Ed Note: This essay was written by Howie Silbiger just after the Columbine School Massacre in 1999. It is very sad that in 2018 it is still relevant.
I could have been a school shooter. It’s chilling that I can say that and be serious about it, but it’s true. As a teen, I fit the profile. I was somewhat of a loner, bullied at school and had access to a friend’s father’s hunting rifle. If my psyche was different, if I was a little mentally off, it is very possible that you may have read about me instead of Dylan Kleobold and Eric Harris. I am a Kippah wearing Jew. It is part of my identity, I do not compromise on my religion, I never have and throughout middle and high school I paid the price.
I remember the torture clearly, nearly every instance and all of my tormentor’s names. I’m told that someone bullied a lot does that, remembers it. The beatings started in grade 7. First it started with taunts, but when I heard “Fucking Jew” screamed at me, I braced myself for the fist. It was a daily occurrence, that and being pelted with pennies and on one occasion being set on fire. The school administration really wasn’t interested in dealing with the problem and my very concerned parents spent two years begging me to change schools. I refused. My logic was simple, changing school would let my tormentors win and I was never ever going to allow that.
So, I went to school everyday, knowing I was going to be beaten. My friend Mike tried to help, he spread a rumour that I was a black belt in Karate, but nobody really believed him, and I fought everyday, sometimes winning, most of the time, grossly outnumbered and beaten silly.
I remember one day in grade 9, a polish kid named Alan approached me in the hall and said that he had heard that I insulted his mother. I had no reason to insult his mother, I barely knew him, but he insisted and said I would pay for it after school.
I spent the day trying to get a detention, I was unsuccessful and eventually the final bell rang. I left the school quickly, crossed the street and started heading home when from behind me, I heard Alan’s voice. “Hey Jew” he said. I stopped and turned around. His face was red, he stood with his legs slightly apart, his arms dangling down the sides of his lanky body. His blond hair was neatly combed, and he had a blue knapsack strung over his left shoulder. I looked him straight in the face and said, “I never said anything about your mom.” I had no sooner finished the sentence when I found myself lying in the bushes my nose bleeding. Apparently, he had kicked me in the face, I never even saw it coming.
As I lay there I wanted revenge. I thought hard and long about getting up and ripping off his face. I wanted to kill him, the embarrassment, the pain in my nose. I regretted not listening to my parents, for being stubborn and choosing to stay where I obviously wasn’t wanted. I felt small, useless and most of all I felt alone.
It was then that I realized that I wouldn’t care much if something bad happened to my tormentors. I fantasized about revenge, knowing that I would never do anything to get back at them, I wasn’t psychotic nor was I homicidal.
Life went on and beating after beating made me a stronger Jew. Most would have given up and I think even my parents were surprised I stuck with it, but the more they hated me the more resolve I had to stick with it, to be a better Jew and a better person.
The last beating of high school was when I went to pick up my grad ring. The ring table was setup in the lobby of the school and I chose to go after school thinking that there would be less people there and less risk of a confrontation. As I got to the table I felt a penny slam into the back of my head. I turned around and four grade 9 boys were standing there. One of them said “Hey Jew, the penny is on the floor, aren’t you going to pick it up?” My calm reply, “fuck you.” The boys approached. I turned around and gave the lady behind the table my name, she started looking for my contract.
Suddenly a fist to the back of my head. I lurch forward and knock the table over, grad rings splatter all over the floor. The ring lady looked at me in horror. The four boys stepped forward and started kicking and punching me. I lay there on top of the knocked over the table as they kicked in two of my ribs.
What’s amazing is that I never felt the victim. I never got depressed, never felt that life was hopeless. The reason, I had a strong family who cared about me, I had a few good friends who loved and cherished me, and I had an attitude that allowed me to turn my anger into productivity. I was the school newspaper editor, the yearbook photographer, I sat on student council and kept myself busy staying late after school and away from my tormentors.
So here we are, a massive school shooting, the largest one in American history. Many are calling for gun reforms, to repeal the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution and banning guns. It’s easy to blame all problems on gun and gun owners, it’s easy to point fingers at the NRA and Charlton Heston, its President. Of course, if we got rid of the NRA, if we destroyed every civilian gun in the US the world would be safe. It’s an illusion and not true.
The NRA is not responsible for Columbine. Gun owners are not responsible. Gun sellers are not responsible. Dylan Kleobold and Eric Harris are responsible. They hatched the plan, built bombs, acquired guns and set out to kill as many as they could. Reports show that there were warning signs that everyone ignored, there were videos and stockpiles of arms and bomb building going on in a house with the family ignoring or not paying attention to what’s going on. Where were the parents? Where were the authorities? Where was anyone?
It’s easy to scapegoat the NRA, it’s easy to scapegoat the gun owners, but not so easy to look at society and say maybe we are all responsible. It’s much harder to look at society and say maybe if the police had gone in and confronted the shooters, maybe if Dylan or Eric’s parents had taken a more active interest in their live, maybe if they had girlfriends or if they weren’t bullied things would be different.
If you want to change the world and avoid another school shooting, do your part. Be nice to the people around you. Be understanding and accepting, love and be loved. Only then, even if guns are available, even if the NRA still exists, these kind of attacks would end. Seek out, understand and be good. That’s how we fight and beat these terrible problems.