On February 14, 2018, one of the largest school shootings in the US occurred in Florida, leaving 17 High School students and teachers dead at the hands of a 19 year-old white male shooter. We mourn for the lives lost, we hold the community of Parkland, Fl in our thoughts, and we stand in solidarity as the brave survivors fighting for safer schools. We support these students’ efforts in advocating for better gun control and putting an end to gun violence in schools.
We also believe it is important to broaden the conversation around what violence in schools looks like.
When a faculty member verbally abuses a student of color for not standing up for the national anthem, it is an act of violence. When a curriculum does not include the history of the Chicanx people in the US, it is an act of violence. When a school decides to ban Muslim prayer, it is an act of violence. When a young Black girl gets reprimanded for “having an attitude”, it is an act of violence. When a trans or gender non-conforming student is not allowed to use the bathroom of their chosen gender, it is an act of violence.
While these occurrences have become normalized in our schools, they are not normal. They are rooted in systems of racism, Islamophobia, sexism, and transphobia. Violence is our young people feeling unsafe in their classrooms because they are oppressed based on their race, perceived gender or sexual orientation, religion, disability, or more.
As the gun and school safety debate continues, our school systems are grappling with what is necessary to prevent future mass shootings. Some elected officials in North Carolina have even stated their support for arming teachers. We know that this cannot be a solution to gun violence. Others have discussed increasing the presence of police officers (also known as “School Resource Officers” or SROs). We know that this is cannot be a solution to gun violence.
Continuing to escalate our classrooms toward more surveillance, toward a military state, and toward the normalization of youth of color and oppressed youth being brutalized by police officers is not the solution to gun violence or any other violence impacting our schools. We need to invest in funding our teachers, our school counselors and nurses; we need more money for restorative justice programs, not arresting youth and funneling them into prison cells; we need funding for extracurricular programs and to ensure that young people see themselves reflected in their classrooms.
We do not have all of the solutions to ending violence in our schools. But we do know that when students and youth, teachers, and parents organize together we can name, confront, and undo the physical, spiritual, and emotional violence of injustices. And that what we do together can be more powerful than what lawmakers and law enforcers, what politicians and cops can put in place.
We commend the students in Parkland, FL who have boldly proclaimed “never again” — in solidarity we echo their sentiments and say never again to white supremacy, homophobia and transphobia, anti-immigrant bigotry, islamophobia, or any other injustice harming and killing our young people.
Youth Organizing Institute