Senior Staff Writer
A Tennessee lawmaker who's served on a House committee to study school safety issues reflected Tuesday on the Dec. 12 school shootings in Connecticut, saying respect is a key issue for Americans.
"We learned that we can't make assumptions," Rep. John J. DeBerry Jr. (D-Memphis) said of committee findings. "Places we've seen as holy ground, places that folks respect that won't be reached - churches, schools, hospitals and movie theaters - some people won't respect those lines."
DeBerry is speaking in Lewisburg on Monday at 6 p.m. at the Second Avenue Church of Christ.
"We've got to reassess everything we knew," he said. "The original studies several years ago did not have the urgency of today."
The school safety committee was meeting 14 years ago.
Does the long-time lawmaker think the Legislature will fund local government plans to make schools safer? "You can never be there long enough to know what the General Assembly will do," DeBerry replied. "But the general public will not sit quietly and see us do nothing.
"Parents are rightly concerned about the safety for their children," he continued. "I don't think people are being excessive or knee jerk when they respond.
"It's happened everywhere," DeBerry said.
Three were shot and two died at Richland School in Lynnville during 1995, some four years before the Columbine, Colo., high school massacre.
Lewisburg Police Chief Chuck Forbis advocates school resource officers with duties that include instruction as well as patrol, and DeBerry said, "I think your police chief is on the right track. Police can't be everywhere but what's the right thing? When somebody is out to kill people, the chances are that they will succeed.
"We've got to find a way to make it more difficult for somebody who's lost it," DeBerry said.
His parents were activists in the 1960s when they ran The Informer newspaper in Crockett County. DeBerry went with them to Memphis to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his last speech when Memphis sanitation workers were on strike.
"My dad was the president of the NAACP in Crockett at the time," said DeBerry, recalling their trip to Memphis, returning home and then going back because of the civil rights leader's assassination. Riots broke out in Memphis and elsewhere because of King's death.
"My parents were not going to be any part of any violence and they got us out of there," he said, advocating King's endorsement of peaceful resistance. "We were taught self-respect and of others. That's what's not happening now.
"Somewhere along the line we lost personal responsibility and we're going backward ... Those who have had the chance ought to get off the mountain, waiting on the next King, or Ralph Abernathy."
In 1969, DeBerry's mother wrote a story for The Informer answering the question: Will there ever be a black president?
"She said there would if America continued to move forward and when race ceased to be an issue," the lawmaker said.
The next year she died a car accident, he said, "and we were in turmoil, but we chose to continue," he said. "We are losing our edge because we have become a nation of excuse makers.
"People must return to the desire to be the best, without the excuse of what somebody did to them," DeBerry said.