By C. K. LeDaniel
On February 14th of this year, a young man armed with an AR-15 rifle entered his former high school, killed 17 people—mostly students—and injured 15. This was, by no means, the first school shooting we’ve seen; in fact, there have been at least 17 school shootings to date in 2018 alone. In part because of its scale, this one captured the attention of the country, but more so because of the remarkable activism of the surviving students.
In the weeks since we began to see their faces on our televisions and in our Facebook feeds, these students are also becoming increasingly “woke” about the racial issues involved in gun control. To be sure, the predominantly White affluence of the Parkland students has allowed the issue to gain traction and mobilize the country to “March for Our Lives”—the DC march was one of the largest in history. But the Parkland students are not all White. Many are Black and Latina. One of the most recognized among them is the young, queer, Latina woman, Emma Gonzalez. Her Black classmates have seen less airtime on our major news networks. But the visible White students have begun to “check their privilege” and call this out, while Black students, many of whom participated in the National Walkout Day on March 14th, have helped to check them.
In watching the march on television, I found that people of color were far more amplified than they were initially. The remarkable Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old African American girl, has gone viral with her powerful message, stating she is speaking for those Black girls who are often forgotten. We also saw many young brothers, including Zion Kelly, a resident of D.C., and Christopher Underwood of Brooklyn, who both lost siblings to gun violence. Alex King and D’Angelo McDade from Chicago took the stage with tape over their mouths and their fists in the air.
But what exactly are the racial issues involved in gun control? First, let’s take a quick look at the racist history of the Second Amendment itself, which supported the rights of White people to form militias better known as “slave patrols”, some of which were later known as the Ku Klux Klan. When Black people sought to arm themselves and exercise their constitutional right to self-defense against these groups, it should come as no surprise that legal institutions were able to easily circumvent a “race-neutral” application of the law. In other words, the Second Amendment and gun control have largely only ever been implemented to the disadvantage of people of color. Think back to the Black Panthers exercising their right to “open carry”; the Reagan Administration and local California legislators swiftly imposed restrictions.
Today, we see the racist implementation of the Second Amendment as gun rights activists, mostly White people, have their rights respected and protected despite their overt aggression. One need only recall recent pictures of heavily armed White Supremacists in Charlotte, flanked and unchecked by law enforcement. Meanwhile, a legal gun owner in full compliance with the law, like Philando Castile, cannot reach into his glove compartment without being shot to death in his car while his killer, a police officer, goes free. White people armed with assault weapons and bombs, weapons of war and mass destruction, who are members of known White Supremacist groups, are referred to as “challenged young adults” with mental illnesses or tragic victims of bullying, while unarmed Black people are thugs so frightening that they are gunned down, not only by police officers, but also by “neighborhood watchmen” like George Zimmerman, who took out Trayvon while he walked home with a package of Skittles in his hand. The “law” allowed Zimmerman to be acquitted.
The March for Our Lives youth and teachers’ unions oppose the “hardening of schools” promoted by Trump and the National Rifle Association (NRA), in which teachers would be trained and armed and more safety officers would be placed in schools. They oppose these for good reasons. It is a cynical attempt to increase gun sales. It will likely lead to more loss of life. A gun will not stop an AR-15. Teachers want to teach, not be armed, and they want funding to support the teaching, not the gun manufacturers. But we moms of MOBB United are keenly aware that the “hardening of schools” will mean the increased loss of Black life, as the armed fear for their lives around dark-skinned children. More safety officers in schools already has meant a dramatic growth in the school-to-prison pipeline as our sons are criminalized at an ever earlier age. This will only grow more, feeding the beast of mass incarceration.
Much was made in the march of the concerns of communities of color regarding the presence and use of guns in their own communities. Fortunately, I did not hear the problem referred to as a so-called “Black on Black” crime issue, a racist construct, at least not from the march speakers and not on the media outlets I frequent. The issue was more appropriately raised as one of racially determined, socio-economic problems heightened by the easy availability of lethal arms. D’Angelo McDade, cited above, said, “I stand before you representing the body of those who have experienced and lost their lives due to gun violence. For we are survivors. For I am a survivor. For we are survivors not only of gun violence, but of silence. For we are survivors of the erratic productions of poverty. But not only that, we are the survivors of unjust policies and practices upheld by our Senate. We are survivors of lack of resources within our schools. We are survivors of social, emotional, and physical harm."
For us moms, the gun violence that breaks our hearts all too often was reflected in the murder of Stephon Clark, a young Black father holding a white cell phone in his own backyard, whose phone struck such terror in two police officers that they shot him 20 times within 3 seconds of seeing him and cuffed his lifeless body on the ground. I was relieved that Stephon Clark was invoked several times at the march, including by Edna Chavez, a young Latina student from South Central Los Angeles. Let us hope that the youth involved in this new movement—many of our sons and daughters among them—will continue to be mindful of race and of intersectionality in all of their activism