Had the name Columbine not been seared into the nation’s consciousness since 1999, expelling a couple of kids from Bucksport High School for making a music CD with explicitly violent lyrics might have been seen by some people as an overreaction.
Before the two young Colorado killers showed us that the once unthinkable act of slaughtering fellow students at school is indeed a terrifyingly real possibility that could happen anywhere, we might have regarded the Bucksport CD merely as an attempt by two misguided teenagers to be overly edgy, to push the limits of self-expression and shake up meeker sensibilities the way many rap musicians do these days.
Sure, some might have said, the lyrics are pretty vile and scary, speaking as they do of shooting people at school, from administrators to teachers and students.
And, yes, the teens do mention “the Columbine kids” in the song, and refer to being “soaked in the blood of my fellow classmates.”
Yet troubling as the lyrics are, some might have suggested, they’re still just words, after all. The kids would never actually have put such horrific thoughts into action. They never would have followed through on their nightmarish musings.
But most of us know better now about what some troubled youngsters are capable of. If Columbine didn’t offer quite enough proof, we can find further evidence in places such as Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oregon, Mississippi and Missouri, or in the outbreak of school violence earlier this month that took the lives of six students and a principal in three separate incidents in a single week.
Although Bucksport school officials – or anyone else, for that matter – can’t know for sure whether the two 17-year-old boys are capable of such criminal behavior, they clearly did not have the luxury of waiting around to find out.
Considering the anxiety that the “Shotgun Killing Spree” CD has caused in the community, expelling the kids who wrote and recorded and sold it was the most prudent course the school committee could have followed. And we must trust that school officials anywhere else in Maine would do exactly the same thing if faced with a similarly incendiary and potentially dangerous situation.
As the chairman of the school committee pointed out to Bangor Daily News reporter Rich Hewitt, however, it was not a decision made hastily or without proper regard and genuine concern for the fate of the two youngsters themselves.
“The hardest thing to do as a school committee is to expel a student,” Paul Bissonnette said Wednesday.
But while most people in Bucksport and the rest of Maine understand all too well by now that such explicit threats of violence in schools can never be tolerated or ignored, there seem to be plenty of students who still don’t appreciate that words have an enormous power to terrorize, even when there are no real guns to back them up.
One Bucksport student told the BDN that he has known the two teens since they were small, and doesn’t believe for a minute that they would ever make good on the violence they promise in their music.
His petition in support of the pair carries the signatures of 72 other students who, oddly enough, claim to find nothing offensive or worrisome about the murderous, bloody lyrics.
They should know, however, that many of the kids at Columbine High School also shrugged off as harmless Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s verbal and written expressions of killing, weapons and death until they found out what really lay behind those ominous words.
“We never took them seriously,” said one shocked Columbine student in the bloody aftermath.
“He realized he made a mistake,” said the attorney for one of the expelled Bucksport students, who both face charges of terrorizing.
We hope and pray she’s right about that – not only for the sake of the school and the community, which has been understandably shaken by the disturbing event, but for the boys, too, who clearly will need more help than the school has already provided if they are to turn their lives around.
And if this is the closest we in Maine ever come to experiencing the tragedy of school violence, we can be grateful that it was just a recording.