In the week since a gunmankilled 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, there has been a national reckoning ― fromstudent-led marchesto wall-to-wall media coverage toWhite House events― about gun violence and how to stop it.
For some black activists who have long been mobilizing around gun violence, the current wave of public attention and outrage over the issue is welcome. But it also invites the question of why there’s been comparatively little attention and outrage focused on the even more common reality ofroutine gun homicidesin the country, which disproportionately affect communities of color, andspecifically black Americans.
Prominent blackorganizersandpublic figureshave also noted the largely positive public response to the student activists from Parkland ― most of whom are not black and who attendedschoolin alargely white, relatively affluent Florida suburb ― compared to thefrequentvilification of young black activists protesting gun violence, particularly police shootings.
“It’s complicated, but I would encourage us to lean into the complicated,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors saidon a panelwith HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen on Wednesday. “Why don’t black people get to be victims? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves ... It’s a question not just for elected officials but it’s a question for us ... Who gets to be a victim?”
“I’m so grateful these children are getting the support they need,” she added. “And where is our support?”
It is interesting to note the difference in support for the kids in FL versus the kids in Black Lives Matter. I say that with full admiration for the kids in FL, to survive such a trauma and fight for everyone to be safer. But that’s also what was happening in Ferguson and beyond— roxane gay (@rgay) February 21, 2018
Gosh. This is amazing. And a I'm not being sarcastic. I have to be honest and say that I'm a bit taken aback (and a bit hurt) that those of us who were in the streets in the past five years for Black lives didn't receive this type of reception or public support.https://t.co/HLYXTcVdfL— Charlene Carruthers (@CharleneCac) February 21, 2018
If folks care so much about gun violence, join the@MillionHoodiesNYC chapter on Monday in Brownsville as we remember the anniversary of#TrayvonMartin's murder & draw the connections to police violence in Black communities#LifeAt23#Parkland#HoodiesUphttps://t.co/UUukLQzhVfpic.twitter.com/Bagkxgrfrh— Dante Barry (@dantbarry) February 22, 2018
In the wake of the Florida shooting, students from Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have leda bold wave of mobilizations― organizing school walkouts, speaking at rallies and planning the nationwideMarch for Our Livesprotest next month. The teens have been justifiably celebrated on social media, featured in the news (including at HuffPost), andsome were even invited to the White House.
HuffPost reached out to March for Our Lives, but did not immediately receive a response.
Importantly, those bringing up this disparity are not criticizing the Parkland students’ activism ― quite the opposite. The only people seeking to discredit the teens so far seem to beright-wing conspiracy theorists claiming the teens are “crisis actors.”
Still,the different public responses are telling: There’s justified, universal outrage at a shooting in a largelywhite, affluent area, but not so much at the frequent shooting deaths of black Americans; the public is praising Parkland’s student activists, but not so much Black Lives Matter organizers.
“I’m excited these young people are getting attention, which they deserve, and they’re driving amazing social change,” Dante Barry, co-founder of anti-racist, anti-violence organization Million Hoodies, told HuffPost on Thursday. “But I’m also disheartened and a little shocked to see folks likeOprah give $500,000to [March for Our Lives], while she’s seen black folks in the streets for years.”
“The way people are responding to predominantly white communities is notable: Whose movement is more valuable to support?” he added. “Other communities that have been devastated by gun violence are still fighting for crumbs.”
Young black activists who have been mobilizing around gun violence, including police shootings, for several years are generally perceived negatively by white Americans, are oftenarrested for protesting, and have beenlabeled as “extremists”by the FBI.
When black activists have taken to the streets to protest police shootings, members of law enforcement have met them in full riot gear, and at timesattacked them with tear gas. By contrast, the largely non-black student activists from Parkland have been invited to aCNN town hall eventwith lawmakers.
“What happens is white people get to be everything ― they get to be victims, they get to be heroes,” Cullors said on the Wednesday panel. “Black people unfortunately continue to be criminalized for our moments of courage, mourning or grieving. When we go out to the streets to protest for our lives that matter, we’re given heavy police repression. This is a race question.”
Mass shootings like the one in Florida often spur an important national conversation on gun control, particularly when shooters targetschools, like at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, or when there are high death counts, like in Las Vegas last year.
Yet whilemass shootings have been on the risein recent years, they represent just a portion of overall gun deaths in the U.S. annually.
In total, there were around 12,500 to15,500 gun deaths per yearin the U.S. from 2014 to 2017, not including suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive. According to data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, an average ofjust over 100 people died each year in mass shootingsfrom 2009 to 2016 ― with mass shootings defined as incidents in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the shooter.
The steady drumbeat of gun homicides that take place across the country every day disproportionately affect communities of color ― especially black people, who make up around 14 percent of the U.S. population but account formore than half the country’s gun homicide victims. There were alsoclose to 2,000 police shootings annually in the past few years ― andblack people are far more likely than their white peers to be killedin encounters with police.
“I’m very impressed and inspired by what I’m seeing these students do. Fighting for gun control ― I take my hat off to them,” Cobe Williams, deputy director at Chicago-based gun violence prevention organizationCure Violencetold HuffPost on Wednesday.
“I like what they’re doing, and we’re doing this on an everyday basis,” he said. “I applaud them, but we see this violence on an everyday basis. It could be one person or 24 people ― one person shot and killed is too many.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.