In the three weeks since the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Americans, most notably students, have been advocating strongly for changing laws to curb gun violence. This raises questions about whether the public prioritizes some victims of gun violence over others, how armed school staff would threaten some children more than others, and how punitive school environments discourage troubled students from seeking help or reporting classmates who may have violent plans.
When I attended high school, the first thing I’d encounter walking into the building were the metal detectors one had to walk through to gain entry. It was 2002, at the time I had just transferred from a magnet school with many white kids to a predominately Black school. The metal detectors were a shock to my system because I always thought that the majority of school shootings took place at predominately white schools and were carried out by the troubled white boy no one paid attention to. Although I am far removed from those days, nothing has changed for Black children; the reason why they might carry a strap is about self-defense when the ones who are paid to protect them don’t. (And let us also remember that the dire social environments that necessitate these precautions exist due to the legacy of social and economic deprivations that surgically target Black communities.)
Black children from all backgrounds are hyper-criminalized. The evidence points to Black children who are bullied and feel the need to protect themselves after school. Often, reports of bullying go ignored, children are told to just deal with it, and when the bully attacks, both children are suspended, expelled, and ultimately put into alternative schools. Think school-to-prison pipeline on steroids. It is a known fact that Black children, deemed violent, unteachable, problematic, and worthless, are punished much more harshly than their white and Latinx counterparts. The general public has been taught to regard Blackness in a way that blunts our humanity.
Gun violence affects people who look like me differently and in our case is almost always referred to as gang violence. Cities like Chicago get thrown in as the example of what “inner city” violence looks like. Yes, violence occurs there, but if we bring our focus to the children, we find that in many instances where weapons are involved it’s literally for self-defense. It is painful beyond words to hear a nine-year-old child talk about having to “get right” in reference to the gun in his back pack. We can pretend all day that it is the Black children who are “at risk” and it still won’t conceal the fact that these school shootings rip barely healed scabs off the lies being told—lies such as that the Movement for Black Lives is supported. If the work of Black students, activists, and everyday people were supported the “at risk” tag would be viewed quite differently.
The reality is that the mainstream media, elected officials, and community leaders are supporting the children from Parkland (rightfully so), but in a way that reminds many of the Black protestors who organized in Ferguson of how we were labeled “thugs” and “criminals.” Hundreds of Black students across the country walked out for Mike Brown when he was murdered. The media responded with ridicule and declared that these students went about bringing attention to the intersection of anti-blackness and police shootings in the wrong way.
Of course there are differences between the mission of the Parkland students and BLM and Black students who protest state violence. Still, there is an undeniable overlap, as both push for sensible changes to gun laws—and Black youth have literally been pushing for gun reform for years.
The real risks are in well-funded schools where NR- supporting parents send their children. All while Black children’s protests and screams of “stop killing us!” have fallen on closed ears. While we still fight against police using excessive force, implicit bias, bad policy, and legislation, we’re still seen as violent because we make the mainstream uncomfortable. Cosigning the new movement born out of the Parkland tragedy, it’s easy to get behind the kids for a good cause that keeps you comfortable. I support the movement as well, but I am not blind to the light in which the movement is cast. We are fighting a similar fight, but it seems as though a white face draws a mountain of empathy, while a Black face more often garners suspicion and indifference, and in the event support is given, it’s usually dependent on the victim’s level of respectability. This is the point fellow BLM organizer Janaya Khan made in her recent article discussing this issue.
“We are not facing the real issue of what this country has done in constructing assumptions about race so deeply held as to be scarcely acknowledged,” writes Khan, who is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto and International Ambassador for the Black Lives Matter Network. “We believe that the youths from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, largely white and white-presenting, are innocent and therefore worthy of our sympathy and protection, whereas black youths and other black people are never considered truly innocent. There is always this societal narrative when it comes to the killing or persecution of black people that we somehow did something to deserve it.”
In response to the Florida school tragedy many have proposed to arm teachers, which is problematic in various ways. One major way is that predominantly Black schools are already locked tight like Fort Knox; arming teachers would make a bad situation worse for someone who looks like me. The NRA is the culprit here, along with the politicians they fund to do their bidding while our children suffer the consequences of bad legislation. Feminist-humanist educator and author Sikivu Hutchinson puts it this way:
Clearly, Trump’s and the NRA lobby’s proposal that teachers be armed is abominable especially vis-à-vis schools of color that are already paramilitarized havens for the over-suspension, expulsion and pushout of Black, Latinx and Native American youth who are disproportionately incarcerated. Folks of color have been agitating for tighter gun control restrictions, as well as police accountability on excessive force and misconduct, for generations with none of the white mainstream cosigning that we see in the renewed fervor around the Parkland massacre.
Simply put, armed teachers will lead to the death of many more Black children. These kids are already over-policed, and the idea that teachers would be deputized is untenable. Think about the reports that expose the racism of many people who choose to wear the badge and uniform, and how white supremacists infiltrated police departs nationwide. Now think about all of the teachers who secretly carry that same racist ideology locked in a classroom with Black children. What happens when the teacher claims self-defense while a little Black child dies for asking for a pencil? It sounds extreme, but it can and will happen if we’re not careful. Listen to us, we are not the enemy.