On March 23, marchers around the country and the globe gathered for the to protest for gun control in light of the shocking number of recent school shootings. I attended the march in Los Angeles, walking with an energized crowd in the area surrounding City Hall. I have marched in other events before, but this was the first time when young people made up (in my estimate) almost 50 percent of the crowd. The protestors I saw seemed to be generally middle school-aged, but I also watched young children and toddlers carrying signs they had made begging politicians to implement gun control. One notable sign I saw, carried by a boy who seemed to be in fifth grade, said “When I said I’d rather die than go to math class, I didn’t mean it literally.” The humor of the sign and the age of the boy carrying it made the overall message, a statement about the boy’s fear of death at school, even more heartbreaking.
One slogan I saw frequently on posters, and heard chanted as I moved through the crowd, was “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” This slogan after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., after some accounts contended that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer. While the evidence presented during the trial that Brown had his hands in this position, the slogan has persisted as a rallying call for Black Lives Matter and related activist movements. So, why were the protesters in Los Angeles, who were predominantly white students and parents, using this slogan? Especially when the concepts implicit in this slogan, of police brutality and antipathy for young black lives, are not a pressing concern for the people I saw co-opting this cry?
Black protesters in Los Angeles and on social media participated in the March for Our Lives, but some brought signs expressing frustration with this blind spot demonstrated by their fellow marchers. Signs like “So I’ll see you at the next BLM protest?” and “Where was everyone when Eric Garner was shot?” called out what they saw as a white-centered focus on issues of gun violence to the fore of our national consciousness. March for Our Lives and the surrounding activist work has elevated the debate on gun control. The movement has gained more ground in 2018, which can’t be ignored. However, it is imperative to turn a critical eye on the movements one supports in order to improve them — in that vein, we should point out where the current gun control movement has left black perspectives behind.
, “gun violence disproportionately impacts black children and teens, who are 4 times more likely than white children and teens to be killed with guns.” Furthermore, “black children are 14 times more likely than white children and teens to die by gun homicide.” The increasing fear of non-POC (people of color) parents and students about gun violence in schools exists for many young men of color in many other spaces, including (in light of ’s murder) their own backyards. However, this history and what it suggests about the nature of the victims of gun control have been largely ignored in the 2018 mainstream gun control debate. The voices of people who face gun violence more often, including from those whose purpose is supposedly to protect, have been ignored or villainized despite their importance in contributing to this debate.
As gun violence continues to terrorize the American public with increasing frequency, the movement to pressure politicians to legislate guns in a sensible manner is also going to matter more for the future and safety of the country. However, that debate will not be effective if it does not include and feature the voices of everyone who is affected by gun violence — that group must include diversity of race, as well as class, gender, sexuality, and political orientation. Only then will the activist work gain the political leverage that it needs to succeed.
Madeleine Marr is a first-year from Newtown Square, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.