On this podcast, we have tasked ourselves with "Describing the visuals of the world around us." Right now, the world around us includes mass school shootings. After consulting with Blind and Low Vision community members on various social media platforms, today we reluctantly carry on with the promise inherent in our mandate. In this episode, Christine and JJ describe and discuss the visuals surrounding school shootings, including school security, active shooter drills, AR15 assault rifles, and media coverage of the May 24th massacre in Uvalde, Texas. While no graphic or gory images will be discussed or described, listener discretion is still strongly advised.
If you are struggling to cope with the mental or emotional effects of these events, help is available. In the US, please call the National Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990. In Canada, please call the Wellness Helpline at 1-866-585-0445 or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.
Talk description to Me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.Christine Malec:
Hi, I'm Christine Malec.JJ Hunt:
And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to me, where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description rich conversations.Christine Malec:
This is the episode no one wants to record. We're going to talk about school shootings. And so if that's not something that you choose to consume, now is the moment to stop listening. And but the choice, that moment of choice that each listener has right now is the reason why we are going to talk about this most difficult topic that we've probably ever covered because we we sent messages out on social media, to our listeners to the blind community. And we we asked is this important and almost, you know, almost unanimously, the response was, even if I choose not to consume this material, the choice is important. And JJ and I both agree with that. And so we'd really rather be talking about Star Trek or Pride week or something. But this topic is current and brutal in every way. And it's very much in the news. And so as a podcast that talks about the visuals of the news, here we are to to talk about that, because access isn't only access to fluff and entertainment, it should be access to everything. So for the service of the community, we are here to allow each of us remember the blind community to to have the choice to take in the material, or to not take in the material just as as the site and viewers and listeners do. JJ, do you want to add anything to that? Yeah, I,JJ Hunt:
I should probably talk a bit about how we're going to cover this material today. Because it is, it's so very challenging. And you and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to cover this material, talking about how to cover it, and in conversation with, with folks on social media. And I really do appreciate everyone who replied, especially those who voiced concern for us having to spend time with this material. It means a lot that people are considering how we're doing in these times. So in terms of what we're going to be covering today, one of the things that we thought about was, how to get new information, perhaps new insights from the available visuals, while minimizing the trauma for our listeners and for us, right? Because the time that you and I spend on this show isn't just recording and editing, we're considering our topics, we're considering our approaches to those topics, while we're doing the dishes, while we're going on walks. We're talking through these videos and photos with our friends and family, we're texting back and forth, you and I are asking questions of each other. And we want it to minimize the amount of time that we spend with the most traumatizing of these images both on air and in our daily lives. So the approach we came up with is this, we're going to describe the visuals of school security, so that we can get a level set on what that element of student life is like in the US right now. Then we're going to talk about active shooter drills, and how those unfold is kind of new information for a lot of us. And we're hoping that by describing those drills and dramatizations, we can explore the visuals of school shootings, while being a very important step removed from the worst of the trauma. And then we will look at some of the images from news coverage of the most recent school shootings. And it should be noted that we're not going to be describing any graphic or gory images But of course, those aren't the only kinds of images that are, that are hard to spend time with. So that's how we're going to be covering this today. And, and yeah, whatever choice you make moving forward, please do so with your own with your own mental health in mind.Christine Malec:
And it's completely plausible that someone listening right now has been impacted by this, this or other instances of it. So we just want to extend our compassion if if you're still listening. Yeah, we're all going through a difficult half hour 40 minutes together to make this material available to people who who want access to it. So, JJ, why don't we start with the security like, what what a school what a school is look like in the US?JJ Hunt:
