March For our lives UTAH commitment to racial justice
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” the late Martin Luther King Jr. once said. We continue to let this idea of silence dictate our lives. Silence is violence. If we never bring issues to light, how will we ever bring about the change that is necessary? People are dying, and minorities have called for change, but they have been silenced, despite experiencing gun violence disproportionately. Why do we ignore the voices of the communities that may have the most meaningful things to say?
The vicious cycle of race and inequality in the U.S. should be central to the gun reform conversation. Much of the country is just starting to come to terms with the chilling fact that students fear for their safety at school, but for many children in communities of color, gun violence has long been the norm. Parents have long sent their children to school, never knowing whether they are going to return at the end of the day -- this is not a new fear. Yet the media and politicians have only mentioned these stories when it is politically expedient. The people of these communities are angry-- angry that politicians have seemingly ignored the countless murders in their communities. They are disappointed that there has been no urgency to find real solutions. We will not let this continue. We demand urgency.
Oftentimes, gun reform opponents propose alternative safety initiatives, such as stricter security methods in schools. What America has failed to realize, partly because we have not listened to students of color, is that these alternative options are already in place, and they have not worked. These methods are in place on the south side of Chicago, low income neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and other communities with large populations of people of color. They are simply not effective. Students of color continue to endure gun violence despite these “safety” measures.
Another school safety proposal that has been discussed more recently is the call to arm teachers. This proposal once again fails to acknowledge the experiences of students of color. The concerns with arming teachers are two-fold. First, how would this affect existing racial disparities in school punishments? Arming teachers could exacerbate an already dangerous environment, particularly for black students. In a 2014 report from the Department of Justice detailing disparities in discipline during 2011-12 school year, they noted that although black students make up only 16% of the student population, they are expelled at a rate three times greater than their white counterparts and suspended at a rate six times greater. Second, how would a call to arm teachers affect teachers of color? It is important to remember the name Philando Castile. A school employee, with an approved concealed carry permit, shot by police in cold blood after informing them of his weapon. These solutions are not only a cop-out by our politicians, but also a failure to acknowledge the experiences of constituents of color. What we need are practical solutions developed through conversations about gun reform.
Students of color have called for an end to gun violence since before Columbine, but America was not listening. We must pay attention to violence when it happens to white children, to black children, to immigrant children, to native children, and to all children all around our country. Students of color who called for gun reform were rebutted and belittled. Counter protesters have labeled these students “thugs” and “criminals” for trying to establish common-sense gun legislation. Organizers of color who have stood with these students have been labeled ”violent radicals.” No more. We must allow communities of color to control their own narrative. The support that Stoneman Douglas students have received has shown the difference in white students demanding gun reform and students of color demanding gun reform.
Yet there is one difference in the Stoneman Douglas students movement, this being acknowledgment. These student activists have acknowledged the struggles of students of color and used their position to work closely with them, empowering their voices. The Stoneman Douglas students have acknowledged that much of their activism is inspired by movements like the Civil Rights movement or Black Lives Matter movement, and we at March For Our Lives Utah will do the same.
Acknowledgement is key to understanding and to ensuring that this movement is inclusive. We must work together to give every community a voice. We as an organizing team write this to inform you of the important work that students of color have already begun, and to ask that you will join us to recognize the intersectionality of these movements. We must recognize America’s past hypocrisy, and not allow it to continue.
March For Our Lives Utah has vowed to stand with and for students of color. Our organizing team will not abdicate our responsibility to give students of color a voice. We recognize the adversity that students of color face, and we will remain steadfast in our commitment to recognize all facets of gun violence. When participating in protests and demonstrations we ask you to be aware of the following:
- Who is organizing these protests? Are organizers of color represented? Have organizers of color been debarred from the organizing team?
- Does racial justice play a key role in the issue? Is racial justice being spoken about?
- Have people of color historically protested the same issue? If so, why is the issue only now being brought to our attention?
- How do people of color feel about the protest? Are they against it? Why or why not?
Written by Abena Bakenra and Ermiya Fanaeian
Signed by March For Our Lives Utah organizing team