Nearly two months ago, on February 14th, another mass shooting at another U.S. high school was perpetrated. This time, the shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
14 of the victims were students: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14. Martin Duque, 14. Nicholas Dworet, 17. Jaime Guttenberg, 14. Luke Hoyer, 15. Cara Loughran, 14. Gina Montalto, 14. Joaquin Oliver, 17. Alaina Petty, 14. Meadow Pollack, 18. Helena Ramsay, 17. Alex Schachter, 14. Carmen Schentrup, 16. Peter Wang, 15. And three were staff: Aaron Feis, 37. Chris Hixon, 49. Scott Beigel, 35.
In total, 17 lives were taken, and even more people were hurt, making it the 12th deadliest school massacre in the world. The aftermath of the shooting followed a dishearteningly familiar pattern of "thoughts and prayers" and political circumvention and slacktivism.
The 45th president, like so many who have so little to say, offered his prayers and condolences to the families of the murdered students and staff. He tweeted, "no child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school." Just over a week after the shooting, he called for the arming of school teachers, suggesting up to 20% of them have firearms in order to stop the "maniacs" from targeting and attacking schools.
"History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!" –a tweet from the President.
After the shooting and following a similar script, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, "This is one of those moments where we just need to step back and count our blessings," he continued, "We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically and just pulling together. This House and the whole country stands with the Parkland community." It is unclear if the $171,000 he received from the National Rifle Association during the 2016 election cycle influenced Ryan's desire to pull together.
The survivors of the shooting rejected and panned these repetitive condolences from politicians. They wanted action. The students organized a group called Never Again MSD. The group demands preventative gun legislation. Three days after the shooting, the group held a rally in Fort Lauderdale which was attended by hundreds supporting their message.
On March 14th, the Women's March Network organized national school walkouts. On March 24th, in cooperation with Everytown for Gun Safety, Never Again MSD organized the demonstration, March for Our Lives. Throughout the U.S., there were over 800 similar events. The focus of the protest was tighter gun control. With so much public, celebrity, and corporate support for Never Again MSD and the heavy media attention, it seems as though some sort of legislative action will be taken.
However, why now?
Now, all of a sudden, we support the youth. We recognize their anger and we understand. Now, we stand behind and beside them. Where was this outpouring of love when the face of the youth was a bit more melanated? Where was this outpouring of love when Black youth stood bravely and proclaimed that their lives mattered?
Black youth organizing in Ferguson for the murder of Mike Brown did not receive the same treatment. Black youth organizers have never been embraced and validated like Never Again MSD. When they speak out against gun violence, they aren't being handed out verified Twitter accounts and they are not photographed for the cover of Time magazine. When Black youth walked the streets, demanding a similar justice, they were met with the same brutality they protested against. Their cries and their outrage were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Black youth are "thugs" but the (predominately) white youth of Never Again MSD are "heroes."
It is incredibly important to recognize the ways in which our society responds to political situations. To ignore the fact that Black youth have been out here organizing for years and to ignore their experiences with gun violence (at the hand of law enforcement) is sending the message that Black pain and Black death is not enough to garner your love and your support…but white pain and white death is. Selective humanity is inhumane. You cannot support the Parkland survivors without also supporting the Black youth who have been screaming for the last five years.
But, maybe we can only show solidarity for Never Again MSD because of the shallow, liberal actions they endorse. Maybe we can only comprehend gun control as limiting civilian access to firearms and not as something that must include police officers. Maybe, just maybe, we can't see pain in color.