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Parkland’s black students say they’re being forgotten in the gun control debate

“We have been thoroughly underrepresented and, in some cases, misrepresented.”

Black survivors of the school shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High say they have been overlooked by the media.
Black survivors of the shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High say they have been overlooked by the media.
ABC Local 10 News

Black survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, say that the gun control debate that has been raging since the tragedy has largely overlooked them — and argue that recent moves to increase school safety by increasing security would actually put them more at risk.

At a press conference Wednesday, black students said that they were being ignored in coverage of Parkland, noting that media coverage hasn’t reflected the fact that their school is 11 percent black.

“I am here today with my classmates because we have been thoroughly underrepresented and, in some cases, misrepresented,” student Tyah-Amoy Roberts said.

The students also said that the post-Parkland gun control debate has failed to fully acknowledge how gun violence affects black youth. According to a 2017 analysis of fatal and nonfatal childhood firearm injuries compiled by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black children face the highest rates of firearm mortality — a difference largely driven by black youth being more likely to be shooting victims than children from other racial groups.

The students say they are raising these concerns not to detract from the work of their peers, but to ensure that their concerns are acknowledged by the media and policymakers. “We surely do not feel that the lives or voices of minorities are valued as much as those of our white counterparts,” Roberts said.

Parkland’s black students say they wouldn’t be made safe by more police officers on campus

In recent weeks, racial justice activists and civil rights groups have noted that gun violence in black communities, rather than inspiring reform legislation or prompting national outcry, is often framed as the result of black people being unable to control themselves. Black activists say they have been portrayed as criminals when they hold protests.

“Black people, unfortunately, continue to be criminalized for our moments of courage, for our moments of mourning and grieving,” Black Lives Matter Network co-founder Patrisse Cullors said during a Huffington Post event in February.

Experts on race and school discipline have noted that recent efforts to improve school safety and calls to arm teachers have largely ignored how increased discipline would affect students of color.

A 2014 fact sheet from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights noted that, during the 2011-2012 school year, black students were suspended and expelled from school at a rate more than three times greater than white students. When broken down by race and gender, the OCR notes that black girls are suspended at six times the rate of white girls and at twice the rate of white boys.

Collectively, this disparity fuels what has been called the “school-to-prison-pipeline,” a systemic bias that civil rights advocates say pushes children and young adults of color out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system.

For black Parkland students like 17-year-old Kai Koerber, calls to increase police presence on campus and other security measures proposed after the February mass shooting have only made them more anxious.

“It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” he said on Wednesday. “Should we also return with our hands up?”

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