Yeah, so I was really curious about school security in the States. This is not something I know that much about, I spent one year in the American school system in second grade. So that's a long time ago. And then different time. So what I did was I just did an image search, I did an image, an image search for us school security. And so don't consider this a comprehensive examination. Right? This is, I can't know how common these scenes are. You and I are in Canada, not the states. So we don't really even know if these images are truly representative of the quote unquote, average security setup and a quote unquote, average US school. But what I found when I Googled us school security, I got lots and lots of photos of police officers standing in school corridors and patrolling hallways. So these were police officers and security guards, almost always in full uniform, and that generally included some kind of integrated body armor. We talked about this body armor a while back and one of our very early descriptions of the Portland riots, sometimes the body armor for police officers and security guards, really bulletproof vests. Sometimes that armor is worn under the police shirt, but often the armor is sheathed in the same fabric as the shirts themselves. They've got patches and pockets integrated to the outside material. And that's then worn over the shirt, but they look integrated because they're they're you know, they're made of the same material. They're sheets in the same material. So they end up looking like a shirt with a bulky stiff body and lots of pockets and then just regular sleeves. Some of these police officers in schools and security guards in schools, wearing baseball caps, many wearing the kind of the short sleeved version of their uniforms. All of them have heavily laden belts outfitted with kind of any number of tools, walkie talkies, handcuffs and holsters because most officers do appear to be armed in these photos. But the photos are not necessarily highlighting the weapons. Sometimes the weapons are kind of covered and holstered and a little bit out of the way unless the article that the photo is in is specifically discussing the fact that these officers are armed. And then photos of the weapons themselves the handgun themselves are are front and center in these pictures. I came across images of high tech security systems in schools. So these photos include lots of small cameras mounted on ceilings in school corridors. These cameras are very common in public places like airports and malls, they really look like like white pucks a little bit bigger than than a hockey puck more like the size of a hamburger but the white pucks that are stuck to the ceiling. And then they have these tinted glass domes popping out the bottom. And inside those domes, there's a camera lens that can usually be repositioned remotely. And those CCTV cameras that are pretty ubiquitous in public spaces, they really are everywhere. I hadn't really thought about it, but they are in schools now to according to these images that I found. The live feeds from these cameras generally go to monitoring stations where someone watches banks have screens, I found photos of those monitoring stations to some of the smaller setups are right in the school. So there's a little office, a little security office or a nook somewhere in the school. These are, you know, a police officer or a security guard sitting at a desk surrounded by the screens. And a lot of the screens are split into grids. And you know each image in the grid shows kids walking down corridor stopping at lockers between classes all filmed from high above, from these ceiling mounted cameras. And then of course, sometimes the feed goes to larger monitoring rooms at big security companies. I also found images of kids entering school through metal detectors. So in some cases, these were the like, classic freestyle Ending they look like gray plastic doorways that you would find like an airport security or something. Kids lined up in these photos at some taking off their backpacks when they're at the front of the line passing them to officers that are at tables nearby, while the officers search their backpacks, then the kids walk through the metal detector get their backpacks returned on the other side. I found images of little kids like you know, grade ones grade twos first and second graders being scanned with hand ones. One photo I found featured a kid with medium dark skin tone, very dark hair, arms straight out at asides, while a uniform police officer bent forward to wave this long plastic covered paddle over the Batman logo on this kid's chest on his T shirt. Again, I'm not the right person to comment on how these images might relate to a school near you, if you're somewhere in the US. I did find some numbers at the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2019, about 12% of students 12 to 18 years old, reported that metal detectors were in use at their school. 86% said that there were security cameras in their school. 75% said that there were security guards or police officers in their school. And 28% said they had to wear badges or student IDs with photos on them while they were in the school.Christine Malec:
That's a that's a lot of infrastructure. And I understand that there is also a lot of infrastructure around drills and preparations that that are made within a school for if something really bad happens. Yeah, yeah. Let me talk about some of that.JJ Hunt:
There's a whole industry, truly a multibillion dollar industry that's been built up on these active shooter drills. I was watching a clip of this on from CNN. And in the clip they stated that 95% of public schools in the US train students in lockdown procedures is amazing. This is fairly new to me. My kids in Toronto do have lockdown drills here but they're not considered active shooter drills. It's a it's a whole step. The active shooter drills a whole step beyond I think what a lot of us outside the US are used to hearing about I looked up different examples. I found some video footage and some photos of these lot of these lockdown drills. One example I found centered around a system called locks Lights Out of sight and and in the video footage I watched there was a surprise test drill that was being filmed by this journalism team from CNN, that principal or an office staffer turned on the PA system and announced locks lights out of sight. This is a drill repeated that several times. And then the test team waited for I can't remember 