When students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School began to call for national gun reform, media outlets praised them for revolutionary efforts and hundreds of thousands participated in the March for Our Lives (MfOL) protests across the country.
When Black Lives Matter, #SayHerName and other Black activists called, yet again, for an end to the police killings of unarmed Black people after police officers shot Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s Sacramento backyard, they were met with police violence and near opposite response.
In both situations, young activists are coming together to protest violence and advocate for safer communities free of gun violence. Pushback to the Black-led movement isn’t benign or inexplicable, it’s one more example of this country’s institutional racism.
Following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead, a group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student activists responded with immediate calls for better gun control throughout the nation. Florida then passed a bill that tightens gun control and President Donald Trump announced support for a ban on bump stocks.
Meanwhile, politicians fail to respond to the demands of movements like Black Lives Matter with any tangible policy change.
Calls for gun reform often follow mass public shootings, but are rarely met with this volume of national support and response. While the momentum the young student activists from Parkland have garnered is remarkable, it is not revolutionary.
When media outlets describe it as such, it further erases Black voices across the country. For decades, these voices called for gun reform while the nation alternated between willfully ignoring and misrepresenting them.
School shootings have increased in recent years — over 230 school shootings occurred since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 — but remain a relatively new issue. Contrastingly, state and police violence against Black people has consistently occurred since the U.S. was colonized.
School and other mass public shootings are awful and require legislative action, but an end to them is far from an end to gun violence. While recent conversations around gun control focus on government solutions, Black activists recognize the government itself is a perpetrator of gun violence, with a militarized police force that selectively protects people.
Media coverage erased these more revolutionary and inclusive stances on both a national and local level. Black students at Stoneman Douglas make up 12 percent of the school’s population and many of them added their voices to those of other Black activists who have repeatedly spoken out for gun control over the years. Shamefully, most media outlets failed to amplify their voices to the decibel they have for white-passing Parkland students, thus ignoring the experiences of students who also lived through the shooting on the basis of their skin color.
MfOL has increased conversation on an important and necessary topic, but it can only create effective, inclusive change if it expands to advocate for Black lives and intersectional gun control. It is imperative that we give due credit to Black activists for their original calls for gun control, include police gun reform in this movement and elevate Black voices the most.
Not only have Black youth and activists called for gun control for decades, their demands include more measures that would protect Black communities. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, founded in 2013, demands the demilitarization of police and the protection of Black people, which necessarily includes gun control for police officers.
In countries with strong gun control policies, including Britain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland and New Zealand, police officers don’t carry guns on patrol. If this policy were to be employed in the U.S. alongside citizen disarmament, the 19 deaths of unarmed Black men who were killed by police last year could have been avoided.
In 2017, 31 percent of unarmed males killed by police were Black, consistent with previous years. The disproportionate number of police killings of Black people speaks loudly — gun control that doesn’t include gun control for cops will not do enough for Black communities and their safety. But the mostly white-led MfOL doesn’t center police gun control in its argument.
Because MfOL is a reaction to a school shooting rather than a police one, it makes some sense that it isn’t rooted in demands for the demilitarization of the police. The Parkland students’ cause is important too — this country needs better background checks, a ban on assault rifles and other forms of gun control.
However, there is no excuse for the media to elevate these protests over those centered on Black lives. This kind of media coverage credits white and white-passing activists with a movement originally began by Black activists.
Once again, white America shows up for and publicizes white issues, but disappears and ignores issues affecting Black individuals the most. It is reprehensible for America and Americans to only show up for a cause when white faces are attached to a tragedy.
Now that the door is open and policy change is being discussed, it is imperative to broaden the cause of MfOL. It’s time to support an intersectional movement that will lead to a simultaneous end to gun violence — for both students in schools and Black youth.