by Toni Walker
Last Saturday, survivors of the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were joined by hundreds of thousands supporters in Washington D.C. for the March For Our Lives demonstration protesting gun violence. Those who were unable to physically join the students, marched in cities around the country and around the world in solidarity, raising awareness and demanding stricter gun control laws. The demonstration was organized by a group of the student survivors only a week after the National Walk Out which took place on March 14th for the same cause.
But as I read reports on March for Our Lives, I couldn’t help but think of the violence inflicted on Ferguson protesters in response to the death of Michael Brown in 2014. For many members of marginalized communities, this irony has been incredibly hard to ignore.
Mainstream media and news outlets have been following the students as they’ve continued to make their voices heard since the tragedy occurred on February 14th. As I watched videos and read articles capturing students who refused to be silenced, I felt an unshakable discomfort in the pit of my stomach. Not because I wasn’t impressed by the students’ activism. Rather, this discomfort comes from witnessing the treatment, media coverage and support for March for Our Lives protesters in contrast to the treatment, coverage, and lack of support for Black Lives Matter activists.
“I think it is a good cause and it’s important for people to raise their voice to effect change. But where was this energy for the past years especially for Black Lives. I find it kind of ironic that there’s all this support now but that wasn’t the case for Black protesters in the past,” said sophomore Marcus Tappan on the subject. “The amount of support for the Parkland students pales in comparison to the type of support for Black Lives Matter,” added freshman Amadi Lasenberry.
Perhaps the irony wouldn’t be so disturbing if the March for Our Lives demonstration wasn’t about a subject that is so close to the lives of Black People. Gun violence is a daily issue that has continued to disproportionately affect predominantly Black and Brown communities in cities around the country. Gun violence at the hands of militarized police forces has taken the lives of countless Black and Brown individuals. Yet their lives and deaths weren’t enough to get such overwhelming support. While March for Our Lives protesters have been lauded as brave and dignified, young Black Lives Matter protesters have been targeted, black balled and criminalized.
Junior Hope Smith put it simply, “It’s a slap in the damn face.” Sophomore Britney Firmin commented, “I saw something that said student lives matter and it’s crazy that they would co opt a movement that they didn’t fully honor or address.”
In spite of the discomfort I’ve felt for the past few weeks, I was momentarily relieved of that when I saw videos of Black students who were determined to ensure that the unique struggles within Black communities were voiced. One of the most moving speeches came from eleven year old Naomi Walder who called specific attention to the countless young Black girls whose lives are taken away by gun violence and “whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.” To see a young Black girl take the responsibility of making sure the names and stories of other young Black girls were heard was one of the most admirable things to come out of the March for Our Lives demonstration.
Though I’m aware of and appreciate the attempts made by white students to check their privilege during the demonstration, the devaluation of Black Lives in the process was often discouraging. Nevertheless, moments of Black student protesters making their voices heard continued to rebuild my hope. In addition to the students protesting for an inclusive approach through March for Our Lives events, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the young Black and Brown members of #NoCopAcademy in Chicago who staged a die-in yesterday protesting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed $95 million investment in a police academy for the city. Instead, students are demanding that the Chicago mayor invest that money in providing tangible resources – fully funded schools, after school programs, etc – in marginalized communities. Learn more about their demonstration here. As we celebrate or grapple with the efforts of March for Our Lives, it’s essential that we support other grassroots movements and initiatives led by marginalized communities who don’t have as large of a platform.