Editorial: A Sharp Stroke of Fear

Students’ reactions to the recent threat of gun violence at UH Hilo

Staff Writer Zachary Gottlieb

Graphics by Leah Wyzykowski

US flag with a gun superimposed
On Monday, Sept. 10, every UH Hilo student, faculty member, and staffer received the following alert: “UH Hilo has received a report of someone threatening gun violence on campus. The Hawaiʻi Police Department has been notified and is on-site. We advise that people on campus shelter in place.”

The alleged threat came from Brandon Keala Kealoha who has since been charged with suspicion of second-degree terroristic threatening, a misdemeanor. His charge has illuminated just how severely such an action is viewed in the United States of America. On Sept. 13, a judge set a $5,000 bail for him and ordered him to take a mental exam, according to local media reports.

This is not the first instance Kealoha has threatened terroristic action according to news reports. He has been convicted of first-degree terroristic threatening, misdemeanor assault, domestic abuse, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, according to the Hawaiʻi Tribune-Herald.

My class started that day as any other, albeit a short, diminutive janitor appeared complaining of a missing fan. My teacher, Professor Monica Minnitt of UHH’s Department of Language, admitted to stealing the fan to help heal our broken AC room. The janitor said she understood and disappeared to find us another one.

She returned fifteen minutes later; we were thankful as the room had started to turn into a sauna — sweat meandering down my forehead like a river, raining off my chin onto my textbook.

Eager gratefulness turned to angst as, out of breath with the sharp stroke of fear in her voice, she said, “There is a shooter on campus,” and then quickly turned the key in the lock, hemming us in like queens and women in war-time days of old.

The knights today were policemen with their AK-47s. Nicole Johnson, a fellow student in the class, described initially feeling fear at seeing armed officials on campus. “I have never seen guns like that before, but it reassured me. They made me feel safe at the same time.”

For myself, policemen have been having an extremely hard time of late, for good reason. However, the sincerity in the fact that while everybody else ran away from Kealoha, they ran towards him and the frey is stark and apparent — each and every one a testament to the notion emblazoned on their badge: “to protect and serve.”

I remember seeing them moving quickly outside the window as fear, like a cancer, spread from desk to desk. Within those immediate, fleeting seconds an array of transient thoughts flashed through my mind.

Likewise for Johnson who recalled, “I screamed, pretty loudly, and then the girl who sat next to me put her hands on my desk and kept on reassuring me ‘it’s going to be okay,’” illuminating how, when faced with a common foe, Americans have the capacity to unite.

“It felt like we were a team,” Johnson continued.

However, for me, it was thoughts of family half a world away. You see, I hail from London, where the only people with guns are the farmers.

It’s a place where the policemen wave sticks rather than rifles, a place where angry teens stab rather than shoot, a place where a situation such as this is a rare nightmare of fiction rather than fact. Like almost everywhere else in the world, it is a country where this is not commonplace — unlike the United States of America, a country where we have crudely accepted this as the norm. This is a country where there have been almost as many mass shootings as days in 2018, a total of 262 as of Sept. 20.

It is a tragedy of our generation, an epidemic of deadly proportions, claiming the lives of our youth. The cure is simple but ignored due to the vitriol of the NRA and Trump's claims of the fault lying with teachers for not having guns — wherein, somehow, the solution to gun violence in school is to have more guns in school.

Hailing from Houston, Johnson rallies with this cry, “I believe we should have more guns. Guns make me feel safe and they’re there for your protection.” However, when asked if she would have felt safer if Professor Minnitt had a gun she said, “I feel like it would have caused more problems.”

Professor Minnitt agrees with this, saying, “personally, I believe it's foolishness to think that we can fight gun violence with guns. This issue is much deeper than merely gun violence, so therefore, the solution should be more than just arming the teachers. We live in a society whose moral compass is broken, and right and wrong are subject to the interpretation of the individual. Mental illness runs rampant. What we really need to be dealing with is the sickness of the soul.”

Instead of pulling out a pistol, Professor Minnitt clasped her hands together, interlocking her fingers in white-knuckled prayer.

Just before she started, I raised my hand and asked if I could move the table in front of the door, wanting to take action rather than feel like a sitting duck. Only after doing so, did I realize that if they were to open it, the door would open outwards. Bloody hell, I can be a fool.

Then she prayed for us while we sent messages to loved ones just in case. She prayed for the janitor, running door to door with a key in hand, asking for some higher power to keep her safe as she continued on in heroic fashion. Lastly, she prayed for the individual threatening gun violence, seemingly wishing us all harm, and hoped that no harm came to them.

“I’m not that religious of a person but I loved that she said, ‘let’s pray that the shooter (sic) knows he’s loved,’ Johnson said. “To me, it just shows the compassion in others.”

That, to me, is the most important thing in all of this. That we came together in a time of crisis, a band of brothers, and indeed sisters, against a common foe. However, we forgot this all too easily and the next day we returned to being strangers. It is true that if we live our lives in terror, then the terrorists win, but that doesn’t mean we can’t live in unity and perseverance. It can’t take the threat of violence to make us love our fellow man, rather, the threat of violence wouldn’t occur if we offered that hand in friendship and kinship to our brothers and sisters more often.

“In the moment it was so scary. Afterwards, everybody got together to talk about it — strangers talking to strangers. But, the next day, I forgot about it and it seemed like people didn’t take it seriously too,” Johnson concluded.

We need to learn from such instances as this, otherwise, it is just going to continue to worsen. Heed this call, that we can’t just forget and forgive and move on. Yes, nobody was hurt this time. But, what about the next? Believe me, if things don’t change there will be a next.