“I am here today with my classmates because we have been sorely underrepresented and in some cases misrepresented."
Photo by Nadege C. Green via Twitter
On Wednesday afternoon, a group of black teens who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gathered together in a park near Parkland, Florida, to raise concerns about being overlooked in the fight for gun reform. The press conference, organized in partnership with Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, was spurred by all the media attention a handful of their classmates have gotten in the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day school shooting that killed 17 people.
“I am here today with my classmates because we have been sorely underrepresented and in some cases misrepresented,” said Tyah-Amoy Roberts, a junior. She pointed out that though black students make up 11 percent of the school’s population, they are “rarely seen in mainstream media the way that our white peers are.”
“The media have neglected us,” the 17-year-old continued, “our peers have neglected us, though they are doing great work, and we have neglected ourselves until this very moment by not using our voice to demand to be seen and acknowledged. Well, here we are; do you see us?”
Roberts also raised the point that conversations about gun violence have to go beyond mass shootings, and should also touch on everyday violence, suicides, violence against women, and police violence. “Black and brown men and women are disproportionately targeted and killed by law enforcement based on population,” she said.
Kai Koerber, another junior, criticized the militarization and “overpolicing” of schools, and shared his fears that having more police around at Stoneman Douglas will increase the likelihood of students of color becoming victims of police brutality. He also alleged that he was recently racially profiled at his school. “The police presence at my school is not comforting,” Koerber, 17, said. “It’s intimidating. … My once safe, beautiful school now resembles a prison. We have police towers in front, military-grade entry and exit points, and now we have invited those who are infected with the disease of prejudice to protect us.”
According to a recent op-ed from Robert Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, a number of “safety and security measures” have been instituted at MSD in the wake of February 14 shooting. Those measures include requiring students to carry clear backpacks, having law enforcement officers from the Florida Highway Patrol patrol campus, and requiring students and staff to wear ID badges while on school grounds. A report from the New York Times also noted that Runcie had recently accepted state financial assistance “to secure Stoneman Douglas High’s entryways.”
A request for comment from the Broward County Public Schools’ Public Information Office was unanswered as of press time.
While the students at yesterday’s press conference championed the work of their white peers, they spoke passionately about the need for intersectionality in this movement. Kayla Hicks, the director of African American & Community Outreach at the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, agrees. She tells Broadly she’s encouraged by the national gun reform movement that’s taken off in recent weeks because of the efforts of students who attend MSD, but admits it’s hard to overlook how the media and people in general have largely ignored similar advocacy efforts from other teen activists, particularly those from communities of color.
Hicks says the mostly white students at MSD who have captured America’s attention are getting so much attention not only because they have the resources and the reach, but also because “they don’t look like black, brown, and beige kids do.”
“We are stereotyped all the time,” she explains. “We’re pushing out gangbangers or we’re baby mamas. We’re not looked at as mothers that grieve and mothers that work as everyone else. I think society looks at black, brown, and beige people in general as people that accept gun violence,” she explain. “[They think] it’s what we do, it’s what we expect.”
Roberts, the student who spoke about the importance of inclusion, ended her speech with this call to action: "Let us not divide ourselves, but work together because gun violence is something that has affected us regardless of race [and] push to make sure the voices of black students are heard just as much as others because every single story is important.”