By Patricia Tolson
‘There’s an evil growing in our society’
With the horror of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, still fresh in the minds of many Americans, a former law enforcement officer and SWAT team leader has come up with a three-point plan to make schools safer.
Mark Sherwood, a 24-year retired veteran of the Tulsa Police Department in Oklahoma, is also an author, a naturopathic doctor, founder of the Functional Medical Institute in Tulsa, and an Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate for 2022. He is also a parent and grandparent.
Sherwood will be on the ballot in the state’s Republican primary on June 28, 2022.
“In a nutshell, I am going to tap into my nearly 2 1/2 decades of experience in law enforcement and being part of a SWAT team,” Sherwood told The Epoch Times, adding that he has trained for mass shootings and understands the role of law enforcement in those incidents.
He has also traveled around the world and has seen firsthand how other countries have successfully fortified their schools to protect children against an attack, namely Israel.
“I was over there around 25 years ago and saw an armed guard in front of the school with an automatic rifle,” Sherwood recalled, describing how there was a big fence surrounding the school property with razor wire across the top. From the outside, Sherwood said, he couldn’t tell if it was a school or a prison. So he asked, “Why that?”
He said he never forgot the response: “This is our future. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. No one is going to come in here and infringe on our ability to teach them and train them and allow the to become contributors to society.”
“That has stuck with me all those years,” Sherwood said. “It hit me. There’s an evil growing in our society. Violence is growing, and I remember well the Jonesboro and Columbine shootings, the first two that kind of put this on the roadmap, and this Uvalde thing is completely unacceptable.”
First Major School Shootings
On March 24, 1998, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden shot and killed four of their classmates and one teacher and wounded 10 other students at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro, Arkansas. Fifth period had just started. A fire alarm sounded, prompting students and staff to evacuate the building. As the students filed out of the building, Johnson and Golden opened fire.
Less than a year later on April 20, 1999, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, armed with semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and explosive devices. Twenty minutes later, 12 students and a teacher were dead. Twenty-one others were wounded. The violence only ended when Harris and Klebold took their own lives.
“We have to protect our kids at all costs,” Sherwood insisted. “No questions about it. We have to start putting money in to protect the borders of our schools much the way we should protect our national boarders. Instead of sending money to other countries we need to begin to understand that our schools need security. We cannot let this happen anymore.”
The Three-Point Plan
Sherwood believes a multilevel system of security measures would be the most effective way of protecting children and staff at America’s schools.
Fortification of the Property
The first phase of Sherwood’s plan is to fortify the property at each school. This would include placing “visibly armed security” out in front of the schools, “like police vehicles or someone standing out there who is visibly armed.” Such a visual deterrent is not meant to alarm the average person going in to the school. It’s meant to alarm “the bad guys” who are going there will ill intent.
In May 2022, the December 2018 image of an armed guardian at a charter school in Manatee County, Florida, gained national attention on social media. According to a local report, Harold Verdecia’s sole duty as the school guardian is to stop an active shooter.
In Florida, 45 of the state’s 67 county school districts have already implemented the guardian program. Many of these were instituted in the aftermath of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead and another 17 injured.
At the time, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd had implemented his department’s sentinel program, which was already in effect at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. While Judd reached out to the district’s superintendent at the time, and the presidents of the private and public colleges, all except Southeastern turned him down. The Parkland shooting happened a year later.
Santa Rosa County, Florida, is poised to become the 46th school district to join the state’s guardian program. Officials in Connecticut and New Jersey are also considering, and implementing, armed security programs for their schools.
Looking to Texas
As The Epoch Times reported on June 2, Huffman Independent School District (ISD) in Huffman, Texas, has been training staff members as armed school marshals for the past four years. After applying with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) to enter the School Marshal Program, participating staff members are put through an 80-hour training course where they learn about physical security, improving the security of the campus, the use of force, active shooter response, and weapon proficiency.
According to a 2018 report by Education News, over 170 school districts across the state of Texas have implemented the School Marshal Program. TCOLE Deputy Chief Michael Antu, who oversees the agency’s special services and enforcement department, which includes the School Marshal Program, told The Epoch Times “there have not been any recorded incidents in those school districts.”
Sherwood said that having ambiguous security features—like signs posted outside of the property warning a potential perpetrator that “some school personnel may be armed”—would serve to make a potential shooter rethink their plans if they knew one or more people could shoot back.
“You won’t identify who those armed people are,” Sherwood noted. “But you give the perpetrator the idea that they aren’t going to just go in and find a bunch of soft targets who give little to no resistance.”
As noted by The Epoch Times, every school in the Huffman ISD also has signs warning anyone who comes on school property with ill intent that staff may be armed and will use whatever force is necessary to protect the students in their charge.
Sherwood’s plan also includes having multiple escape routes in each school but only one way in, and that entrance would be guarded and heavily monitored through a series of surveillance cameras.
“Those ideas are the start,” Sherwood explained, adding that a third component is community involvement.
The Community Alliance
According to Sherwood, any successful security program must have the participation of people in the community to spot potential problems before they happen.
“You have to go into the community and create partnerships between the police, the schools, the parents, churches, and begin to form alliances that really understand the dynamic of violence,” Sherwood explained, “and that would include paying attention and monitoring not just behavior and people and what they’re saying or doing, but how about monitoring what they’re watching.
“Unfortunately today, violence is being glorified. Murder has been gamified. It’s planting seeds in the minds of some people and, good or bad, some seeds are going to grow.”
The U.S. Senate has put forth a legislative package of gun control measures supported by all Senate Democrats and 10 Senate Republicans that would include resources for mental health needs, school safety, expanded background checks, and a controversial “red flag” provision allowing for “resources to states and tribes to create and administer laws that help ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others,” according to a June 12 statement issued by the legislators.
Sherwood does not agree that laws will be an effective deterrent to someone intent on killing.
“I do not believe simple gun legislation is the answer,” Sherwood asserted. “Clearly you cannot legislate morality into mankind. Nor can you legislate the homicidal tendencies out of mankind. We need to understand that all of us have the potential to do anything evil and anything good.”
In God We Trust
According to Sherwood, “the final piece of the puzzle is probably the most important.”
“We have neglected God,” Sherwood said. “We’ve pulled Him out of school. We’ve pulled Him out of government and frankly we’ve pulled Him out of a lot of churches. When you pull God out of anything, all you have left is chaos and evil.
“I would propose putting the Ten Commandments on display where students can see them, in front of schools. I would propose putting ‘In God We Trust’ on schools. We should instill those Judeo–Christian values that are the backbone of our nation and our founding documents, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights. Further, I propose having students honor our country by saying the pledge of allegiance to our flag. By doing these things, I believe we can make a major dent in this. Legislation isn’t going to reform criminals.”
If elected governor of Oklahoma, Sherwood said he would begin by implementing these reforms at the state level.
“It will be effective,” he said.