Case #4.05: "God Is a Bullet"

At a tough-looking high school, a kid is spraying graffiti that reads BLADE 394 on the side of the building. On the front steps, another kid is practicing his nunchuk twirling skills; a third boy had a knife tucked under his watch band. Yes, the blade is exposed. 

Various other students are using and dealing drugs. A girl who's obviously not wearing a bra is cuddled up to her boyfriend. Gangbangers fight. Someone else is selling guns out of his locker. Judy and Doug walk through the halls. Doug asks, "Why do I feel like I'm in Dodge City and somebody just shot the marshal?" 

A fortyish white man with a briefcase gets out of his car and looks at the entrance to the school. He sighs. You can barely tell the place is called Belmont High thanks to all the graffiti. The man goes inside and looks disapprovingly at what the students are getting up to. He takes a cigarette out of a boy's mouth and crushes it with his shoe. Really, out of everything he probably passed on his way in, the cigarettes bother him? "Who the hell do you think you are?" asks the boy. The man replies, "Your new principal." Theme song.

In the auditorium, an assembly is about to start. The man from the parking lot approaches the microphone, claps his hands, and tells everyone to sit down. He introduces himself as Mr. Brooks and lists what he's seen in his first 3 hours as principal: drugs, prostitution, graffiti, nobody on their way to college, and a dropout rate of close to half. Three days prior, a student named Janet Johnson was killed in front of the school in a drive-by. That's when he was called in. "Us too," Doug mutters to Judy in the audience.

Mr. Brooks' rules are simple: Come to school on time. No drinking, drugs, smoking, or violence on campus. He asks if that's clear. Nobody answers. "Good," he replies and dismisses them.

In the cafeteria, some of the students are actually sitting on top of the doorframe to eat. They oughta try out for Cirque du Soleil if they can manage that trick. Judy sits at a table with some girls who are the most cleancut students we've seen in the episode so far. Mr. Brooks comes over the P.A. with an announcement. The students boo and throw food at the speaker. 

Mr. Brooks will be instituting a dress code starting the next day: no gang colors. The Goths cheer this news. Spikes, metal, and studs will be banned as well. The Goths boo. All girls' outfits "must be in good taste. I think you know what that means." Mr. Brooks thanks the students for the cooperation he will most certainly not be getting. In the cafeteria, somebody pulls the fire alarm and someone else starts a food fight. Two boys spray each other with fire extinguishers. Doug just keeps eating. 

The next day, Mr. Brooks stands on the front steps watching students come into school. He tells a Goth boy to take off his studded dog collar necklace. Surprisingly, the boy drops the necklace into a bin for banned items. A group of gangbangers arrives dressed all in red. "Give me the bandannas," Mr. Brooks orders. I'm extremely shocked when they comply. A black boy dressed in a tuxedo with a red bow tie comes up the principal. "I believe I have a reservation," he says, "Benny Brown." Not sure what the point of that scene was...

An English class is oddly enthusiastic about their teacher quizzing them over The Great Gatsby in game show format. I find this very unrealistic; every junior in my high school was forced to read that book and even people who genuinely loved school and reading hated it. The English teacher breaks one of the principal's rules by giving a student a bathroom pass 10 minutes after class starts. 
Mr. Brooks leaves the building that afternoon to find the kids have spray painted his car with insults and broken out all the windows; the driver's side mirror is hanging by a thread.

The next morning, Mr. Brooks announces that the school board is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone with information that will lead the arrest of Janet's killer. It's highly unlikely the police department would be okay with anyone but themselves offering a reward. We learn that Janet was a cheerleader.

After school in the back parking lot, Judy and several other girls try out for the cheerleading squad. As if the school would really be filling an empty slot 3 days after one of the members died. The coach, Miss Jackson, notes that Judy was on the squad at her previous school. "Until I got suspended 3 times," says Judy, "Stripped of my pom-poms. It wasn't a pretty sight." I'm surprised the coach didn't ask what offense led to Judy's suspension from school and dismissal from the team.

Mr. Brooks comes outside and calls over Miss Jackson. We can't hear what they're saying. Miss Jackson informs the girl that tryouts are being moved into the gym. "It's 110 degrees in there," gripes one of the cheerleaders. Mr. Brooks has declared that parking lot off-limits because of his car being vandalized. "Other off-limits zones are on the way," Miss Jackson finishes. The girls head into the building. 

On his way out of school, Doug gets into a fight trying to protect a boy who was getting jumped by 3 other guys. Doug headbutts one of the assailants and almost knocks himself out. Mr. Brooks gives one of the retreating students a swift (and literal) kick in the ass. He and Doug help the injured victim to his feet, who's wearing socks but no sneakers for some reason. Mr. Brooks sends the boy to the nurse. He tells Doug to be in his office at 8:30 the next morning.

In the office, Doug thinks he's in trouble. "You figure a lot of kids come into the principal's office because they've done something wrong," says Mr. Brooks, "However, in your case, you've done something right. You realize that there's a bad element in this obstacle to those who want a good education." He's proud of Doug for "standing up to those losers." He wants to start a team of student safety monitors to walk around the school during study hall and watch for rule-breakers. 

