The activism surrounding the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida can make the gun debate and the energy feel new. And it is, but only to some degree.
Millions took part in the MarchForOurLives demonstration throughout the USA and Ottawa and Toronto in Canada. Roughly 1.2 to 2 million people in the United States came out into the streets – making this march not only one of the largest in American history, but among the largest ever fostered by young people since the Vietnam era. But, young people have always been our moral compass in times that appear bleak and hopeless.
So it’s essential to highlight the young activists and organizations that have been fighting for gun control for years, without being given their due. Here’s to the young men and women spearheading the fight for an end to gun violence in their communities.
Nza-Ari Khepra is now in her 20s, but in January of 2013, her friend was shot and killed by two gunmen, just days after being a part of President Barack Obama’s second inaugural celebration. Khepra and her friends started Project Orange Tree in honor of their friend Hadiya Pendleton for gun violence prevention.
We know the story of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in 2012. What many don’t realise, however, is that along with racial bias, the “Stand Your Ground” law had a part as well. To put it simply, the law allows persons who feel threatened by outside forces, while on their property, to defend themselves by any means. It allows the use of deadly force in public when used in self-defense, even when there are other options.
Following Zimmerman, who used that law as an excuse to murder a young boy he’d pursued, young Black Floridians created a group called the Dream Defenders and staged a massive protest challenging the Stand Your Ground law. Dream Defenders had a hand in getting the #blacklivesmatter movement up off the ground following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, waking the national conscience.
The #SayHerName hashtag, created by the African American Policy Forum, the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, is in honor of the Black women and girls who are forgotten by the mainstream media as victims of gun violence at the hands of police. When we bring up gun violence at the hands of police, we think of Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling – as we should. However, we don’t remember the Black female victims of police brutality. Black women are outnumbered by White women 5:1 in the United States, yet are killed by police in nearly the same numbers. Black women seem to be forgotten in conversations surrounding Black people and interactions with police.
#SayHerName hosted: A Vigil in Memory of Black Women and Girls Killed by the Police at Union Square, New York City. They honored Alberta Spruill, Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, Shelley Frey, Kayla Moore, Kyam Livingston, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, and Tanisha Anderson alongside their family members. Hundreds of attendees, activists, and stakeholders were present. The creators of the movement and Soros Justice Fellow, an expert on women and LGBT POCs interactions with police, published a compelling document, titled “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.”. It’s a collection of stories calling into focus the experiences of Black women, who disproportionately are victims of police violence.
These people and organizations have been lead the fight against gun violence since before Parkland, Las Vegas, and Orlando. Why haven’t they received the media attention that the students of Stoneman Douglas have?
To be clear, this is not saying that young people like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez do not deserve regard. They do. However, it’s irresponsible and frankly disrespectful, to act as if what they have demanded is revolutionary. We have been here before. The only difference here is that supporting groups like Project Orange Tree and Dream Defenders requires people to check their privilege and bias, and supporting movements like #SayHerName commands people to take an intimate look at how policing works for black people, and the system that is rigged against communities of color.
The young people organizing #MarchForOurLives and #NeverAgain have pointed out that Black activists have been in their position before, but were not treated the same. They have kept their protest intersectional by literally passing the mic to young people like Edna Chavez and Mya Middleton. These teens understand that under the umbrella of stopping gun violence, we must include police reform and community engagement – which requires including Black and Brown teens in the national conversation.
Acknowledging the groups and people mentioned in this article is the difficult thing to do. It is. But inevitably, to create a world without gun violence, the difficult thing has to be done. Listen to communities of color. Listen to young Black people. Listen to Black women and girls. The past failed them, and the keys to a safe future lie within them.