It has been roughly two weeks since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting rocked the United States. In such a short amount of time, the survivors have begun turning the tragedy into a platform for action. They have organized rallies, spoken with legislators and fought tirelessly and gracefully for the cause. Thousands are expressing plans to join the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. this March. The #NeverAgain campaign has taken off across the U.S. and abroad, as teens have taken their lives into their own hands. Their courageous efforts have proven to many the power and influence of our generation.
Let me be clear. I am in no way attempting to minimize the efforts of the Parkland shooting victims. I am amazed by their bravery, strength and what they have been able to accomplish. But as people all over the world point out their resilience and ability to promote change, I can’t help but feel frustrated. This is far from a new trend. Many youths have been fighting this issue for a long time. And until recently, nobody cared.
Black teenagers have been fighting senseless gun violence for decades now. We too have organized walk-outs, proposed policy and spoken out about the effects on their lives. And yet, their movement was never able to achieve the same amount of mass appeal.
It is no secret that gun violence disproportionately affects Black people. Though we make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we make up more than 50 percent of overall gun murder victims. It is also no secret that this violence is often committed by other Black people (though interracial gun murder rates are rising). I’m not attempting to argue this. However, the response to this information – by policymakers, media and many citizens – is often overwhelmingly apathetic. Black-on-Black crime is not an issue for white people to solve, regardless of its roots being based in systemic oppression. The loss of Black lives is not enough of a tragedy to inspire action.
I’m also aware of the nuanced arguments regarding gun control as it pertains to police brutality. I understand that it is necessary for cops to have guns, and that there will never be a future where they don’t have them. But when Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2014, it was not by a cop. It was by a civilian with a gun who still walks free. His case is not unique; rather, it is a story that’s been retold for years. In response to these deaths, Black people, including a significant number of teenagers, have been at the forefront of attempting to win legislative justice – and that includes gun control. And while they have received some support, it is nowhere near the outpouring of support given to the Florida survivors.
The attitude toward these two movements is different in a crucial way. While the Parkland survivors have received more than their fair share of criticism and attacks, they have also received something else unprecedented: an incredible level of support that is transcending party lines. Gun owners have been going viral for destroying their firearms on video. For the first time, numerous Republican legislators are beginning to talk about possible steps to limit gun violence. Celebrities such as Oprah and George Clooney have outwardly displayed their fervent support, going so far as to make significant donations to the #NeverAgain movement.
As a firm supporter of stricter gun control laws, these events and this movement have made me hopeful. However, I cannot fully enjoy this moment without seeing the hypocrisy in it. None of this happened when Trayvon Martin died. And I doubt it will happen for the next Trayvon Martin (and there’s going to be a next Trayvon). People across the country are pushing for action harder than ever before, spurred on by the loss of innocent lives. It pains me to realize that Black lives are simply not seen as innocent enough for this large of a response. In this country, Black people don’t get to be victims. We don’t get to be heroes. When we fight for our rights to life and safety, we are criminalized and dehumanized. We are blamed for our own deaths, and expected to fix the problem on our own despite lacking attention and support.
Every morning for the past two weeks, I’ve seen tweets and Facebook posts about the loss of these lives, and what should be done about it. These messages are coming from people that have remained silent when Black lives are lost through gun violence. I see people making plans to go to the March for Our Lives who would never protest alongside Black Lives Matter. Something is present now that wasn’t before: a sense of tragedy that has inspired them to take a stand. And as I come to terms with that fact, I can’t help but wonder: When will the loss of our people be seen as an equal tragedy? When will we receive this level of compassion? When will our deaths become enough to make change? As time progresses, I come closer to the conclusion that such a time will never come.