After Parkland, Are Black Students' Voices Getting Lost In Latest Gun Violence Debate?

Mar 30, 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Kai Koerber (middle) is the lone black student on a panel with 4 other students on Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Trevor Noah, March 22, 2018.
Credit The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Youtube Screenshot

Are black students getting a voice in the gun violence debate, after the mass shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland?

When you think of Parkland students, the names of David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Jaclyn Corin may come to mind. Another name in the forefront is Emma Gonzalez, whose speech following the Parkland shooting garnered National attention.

“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA, telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this: We call BS,” she said, before the crowd joined in. “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence: We call BS! They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun: We call BS!”

Still, besides Gonzalez—an 18-year-old of Cuban heritage—some minority students feel like they’ve been underrepresented in this debate.

“I am here today with my classmates because we have been thoroughly underrepresented and, in some cases, misrepresented,” said Tyah-Amoy Roberts, another student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school.

While she says she doesn’t want to take away from the good work her fellow students have done, she insists this is not the first time students have tried to have their voices heard on gun violence.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has been addressing (gun violence) since the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, yet we have never seen this kind of support for our cause and we surely do not feel the lives or voices of minorities are valued as much as those of our white counterpart,” Roberts added.

Included in Florida’s new gun safety law is a requirement that each district school board and superintendent work with law enforcement agencies to assign one or more “safe school officers” at each school.

It may include school resource officers, a school safety officer, or a school guardian.

That school guardian program allows for the arming of some teachers and other school personnel as part of a voluntary “guardian program.” It’s up to the school superintendent as well as the local sheriff’s office to decide whether to join the program.

Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie’s school district includes the Parkland school. He also represents the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Association members say they aren’t happy they didn’t receive enough funds in the budget to put law enforcement officer in each school across the state.

Superintendent Runcie—who also happens to be black—says their viewpoint is simple: more funds for resource officers.

“Pay to have trained law enforcement professionals on campus, and allow us to have more of them,” said Runcie. “Don’t put guns in the hands of teachers. They have a challenging job as it is.”

But, black students like Kai Koerber say when it comes to those who want more funds for more officers, he fears having more officers on the campus will make minority students feel like potential criminals. He also feels the officers may need more training.

“It is estimated that one in three police officers suffer from undiagnosed Post Traumatic stress disorder,” said Koerber. “When mentally ill police officers are tasked to safeguard a traumatized student body, that becomes a recipe for disaster. Police need to stand on the perimeters of our school. Those chosen to work at school should receive PTSD counseling and special diversity training.”

Before Wednesday’s press conference with black students, Koerber did speak on a national TV show in early March. He was the lone black student on a panel with 4 other students on Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Noah asked Koerber about his thoughts on arming teachers.

“And, if I’m being honest, I don’t want to seem like that guy, but me being a minority in the South, and having a teacher have a gun, regardless of color, does not make me feel comfortable, and even when you have resource officers that are taking matters into their own hands, I do not think that lethal weapons have a place in our environment,” added Koerber.

Meanwhile, some black students—who don’t go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school—have started garnering some national attention. One is Naomi Wadler.

During the recent March for our lives rally, the 11-year-old Virginia elementary student spoke about the importance of highlighting black women and girls who lost their lives to gun violence.

“Me and my friend Carter led a walkout at our elementary school on the 14th,” Wadler said. “We walked out for 18 minutes, adding a minute to honor Courtlin Arrington, an African-American girl who was the victim of gun violence at her school in Alabama after the Parkland shooting. I am here to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.”

There’s also Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr.

“My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” she said. “I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun-free world, period.”

And, during the gun control debate in the Florida legislature, the color of a student’s skin was not lost on members of the Black Legislative Caucus. When it came to “arming teachers,” some—like Ocoee Rep. Kamia Brown (D-Ocoee) feared how the legislation, at the time, could impact students.

“We could be creating an entirely different problem for black and brown students,” she said, earlier this month. “While a vast majority of our teachers are wonderful people, there could be situations where guns are used against minority students because a teachers says that he or she fears for their life, and the safety of others.”

Brown also argued teachers could claim Stand Your Ground in that type of scenario. But, according to Florida Politics, Rep. Bobby Dubose (D-Ft. Lauderdale) played a huge role in having that defense excluded from the gun safety bill.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.