10 or 30 seconds or something like that. And then they started going through the building very very quickly checking to see if doors were locked, looking to see if any rooms had lights on looking for any people, students or teachers. And amazingly Within seconds, the school that they were going through, seemingly emptied, there was no one in the halls, the gym, the cafeteria, they all seemed empty. Lots of the doors most of the doors were shut and locked. And the folks conducting the test then made their way from classroom to classroom. On most interior doors in schools there are windows so in hallway doors, there are you know big windows that you know above and below the the handlebar that you push to go between doors. In classroom doors, it's often a very narrow window in the upper half of the door. And these are often you know windows that are that have wire glass inside. So a grid of wire mesh inside embedded in the glass that's very, very common in institutional situations, industrial situations and whatnot. But the teachers now are encouraged to cover those windows so that shooters can't see inside a classroom. So many windows will have sheets of Bristol board covering them sometimes there are teacher art projects that cover the doors you know decorations for their classrooms. Sometimes student art projects cover these windows. In some cases, the teachers choose to cover them year round. But in some cases teachers decide to leave the windows uncover most of the year and only cover the windows during drills and active shooter events. And there are products that you can buy I found a company that sells what they call lockdown shades that teachers in schools can buy. These are heavy blackout curtains that are rolled up and cut to size. So they fit these these windows Exactly. And in an emergency situation you tug on a velcro strap. And the curtain very quickly unrolls and covers the window so that no one can see inside. And inside the classrooms, the kids and teachers hide in what are called hard corners. And hard corners is a is an industry term to refer to corners or areas of the classroom that cannot be easily seen through one of these windows, so that there's no line of sight for someone who has a gun. So in these test drills, the kids and the teachers tuck themselves into hard corners. I saw footage and photos of kids sitting on the floor, pulling their knees up to their chests to make themselves very small. They often keep their heads down and they're packed in tight so that they can squeeze into the tightest corner so that none of their classmates can be seen through the windows. I've seen photos of kids lying flat on the floor in one half of the classroom, I saw photos of kids huddled under their desks rolled up into the fetal position rolled into a ball facedown with their knees tucked under. In one photo I came across there was a kid with long blond hair lying on their side in the fetal position. And they were beside another kid who was kind of tucked into a ball half under their desk half beside their their desk chair. And these were little kids, I'm guessing eight or nine years old, and the little blonde kid is reaching out and putting their hand on their classmates arm just to kind of calm them during this drill. So in the tests, the facilitators they they walk around from classroom to classroom, they look for unlocked doors. And then they aggressively bang on the on the locked doors and try in pure through cracks in the window coverings or, you know, if a piece of artwork has come has come down, they try and peer through to spot the kids inside so that they can let teachers know. I could see that student's leg I could see your arm. And you need to fix that. And those drills are considered the soft drills. And I have to say just watching the video of the reporter going through these, this test scenario and this is this, you know this video clip was edited together with interviews and thoughts from the reporter. So it wasn't a this wasn't a putting you in that situation moment. My heart was racing. I was so anxious for these kids. And then they show these clips of kids hiding in the corners of their darkened classrooms, grade school kids, their lips, tight, many of them not speaking, some of them their eyes anxiously darting about as they hide in these darkened corners. And some of the kids just looked so sad. And then there were other kids, older kids, high schoolers who are kind of just using their phones as they hide under their desks and lab tables. They're looking bored, because they've done this so many times.Christine Malec:
You use the term I think soft drill. Is there a hard drill?JJ Hunt:
Yeah. There are much more extreme drills that are. They seem to be genuinely terrifying. They're quite controversial. I'm not sure what the status is of these drills right now. But I found lots of footage and photos from anywhere from 2015 up to 2020 of these the more extreme training situations, so I found photos in newspaper articles from The Guardian from AP news, lots of local papers. So these are not just one offs. They're they're these they're out there these training sessions. I've got a photo here from a high school in Portland, Maine, taken in 2020. This photo is taken inside of a school at an intersection of very wide corridors. So the main corridor stretches from our lower left to our upper right. And there are several high school students who are lying down on the brown and beige tile floor pretending to be shot. A young woman of color who's quite close to us is lying on her back. She has long natural hair, a gray t shirt and these pre ripped jeans and She's got a scrunchie around her wrist, and she's lying on her back with her head to her side arms limp beside her nearby. A little bit further on down the corridor is a teenage boy light skin tone. He's got on a black T shirt