Tuesday, December 15, 2015


The Times Editorial Board | http://lat.ms/1Mfyd2Y

Dec 15, 2015  11:58 AM  ::  The email could be a hoax. It could be a childish prank to get students out of final exams, or simply a mean-spirited effort to force more than a million people to change their patterns today out of fear.

No matter. Even if there are no explosives-laden backpacks, no mysterious packages and no actual plan to harm children, the online threats that led to the closure Tuesday of every Los Angeles Unified school and preschool demonstrate for Angelenos what it means to be terrorized.

Coming on the heels of the San Bernardino shootings, school officials had little choice but to close the schools. Had anything happened to a student or teacher, the horror would have been unspeakable, a wound from which it would be hard to recover. The costs of doing this are heavy, though. The already cash-strapped district will probably lose millions of dollars as a consequence of closing Tuesday because state funding is based on daily attendance. Thousands upon thousands of parents were forced to change their work plans for the day; chances are that many of those will not be paid, and that's a sacrifice that L.A. Unified families can ill afford.

Whatever the intentions were of the person or people making the threat, this is what terrorism does. The brutal slayings of 14 office workers at a holiday party less than two weeks ago strike such fear into us that a worrisome email can force us to shift our way of life and cost us extraordinary sums, even if absolutely nothing dangerous is actually planned. Terrorism isn't just the infliction of death and injury; its aim is large-scale intimidation and coercion that ripple through society long after the attacks are over.

And yet what options do we as a society have — especially when the possible victims are children? None, really.

Perhaps if the San Bernardino attack had occurred a year ago rather than this very month, the email would not have seemed as intimidating, though officials say there were reasons to think this threat was more credible than a similar threat made to New York schools. But being more relaxed a year from now could be an even bigger mistake; people with ideologically-inspired evil on their minds don't tend to offer warnings.

That's why this threat didn't just target the 700,000 students in L.A. Unified and their teachers and librarians and parents. It targeted everyone who sends children off to school each day with a general sense that those children will be safe there. But then, how drastically are we willing to react to the new awareness that our lives might not be as secure as they had seemed? Sweeps at every public school before each school day? We rightly rebel at sacrificing a way of life and giving terrorists exactly what they want. But we cannot afford to take it for granted, either.

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