Black Parkland Students Have A Message About Police & Guns — And They Need You To Hear It

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After the deadly Parkland, Florida, shooting in February, a handful of students who survived the massacre turned their sites to activism, and have become household names in their efforts to fight gun violence. But many black students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are expressing frustration at how the post-Parkland debate has played out, in large part because it hasn't included any discussions about police violence.

"We are proud to say we are from Douglas, we are proud to say that those who are at the front are doing a great job, but we have so much to say too," said MSD student Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, one of several black students who held a press conference at their school Wednesday. She and her peers argued that any conversation about gun violence has to also address police violence, and stressed out that having more police officers on school campuses will not make black students feel safer.

"I am here today with my classmates because we have been sorely underrepresented, and in some cases, misrepresented," MSD student Tyah-Amoy Roberts said at the press conference. "The Black Lives Matter movement has been addressing the topic [of gun violence] since the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and we have never seen this kind of support for our cause. We surely do not feel that the lives or voices of minorities are valued as much as those of our white counterparts."

Kai Koerber, a 17-year-old black MSD student, said that there were police officers throughout the campus when he returned to school after the shooting, and that he fears they'll treat him and other black students as "potential criminals" rather than students to protect.

“My school feels more like a prison than a school, with the heavy police presence. I have already been racially profiled,” Koerber said, according to one activist. "It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks. ... Should we also return with our hands up?”

According to the Miami Herald, the press conference was co-organized by Tifanny Burks, a community organizer with Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward. Burks echoed Koerber's concerns, and said that black MSD students were "shook" at the number of police on campus after the shooting.

"It felt like there was a thousand police there," Burks said. “Is the solution to less gun violence more guns, just with police officers’ names on them?”

Although black people only make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, 25 percent of Americans killed by police officers are black, according to Mapping Police Violence's annual report. Likewise, a study of 2015 data by the Guardian found that police killed more than twice as many unarmed black people as unarmed white people, and that over 62 percent of unarmed Americans killed by police are people of color — even though only 38 percent of the population is non-white.

“Black and brown men and women are disproportionately targeted and killed by law enforcement,” Roberts said at the presser. “These are not facts I can live with comfortably.”

Current MSD students aren't the only ones voicing concerns about the trajectory the gun violence debate has taken. Queer Eye star Karamo Brown, who graduated from MSD in 1999, told Vox that although he supports efforts to strengthen gun laws, he's dismayed that black MSD students haven't been given as big of a platform as their white peers, and believes that police violence is an inextricable part of the gun violence debate.

"We are finally having a conversation that strategically supports gun reform that is going to inadvertently affect everyone," Brown said. "But when we start talking about the other layers, especially when it comes to people of color, that has to be unpacked. Because we systemically have not valued black lives that we should. So when we hear black lives being carelessly taken by gun violence, we just assume that it is the norm — that it is okay."