and glasses, and he looks like he's got and he looks like he's wearing novelty socks with pictures on them. And he's lying flat on his back with one arm under his head. And then way down the hall. At our upper right is a distant figure in black clothing. And he's slumped over on the floor, leaning against a row of lockers. And then entering this corridor near the heads of the first two students or five armed white men police officers coming from an adjacent corridor. And none of these police officer are in full uniform, they're in more street clothes, but they are wearing tactical vests or bulletproof vests. And they're kind of peering down this main corridor in both directions peeking around the corners with their with their with their guns at the ready aiming their guns around the corner. In some cases, at least three of them are aiming assault rifles, and these assault rifles are marked with strips of red flagging tape, presumably to indicate that they have no live ammunition or something of that nature. And then others in this group are armed either with with blue plastic pistols in hand or holstered at their sides. I've got another photo from Montana. This is a photo of a teenage girl with the shoulder length blond hair glasses and she's wearing sports shorts and sneakers. And she's sitting on this checkered linoleum floor leaning back against a locker with her eyes closed. And she has a fake wound on her thigh. What Yeah, it looks like a like the kind of wound that you would find at a Halloween store to dress up in on Halloween. Like a sheet of plastic that's been molded to look like an open gash. And then there's fake blood dripping down her leg. And she sits there eyes closed as three uniformed officers in helmets run down the corridor aiming their assault rifles. I found another image in a BBC article, this one featuring a drill I think it was in California. And there's a girl I'm gonna guess is a preteen girl, medium skin tone, brown eyes, long dark hair, and she's got a wire retainer across her front teeth. And she's being held kind of tended to by a police officer who's at her side and this, this police officer has an almeyda Police Department patch on the shoulder of their uniform. And this girl's face is smeared in fake blood.Christine Malec:
When we were talking about how to discuss the visuals, you had mentioned that you would give a description of a gun. Yeah, it was relevant to some of this stuff. maybe now's the time for that. Yeah.JJ Hunt:
So on May 24 2020, in Uvalde, Texas and there's lots of different ways to pronounce the town name I've seen I've heard anglicized pronounced pronunciations of Uvalde or ovale Day, which I think is closer to a Spanish pronunciation of the town name. At the ROB Elementary School, May 24 19 students, two teachers were killed by a gunman armed with an AR 15 style assault rifle. Actually, the shooter had several rifles, two of them in fact, one was left outside one was brought inside. And it's I think important to get a sense of these rifles, these ar 15 style assault rifles because they are they're so often used in these cases in these in these situations. So to get a sense of the rifle, start by thinking of a big black pistol, okay, it's got the same hand grip, it's got the same trigger and trigger guard. But coming off the back, there's a black metal extension the stock and that stock gets pressed against the shoulder. Directly in front of the trigger guard is the magazine this is a thin metal box full of rounds. It's not unlike a big fat cell phone in terms of its size but it has a gentle curve to it. And those can be slotted in removed slotted in removed as you need more rounds. There, there's a long, thin barrel that extends the different lengths but it's then extends about a foot and a half the barrel is, you know, anywhere from I think 16 to 20 inches, I believe the barrels of the AR 15 style assault rifles, there might be a pair of small sights at the top or even a scope at the top, there might be a hand grip below for the for the second hand. One of the things about these weapons is that sometimes they look quite substantial. Sometimes they're all boxed in and they look like big, bulky weapons. But sometimes they're actually much lighter. And they are made parts of the stock, for example, are made just with frame material so that they they are quite light and relatively small. And this This is the rifle that was used in Nevada, and also used in about half of the most deadly mass shootings in the US. And that includes the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. This was the weapon used in the Sutherland springs church shooting. This was the rifle used in the Port Arthur massacre in Australia in 1996. private ownership of that style of assault rifle is now restricted in Australia. This is the weapon that was used in the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand in 2019. It has since been banned in New Zealand. This is the weapon that was used in the 2020 Nova Scotia rampage here in Canada, that class of assault rifles has since been banned in Canada. In the United States, the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that there are 20 million ar 15 style assault rifles, currently in American homes.Christine Malec:
When I was thinking about how to do this episode, I talked with friends cited friends and said, What are we going to talk about? What are the visuals and I was they said they don't see the most graphic things are actually not shown on in the media. And it I've heard it said that it I've heard it argued in different contexts that we should show the graphic images, because then people will really realize what the truth is. But I've read also the other side, which is war footage now. So like more granular cell phone based images from it shows graphic, horrible things, and nothing changes. And so, um, you know, a topic for, you know, a different context, but I was I've thought a lot about that, that you are not given the most graphic, gory images of these incidents. And so it left me wondering, what are the media showing? So when you Valda what, what was the media? Or, you know, the more the less formal visuals that you might have got from individuals, what were the visuals that were being circulated.JJ Hunt:
