Thousands of students around the country staged a national school walkout today (March 14) to protest gun violence, one month after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In an effort to pressure Congress to pass gun reform legislation, students all over the country walked out of their classrooms for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. local time.
Per a press call with youth activists that was organized by the Women’s March on Monday (March 12), in addition to standing in solidarity with Stoneman Douglas, many students of color also demanded that lawmakers divest from plans to enlist more police officers and arm teachers in schools, and invest in more mental health professionals and better school infrastructure.
In the weeks since the deadly shooting, the White House has supported plans to arm teachers with guns, and lawmakers have also proposed increasing the number of school police officers. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott recently signed a “school safety” bill that would allow trained school staff and faculty to carry handguns. Many advocates worry that these policies will further the criminalization of youth, especially in predominantly Black and Brown schools, where students already face disproportionate surveillance and police force.
“It sounds like making our schools into prisons, which they already are,” said William “Walle” Telusnord, a senior at Miami Edison High School and organizer with Power U Center for Social Change in Miami, Florida, during the press call. “My school is in the heart of Little Haiti, so there is a lot of rich culture, but at the same time you can imagine the clash between cultures when you have Black and Brown people going to school every day and at the same time we have an influx of police.”
Florida’s new bill, the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” is the state’s first gun control measure to pass in 20 years. In additon to arming and training school personnel, it also raises the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, places a ban on bump stocks and creates a three-day waiting period for prospective gun buyers.
The youth advocates say that solutions to gun violence must not reinforce the school to prison pipeline, in which students of color are disproportionately funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile justice system.
“Every time that we are in this moment around a school shooting and tragedy, young people of color are the ones who feel the burden of the response because it is their schools that will receive the metal detectors [and more] cops,” Judith Brown Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project, said during the call. “We’ve seen too many assaults of young people by police officers in schools because they are not there to de-escalate. They are not there to support young people, but they are there to enforce the criminal code,” Dianis continued.
In some districts, school officials forbid students from walking out of class, as reported by The Guardian. Still, as of Wednesday, 3,136 walkouts were registered on the Women’s March Youth Empower website, while other students found alternative ways to let their voices heard. Below, a few scenes of youth leading the fight against gun violence during the #NationalSchoolWalkout:
— ABC News (@ABC) March 14, 2018
The students from the 15 Broward high schools that walked out and are heading to their school board are primarily black and brown. This is as much their issue as anyone else’s. pic.twitter.com/uAk6ZFc2s6
— The Dream Defenders (@Dreamdefenders) March 14, 2018
— Carla Parker (@carlachampnews) March 14, 2018
— Ruth H. Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) March 14, 2018
— Justin Blackman (@JustinIBlackman) March 14, 2018
— ABC News (@ABC) March 14, 2018
— WDET 101.9FM (@wdet) March 14, 2018