“We’re not where we’re supposed to be!” These were the words heard by over 800,000 young people who showed up on a brisk Saturday afternoon in Washington D.C. On March 24th, 2018 as people from over 800 cities across the nation and millions of viewers eyes were transfixed on their television screens, Yolanda King, the granddaughter of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took the stage with one of the Parkland Florida shooting survivor Emma Gonzales. In the same fashion her late grandfather did fifty years earlier; the young Miss King used her voice to give a clarion call to both young and old across the Country,” I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun free world.” Her words were followed with a rallying cry by the crowd, Vote them out Vote them out, Vote them out!
The organizers were young and energetic. Most of them were under the age of 18. They were survivors of one of the worst school massacres in American history. The shooting took place at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 17 young people were slaughtered by a lone gunman wielding an AR 15 assault rifle.
The assaults on the 16 students and one school staff member represent the fifth school shooting in 2018. It also marks the 187th school shooting since April 20, 1999; 18 years ago, at 11:19 a.m. when 13 people were killed and 20 were injured in a similar attack. While the latest shootings garnered outrage across the globe, young people in African American communities were reminded of the everyday gun violence that riddles homes and doorsteps in poor communities on a daily basis with little or no fanfare.
According to a CDC statistic, African Americans are eight times more likely to be murdered by a gun than Whites. In Wisconsin, a Black person is 26 times more likely to be shot than a White person. African Americans make up only 12.3% of the U.S. population but account for 14% of the 13,000 gun related homicides each year. The disparities continue in US cities with far less fanfare and in many cases, indifference with privileged attitudes that blames the violence on “those people” and “their” communities.
While the effects of the mayhem on victims are similar, the response has been strikingly different from politicians and organizations such as the NRA, and other gun enthusiasts.
The organizers of the March 24th 2018, March on Washington ensured they reached out to other cities and communities that had been affected by gun violence in years past. On the stage and prominently sharing the platform were young people and victims from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other cities. They were Black, Brown, Asian, and others whose voices have been crying out for decades pleading for politicians to help stop the violence in inner city communities.
The granddaughter of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream of a world free of guns and assault rifles.” 18-year old D’Angelo McDade from the West Side of Chicago stated, “I too, am a victim, a survivor, and a victor of gun violence. Another student, a 17-year old male from Louisville stated, “I’m here fighting for Dequante Hobbs Jr. a 7-year old gunned down when a stray bullet pierced his body while he was eating cake at the dinner table! I’m here fighting for Savannah Walker who died trying to save her friend when a gunman opened fire at a concert! I’m here for Jordan Edwards, 15, killed by police with an AR 15 rifle while driving from a party in Texas! It is important for the world to know how many young African Americans continue to lose their lives every day in this country. We are here as a united front and pledged solidarity to the parkland organizers and youth around the country!”
For decades, leaders and community activists in African American communities across the Country have marched in the streets, burned candles, prayed in churches, mosque and temples with little or no real action to address the root causes of violence. Sociologists have identified many of those root causes as poor living conditions, fractured families, drugs infested neighborhoods, gangs, and childhood trauma. They theorize these causes originate from physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. “We’ve had to devise our own strategies to save ourselves. We are inspired that those kids had the wisdom and insight to include victims of other communities” said Lawanda Monroe, Executive Director of Stop the Violence Increase the Peace Foundation.”
The genius of the organizers represents the evolution for a mass movement that will not take no for an answer. Politicians, mostly republicans have been criticized for being compromised by the NRA who represents one of the strongest lobbies in Washington dc. Tragedy and political complacency has forced this painful alliance to take matters into their own hands, it’s encouraging and hopeful to see young people working to save their own lives. In 2018, we will be asking youth, 18 years and older to Vote for Your Lives!