So in preparation for this, this episode, again, I did a I did an image search just using the town name. And I did that this week, and and this is about two weeks after the shooting. So different kinds of images pop up now than would have popped up if I had done an image search on the day of for example. So a couple of different kinds of images popped up when I did this image search first photos of the memorial that are surrounding the school sign. So near the front of the school is a small freestanding brick wall. And the name Rob Elementary School is presented on this brick wall, a brick wall in raised bold letters. And beneath that in underlined cursive is the word Bienvenidos. A welcome to the school's Spanish speaking students. And right now, that sign is surrounded by bouquets of flowers really bright and colorful flowers. It was a bit surprising to me how bright and colorful these flowers were. Often in these cases there'll be roses and carnations some more subtle and somber colors. But these bouquets were really really bright and vibrant. And people have left teddy bears and cards and wreaths and balloons. And now there are also crosses in front of the school sign like grave markers, all of them white uniform, white crosses with the victims names printed horizontally across the cross in black letters. And these this memorial has spread and spread, it takes up a significant part of the lawn surrounding this school sign. Another kind of picture that I saw repeatedly when I searched was there are a series of pictures of kids fleeing the school. So I'm not overly familiar with the timeline of this attack. So at some point around the side, or perhaps the back of the red and brown stone block building, a window was opened. And there are a series of pictures that appear in different pictures appear in different newspapers all around the world. And these photos were taken, it looks like they were taken from across the across the street. And centered in these pictures is this Open School window. And men in police and military looking uniforms are helping they're like crowded around the window on the outside of the building, helping kids scramble out through the window, which is about four feet off the ground about chest height, and then the kids in the series of photos so you can find different photos of different moments. The kids then run from the school toward us. And they run across a parking lot. And they run across a green lawn and they're directed by a line of officers and officials. In one of the pictures from the series, there's a boy in blue jeans and a pink dress shirt, and he's got a blue tie on. And he's sprinting toward us. His arms pumping with this terrified grimace on his face. Behind him is a tall girl in jeans and running shoes again, arms are pumping as she runs and cries. behind her. There's a girl in pink sandals. She's got a blue dress on and glasses. And her brow is knit and her teeth clenched shut. And they all appear to be part of the school's Latino community. In another photo from this series in a different paper, I found this picture of a bearded white officer in a in a green uniform, a military green uniform. And he's wrapping his arms around a girl he's basically he's got one arm around her, he's basically carrying her as he helps her across the parking lot. This girl has a long sandy blond hair and appears to be clutching her side. And then the final kind of image that comes up in the searches that I did this week is a grid of photos. A lot of different news agencies have collected snapshots of the 21 victims and have created these three by seven grids of their faces. Again, mostly 10 year old kids, mostly Latinos, and most of them are smiling. In some of the publications, they include the names of the victims beneath their photos. But in most cases, it's just these 21 faces. 19 Kids and two adults, 21 victims, all of them looking directly at us.Christine Malec:
As always, when we do these episodes, for myself and for all of the blind community, I always want to need to thank JJ, I don't think that if you're not in audio description, production in any way, you don't really realize how much time and focus you have to give to what you're doing. So a lot of time and a lot of intention. And so on behalf of myself and the blind community, I just want to say a public. Thank you an incredible acknowledgement to JJ for spending the time this was JJs idea to do this. I was not keen. And JJ was the one to say I think it's important and so for the time and energy and for the spirit behind it, and also and always, of course to the victims and two people affected all of our compassion and peace. We love making this podcast if you live here Pouring it. Perhaps you'll consider supporting its creation and development by becoming a patron. We've set up a Patreon page to help cover the costs of putting the show together. You can contribute as a listener or as a sponsor to help ensure that accessible and entertaining journalism continues to reach our community. Visit patreon.com/talk Description To me that's pa t ar e o n.com/talk description to me have feedback or suggestions of what you'd like to hear about here's how to get in touch with us. Our email address is top description to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Facebook page is called Talk description to me. Our website is talk description to me.com and you can follow us on Twitter at talk Description.