The Parkland Students, Race, and Religion: What We’re Not Discussing
At the March for Our Lives on Saturday, Mar. 24, millions of people across the country joined together to call for stricter gun control. March for Our Lives was centered in Washington, D.C., with over 800 smaller rallies in support taking place across the country. It was a climactic day for the students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and who came together in its aftermath to form the Never Again initiative to end gun violence in America.
Now, two weeks after the march, the movement is still garnering national attention thanks to the students who got it off the ground. The Parkland survivors have become famous, touring news outlets and schools while demanding stricter gun control. In their effort to start their march, they received millions in donations from celebrities including George Clooney, Oprah, and Steven Spielberg. It is clear by the march’s turnout that the students have garnered unprecedented public and financial support in their fight against gun violence.
But as much as the Parkland students are causing a wave, there’s still a lot that the American public isn’t not saying about movements against gun violence. It’s hard to ignore that the Stoneman Douglas High School was a predominately white school with a Jewish population of over 40 percent. The shooting itself and the resulting surge of responses needs to take race and religion into the picture.
The screams for stricter gun control across the country after the Parkland shooting stand in stark contrast to the national silence over prolonged gun violence in the black community. Black communities have never received the same media coverage, despite historically dealing with large amounts of gun violence. While African Americans make up around 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for more than half of the country’s gun homicide victims, according to the data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety.
Protests against police shootings led by black leaders, including movements like Black Lives Matter, are often criticized by national publications. Protests are labeled “violent riots” instead of valiant calls for safety like the Never Again Movement. Black-led movements against gun violence have been discredited and protesters have been arrested, labeled as extremists, and overall perceived as negative by certain groups of Americans such as those behind the All Lives Matter slogan.
It’s upsetting to see students from a white, affluent school gain wall-to-wall media coverage overnight when the struggle against violence in black communities has gone unheard and unsupported throughout history. This has been a point of controversy for many, who support gun control but are frustrated at the lack of conversation around different communities that suffer from it. The Parkland’s students’ success in staging events with large amounts of support from the population and the media shows the vastly different experience black people have had trying to do the same thing.
In addition, few news outlets have recognized the hate crime inherent in the Parkland shooting. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has a predominantly Jewish population, with six of the 17 victims being Jewish. The shooter himself was a self-proclaimed white supremacist who at one point decorated his backpack with swastikas. He was recorded as writing such disturbing comments as, “My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her,” in a white supremacist group chat online. It is not hard to recognize that the violence that the shooter perpetrated was at least partly anti-Semitic. His disdain for the Jewish religion, support of Nazis, and white supremacist mindset all point to a hate crime. However, most national media and the Never Again movement have hardly recognized this.
The Never Again movement, in all its success, has come to highlight the way that certain movements are supported in America. White students with a meaningful cause stand a much better chance of receiving a $500,000 dollar check from George Clooney than their black peers. They are given media coverage, interviews, and positive support. On the other hand, the same issues see less positive recognition when they affect communities of color.
Despite these issues, it is amazing that a group of young people have been passionate enough to begin a movement against gun violence. The work being done by the Parkland students is necessary and monumental in being the first of its kind to garner tangible success. It is also very important to note that the Parkland students have traveled to predominantly black schools where gun violence has occurred, and voiced their solidarity with them. Some Parkland students have publicly recognized their privilege in media attention, and promised to speak on behalf of all gun violence survivors. Going forward, the rest of the country should take note, and ensure that white students shouldn’t be the only ones who have a voice in our country.
Claire Harvey is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.