"Sounds like a good idea," Doug says. Mr. Brooks picks up on the skepticism: "You don't think it'll work?" I think if the school is that rough, he's gonna have a hard time finding acceptable candidates. Mr. Brooks says Doug would be surprised how many of the kids want the best education Belmont has to offer and wants Doug to be the head safety monitor. He knows Doug won't disappoint them. Hopefully Doug can keep the safety monitors from turning into the Alpha Elite from The Next Karate Kid.  

After school, Mr. Brooks assembles the male athletes on the bleachers. Belmont is known for sending athletes to college and the pros, but "we have faltered, lost our game plan." The principal wants school to be a successful place for everyone and will be disbanding all the sports teams due to the bad elements. The jocks groan. "I know it's unfair that a few bad apples are..." the principal starts and is interrupted by a football player asking if there's anything they can do. Mr. Brooks wonders if any of them would be interested in being safety monitors.

The next morning, janitors throughout the school start painting over the graffiti. One of the cheerleaders introduces Judy to Neil, Janet's boyfriend. He witnessed the shooting. Judy tells him she's sorry about what happened. The cheerleader tells Neil how much the squad misses Janet. "Leave me alone," says Neil, slamming his locker shut. The bell rings. 

Benny calls Judy over to tell her that Neil is only interested in customers. Whatever Neil is selling, Benny claims he's not involved with it. Doug approaches with one of the other safety monitors. "You two ain't supposed to be in the hallway," says the safety monitor. Doug adds, "If we're going to have a good learning environment, we must all follow the rules." Doug writes them both detention slips.

Mr. Brooks stops by Mr. Bosley's English class to watch him teach. Judy has just asked if Fitzgerald's point was that America is a failure. "For Fitzgerald and Gatsby, America is a vision of ideal life that we can never make because human beings are too fallible," explains Mr. Bosley. Doug's fellow safety monitor doesn't understand what this has to do with them. "Their dreams are our dreams too," Mr. Bosley goes on, "Now we've gotta make it here. Now let me ask you a question. Are you making it?" The kid doesn't know.

Mr. Bosley starts reading into subtext messages about racism that clearly don't exist in the book because everyone in it is white. Mr. Brooks stands up and asks to speak to Mr. Bosley outside. He takes issue with him teaching The Great Gatsby. Mr. Bosley defends it as an American masterpiece. "Your job is not to interpret it, just teach it," says Mr. Brooks. The bell rings.

Two paramedics go into the boys' bathroom, where a student has overdosed. They start doing CPR and giving oxygen. Mr. Brooks watches the medics with an odd smile on his face.

Judy tells Doug that becoming head safety monitor is as good as blowing his cover. "I had no choice," he says, "Mr. Brooks labeled me a do-gooder. No dealer's gonna come near me." Judy was onto something until she got detention. "I'll take the jocks, you take the losers," says Doug, "That's what we call the rest of you guys." He thinks Brooks is doing a good job and "we might as well gives these kids a chance to get out of this hole." Judy reminds him they're not social workers; they're investigating a drive-by shooting. 

The next day, Mr. Brooks announces a bake sale sponsored by the AP English class and that the area behind the library is now off-limits because people have been smoking out there. In the basement, Benny has hijacked the P.A. system, calling himself The Joker: "Goooood morning, Belmont High!" He declares it's Sid Vicious Day and to remember "Sid died for your sins. Tonight, the drama department debuts their new rendition of Bye Bye Birdie. Get this, Coach Hayes plays the major." Throughout school, students laugh appreciatively. 

Benny tells everyone to stand up and starts singing "The Hokey Pokey." He wraps up with, "Physicals today. Girls, report to The Joker. Guys, just grab Mr. Brooks, turn to the wall, and cough as you pass." 

Mr. Brooks assembles the safety monitors in the boys' bathroom. These days, that would be grounds for an investigation. "My generation came to school to learn," he says, "We had fun, but we also discovered Romeo and Juliet and Albert Einstein. We didn't come here to die on a cold tile floor." We learn the drug overdose victim was Janet's boyfriend Neil. Doug asks if they have proof who sold Neil the drugs. Mr. Brooks says the proof is in Neil's locker. 

Downstairs, one of the other monitors refuses to open Neil's locker. Doug does the honors himself with a pair of bolt cutters. He finds a stash of drugs in a wooden box. Mr. Brooks expels Simmons, the hall monitor who refused to open the locker. 

The next morning, construction crews put up heavy duty fencing while the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Mr. Brooks begins the announcements by saying, "4 students were expelled yesterday for smoking in restricted areas and defying the authority of the safety monitors." That brings the total of expelled students to 72. Any student caught in the hall without a pass will be expelled. Other expulsion offenses include smoking on campus and not following the instructions of a safety monitor. The students are reminded to walk single-file on the righthand side of the hall at all times, which sounds like a prison rule. After the bell rings, the kids look like zombie as they follow "proper hallway procedures."

