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Students from Parkland and Chicago unite to expand the gun control conversation

The current gun control debate has ignored race. These teens want to change that.

On Saturday, survivors of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, met with high school students from Chicago to discuss gun violence and its effects on their communities, coming together to “share stories, ideologies, and pizza,” according to Parkland survivor and student activist Emma González.

“Those who face gun violence on a level that we have only just glimpsed from our gated communities have never had their voices heard in their entire lives the way that we have in these few weeks alone,” González tweeted.

“The platform us Parkland Students have established is to be shared with every person, black or white, gay or straight, religious or not, who has experienced gun violence, and hand in hand, side by side, We Will Make This Change Together,” she also wrote on Twitter.

In the weeks since the February 14 shooting, the survivors from the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have seized national attention with a call for gun control. Their activism has not been without its detractors, but for the most part has drawn considerable support from celebrities and the media.

To some observers, the reaction to the Parkland students’ activism appears very different from how the public and politicians usually respond to gun violence in other communities.

“Young black people have been fighting to save lives through gun reform laws for years without the support and energy given to the Stoneman Douglas students,” noted Teen Vogue columnist Lincoln Anthony Blades. “In fact, black youth, who’ve been passionately advocating for gun control measures, have been demonized, obfuscated, and overlooked.“

These critiques have not been raised to detract from the student’s activism, but to question society at large about what it does and does not support. As I’ve written before, the difference in reactions “opens up a complicated discussion about who gets empathy in America, what issues are deemed important, and the types of activism and activists that the public responds to.”

That school shootings do not account for the majority of gun violence affecting young people only adds to this debate. According to an analysis of fatal and nonfatal childhood firearm injuries compiled by 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 face a firearm homicide.

“From 2012 to 2014,” the researchers note, “the annual firearm homicide rate for African American children (3.5 per 100 000) was nearly twice as high as the rate for American Indian children (2.2 per 100 000), 4 times higher than the rate for Hispanic children (0.8 per 100 000), and ∼10 times higher than the rate for white children and Asian American children (each 0.4 per 100 000).”

Recent school safety proposals introduced after Parkland — like potentially arming some teachers and staff — also ignore that students of color, especially black students, are more likely to face discipline and punishment in schools than their white peers, and that many of these disparities could be exacerbated by recent proposals to arm teachers or increase school security.

The Parkland students have been facing many of these issues head-on, meeting with the survivors of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, and now with the Chicago students, in an effort to build coalitions and expand their fight against gun violence.

Students from Chicago say that they plan on walking out of school this month, joining activists around the country in the National School Walkout and the March for Our Lives events, and they’ve extended an invitation for Parkland students to visit Chicago.

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