happening. I remember calling my mom, who right away began to tear up on the phone as she told me “If anything happens, I love you Adam. Where are you? Where is the shooting taking place? Please Adam, if you are not already, get inside the nearest building, barricade yourself, avoid the windows, I do not want to lose you. Stay with me, Adam.” Another gunshot rang out, sounding closer than the first ones – my stomach felt like it sank to the ground in that moment. The lockdown ceased as police apprehended the shooters, who were locals that had brought their gang fight onto the middle of our campus. Sadly, this is simply what the American school system is like yet I consider myself lucky. I have only experienced close calls which may sound odd because I know the close calls I exemplified seem scary enough, but it is just simply the normal for an American student such as I. 

 

To this day, there has still not been any change or reform because, like all other current issues, it has turned into a political party disagreement rather than a realisation that this is a human safety issue. It’s not okay that by age 11 I knew to run zig-zag down my school hallway in-case I am being shot at. No, it turned into a fight from the far conservatives over the fear of losing the right for the everyday citizen to own a weapon literally built to rapidly kill in war-zone scenarios. Somehow, these people think that this is plausible – that they not only need a single fire hand-gun for self-defense, but they need a military grade weapon as well. They believe it is okay that I, at age 19, can walk into my local market store and buy an automatic assault rifle. This shouldn’t be acceptable. 

 

Many injustices and backwards ideals are still being defended and are actively playing a role in the Nation’s society today. People who are openly against the idea of police reform, combatting with the phrase ‘Blue Lives Matter’ (as if cops are being wrongfully killed – this statement is like watering a standing house that’s sitting next door to one collapsing in flames) are most often the same people who support Donald Trump, the man who gave closeted bigots the braveness to spew their hate freely, fly their racist flags and form a mob that stormed passed Capitol Hill Police, assaulting and even killing some people. Why was the phrase ‘Blue Lives Matter’ not being respected then? Oh, because it didn’t fit their agenda at that very moment. Groups of entitled, predominantly white people complaining over simple inconveniences and comparing them to the struggles of being an African American slave, defending their hate speeches by the idea that America is a free country, not having a clue as to what it is like to live as a person of colour in a Nation literally built by the hands of slaves and on the backs of minorities. A Nation that only 60 years ago was actively lynching these minorities and sending them to low funded schools, separating them from the white Americans. 

 

I believe America hasn’t changed and only has been sweeping its issues under the rug of the Oval Office and hiding them away. America has only found ways to continue it’s racism in secrecy and only now is the rug being pulled out, exposing our country for how it truly is. That is the only thing I will thank Donald Trump for – for confirming that our Nation is still functioning the same way it has since the beginning. That hate and violence still spreads like wildfire within these borders and no matter how much our government leaders emphasize this country is “for the people”, I will not believe it until changes and reforms are made to racism, homophobia, gun-violence, unequal access to quality health-care, the egocentrism of citizens, and the cost to pursue a higher education because without one “you will not make it”. I will pursue my higher education but I surely don’t want to make it in a country where it’s easily handed to me because I am a white male. I plan to pursue my success elsewhere – and I come from a family whose mother served as a United States Marine and my father an Officer for the United States Navy, so I am expected to boast about my love for this country, but I have a very minimal amount of that, and my parents not only know this – they agree with my sentiment.

 

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