At lunch, Judy sits with Benny, who never figured her for a cheerleader. Judy thinks he has something against cheerleaders in general because she heard him saying Janet dealt drugs. "It's not easy keepin' up that school spirit, day after day, week after week," says Benny, "A little chemical stimulation comes in very handy." Judy asks if she had a lot of customers. Benny wonders if Judy plans to take over Janet's business. Judy says no because Janet wound up dead.

"The drive-by had nuttin' to do with that," says Benny confidently, "It wouldn't be worth the price of the bullet to shut down Janet. She was strictly pep-squad supply." Judy mentions that she's looking to score. Benny tells her she'd just end up broke and ruining her looks; he has something better than drugs.

Doug's safety monitor buddy catches Benny and Judy in the faculty bathroom, about to play some prank involving painting the toilets. "Bo, I know what you're thinkin', dude. They're not good thoughts," says Benny. He promises he has a good explanation; he's trying to teach Mr. Brooks to lighten up. He asks Bo for a warning. Bo can't do that. 

"Brooks will kick us out of school. I'm the unofficial school mascot," says Benny, "Without me, things'll fall apart. I get booted, my dad'll kick the crap outta me and that's no bull." Bo tears up the ticket and leaves. "That's my man, Bo," says Benny happily. I'm guessing the abusive father story isn't strictly true. 

After English, Mr. Bosley asks Doug why he hasn't been doing his homework and adds, "You seem to be acting like a cop." Doug explains that he's just doing his job as safety monitor. "Mr. Brooks wants to make learning as unpleasant as possible," says Mr. Bosley, "Unfortunately, kids don't learn that way." I could write a few paragraphs about Common Core, especially the new way of doing math, but I won't.

Mr. Brooks asks Bo if he knows who was responsible for the paint prank in the faculty men's room; it was Bo's assigned patrol area. Bo doesn't have a clue. "You were overheard arguing with Benny Brown," Mr. Brooks goes on, "Did he do it?" Bo admits that he lied because Benny is a friend and "his dad would kill him if he got kicked out of school." "And what's your dad gonna do when you get kicked out?" asks Mr. Brooks, "That little misjudgment just got you expelled." The joke embarrassed a teacher and undermining authority "leads to violence and drugs." That statement sounds like some of those '50s social hygiene films. He tells Bo to clean his locker and leave. Benny will be expelled too.

The next day, Mr. Brooks has a mandatory drug test for all students. Anyone who refuses to take it will be dismissed or expelled. What's the difference between those two terms again? He reminds them that failure to turn in homework or talking back to a teacher will result in detention, which seems like a much more reasonable policy until he gets to the part about 3 detentions equaling expulsion. Mr. Brooks reminds all teachers that daily progress reports are due on his desk by 4 PM.

In an empty classroom, Benny rigs a teacher's desk to collapse. "Benny, you know who shot Janet Johnson, don't you?" asks Judy. Benny wants to know why she cares so much. Judy flashes her badge. "Brooks already got the dude yesterday," says Benny, "Tracy Simmons. He was going after Neil, he missed, and he hit his girlfriend." Judy thanks Benny for doing the right thing and leaves. The safety monitors come in and grab Benny. One holds Benny while someone else hits him.

Mr. Brooks arrives the next day to find more graffiti on the school. He announces over the P.A. that the entire faculty and student body will be meeting during 3rd period. Out in the parking lot, Judy tells Doug that things are out of hand. Doug disagrees, saying they were worse before Brooks made the new rules. Judy tells him about the safety monitors attacking Benny for playing a prank. He had to go to the hospital. 

Doug rides his motorcycle into an alley and finds Bo smoking pot. He went from cleancut athlete to juvenile delinquent pretty fast. Bo hasn't enrolled in another school and is thinking of getting a job at Rocket Dog. "If I could get you back at Belmont, would you go?" asks Doug. Bo says he wouldn't because he likes where he is. 

At the assembly, the safety monitors sit on stage while the rest of the student body is in the audience. Mr. Brooks comes in and slams the door. "Some smartass painted a swastika on my school," he says, "We are gonna sit here until I found out who painted that crap on my school." Doug comes in with Bo. Mr. Brooks yells at Doug for being late. Doug tells him that Bo wants to go back to school; he has a right to an education. Mr. Brooks suggests Doug painted the swastika. 

Mr. Bosley admits that he did it. Mr. Brooks says that Mr. Bosley is a coward and a disgrace. I have to agree. Graffiti is pretty juvenile. Mr. Brooks fires Mr. Bosley. He asks the safety monitors to escort Mr. Bosley out, but they refuse.

Benny comes on the P.A. "We're going on strike," he says. "All of us." The students cheer. "Until the school board gets rid of you, we're outta here." "What the hell are you doing? Get back here!" says Mr. Brooks as the students get up and leave the auditorium. They've gone from being sheep for one person to a sheep for another, that's progress. When the auditorium empties, Mr. Brooks fires a shot into the ceiling in frustration.

English class. For reasons they don't bother to explain, Mr. Bosley is back teaching. He congratulates Bo for getting a B on his Great Gatsby paper. Doug watches from outside the room with a smile on his face. Mr. Bosley starts the next unit: poetry. End of episode.

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