Anyone that personally knows me or follows my blog knows that I believe injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. At the outset of this blog let me fully state that I support any and ALL young people that are fighting for justice. Having said that, I would not be me if I did not speak about my feelings having watched the recent protests and responses to the protests in regards to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. This blog may make you mad. Do NOT send me ANY messages about not supporting young people. Anyone that KNOWS me knows that is a lie. However, the truth is the truth.******
Recently in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were murdered and over 15 people injured, young people have emerged strong, using their anger, outrage, and sadness to stand together in solidarity and ask for a ban on assault rifles. Their cries are being heard around the world with national media giving them the spotlight and sharing their message. Social media immediately responded with pages of support, tweets, retweets and hashtags making their message not just one that touched America, but one that is impacting the world.
Perhaps it is the writer in me, but I am always watching how a story is told, how America collectively responds and asking myself some of the following questions:
Who gets the media airtime?
How is the media framing and presenting the narrative to the public?
Who gets the frontpage coverage?
Who gets the celebrity endorsements and funding?
Who gets the sit down with the President and Vice President of the nation?
Who gets one on one time with Congressmen and Senators?
Who is allowed access and a seat at the table?
Who can stage a sit-in and protest and it is deemed a sign of leadership?
Who gets stories in Buzzfeed about the ground zero organizing of a movement?
Who gets to be the face of tragedy?
Who does American rally around and support in times of tragedy?
I sat back and watched the media coverage unfold surrounding the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, and a part of me is overjoyed that once again young people are leading the pack when it comes to changing the world. However, another part of me is baffled that the media is presenting this story as if this is the first time in history and even recent history that young people have responded to injustice.
In fact, we know that is not the case.
Young Black people have always been at the forefront when it comes to fighting for justice. Young Black people wrote the blueprint for protesting. Young Black people were the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Lara Luper was just eight years old attending an NAACP Youth Council meeting when she suggested a sit-in at the Katz Drug Store. Claudette Colvin was 15 years old when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers were all in their twenty’s when they emerged as some of the most significant Civil Rights leaders this world has known. Freeman Hrabowski was just 12 years old when he was inspired to march in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, where more than a thousand students skipped school and gathered at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This crusade resulted in over a thousand arrest and the use of high-pressure water hoses and police attack dogs used on the young Black people that decided to protest.
In recent history with the 2014 murder of Mike Brown, an 18-year-old Black male, by White police officer Darren Wilson, young Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, resisted and stood in solidarity saying, “Enough is enough!” Reminiscent of leaving a Black body swaying in the hanging tree for onlookers to be discouraged about speaking up, Mike Brown’s body laid in the street for a little over 4 hours, and that was 4 hours too long for many people.
Mike Brown’s death was the climax moment of a community that had grown weary. The racial inequity and injustice in Ferguson was a bomb just waiting to explode, and the murder of Mike Brown lit the fuse. While the media and the many in the nation focused on the riots, they didn’t look at the seeds that had been planted that produced the fruit of rage. The Black citizens of Ferguson’s complaints about the police department fell on deaf ears. Complaints that were subsequently substantiated by the Justice Department which concluded the police in Ferguson practiced a “pattern of unconstitutional policing” that “exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes.” The report also cited the city’s emphasis on revenue for contributing to the pattern of unlawful law enforcement.
News outlets rushed to Ferguson to tell the story of the riots, to show the fires, broken glass and mayhem but did little, if anything, to tell the backstory of what led to this moment in time. As Martin Luther King Jr said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”And when you have been unheard for centuries, you will demand to be heard by any means necessary. What starts as a whisper becomes a shout. And young Black people in Ferguson were shouting. Young Black people around the nation were screaming. In fact, this is what prompted my 18-year-old daughter to attend her first protest.
A silent protest on the campus of the University of Kentucky where she was mocked, called nigger and monkey and had things thrown at her. Similar to the Birmingham Children’s Crusade police response, the young Black people in Ferguson were met with the National Guard, military-grade armored vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets and sound cannons. When Black people protest they seem to always be met with resistance. When Black people protest there seems to be this need to shut them up. When Lebron James speaks out about the injustice in America, the media tells him to shut up and dribble a ball, however, when other people protest, they are given a national platform and a microphone. When Colin Kaepernick silently kneels to oppose injustice and police brutality, the President of the United States doesn’t meet with him to hear his concerns, he calls him a son of a bitch, he is blackballed and collectively the nation calls him unpatriotic.
We didn’t see positive media coverage covering Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown’s death. We didn’t see Buzzfeed coming to the homes of young Black activists to see how they were organizing. I don’t recall glowing front-page media coverage. A multitude of politicians didn’t rush to meet with young Black activists. I don’t recall many politicians speaking out on their Twitter feeds to express concern and the their commitment to change the way Black people are policed in America. There was not a swell of White people standing up and saying we are going to march with you because this is an injustice. No one called these young Black people future leaders of the nation. Young Black activists are labeled Black Identity Extremists defined by the FBI as, “a movement that is deemed a violent threat, asserting that black activists’ grievances about racialized police violence and inequities in the criminal justice system have spurred retaliatory violence against law enforcement officers and predicts that “perceptions of unjust treatment of African-Americans and the perceived unchallenged illegitimate actions of law enforcement will inspire premeditated attacks against law enforcement.”
America seems to be suffering from a case of Selective Tragedy Support Syndrome.
How I wish when young Black people protested they were not met with resistance but the same acceptance that is being shown to the young White protestors in Parkland, Florida. I wish young Black activists didn’t have to scream to be heard. I wish young Black activists didn’t have to risk jail time or death to make their demands known. I wish they could have an audience with the politicians that have the power to impact policy. I wish politicians listened to young Black activists instead of proposing laws like Kentucky Representative C. Wesley Morgan suggest that makes protesting that interferes with the flow of traffic or a protest that has not been granted a permit punishable by up to a year in jail. I wish politicians like Representative C. Wesley Morgan wouldn’t propose laws where motorists “may not be held criminally or civilly liable for causing injury or death to a person” who is blocking traffic during such an event, unless it is proven that the motorist ran into the protesters deliberately.” I wish the media would be aware of how they frame the stories of young Black activists that are protesting. I wish the media would allow young Black activists to have an uninterrupted platform to voice their concerns. I wish young Black activists could garner global social media attention from celebrities and influencers to get their message across. I wish the police didn’t mock young Black activists with “I Can Breathe” shirts while they protested the murder of Eric Garner whose last words were, “I Can’t Breathe.” I wish cities would take a look at current policies and legislation that continue to sustain and create racial inequity when young Black activists call it to their attention. I wish protesting for young Black activists wasn’t such an uphill battle in America just to be heard.
How different this response has been in Parkland, Florida when you hold it up to so many young Black activists that have been screaming and continue to scream only to be met with silence and indifference.
This world will only change for the better when collectively this nation is disturbed, upset, pissed off and outraged at the senseless deaths of ALL people. DO NOT WAIT for it to be at your doorstep before you choose to become concerned. We were already screaming in Florida. We were yelling when Florida and this nation said it was acceptable for Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black boy to be murdered walking home from a store in his neighborhood after buying a pack of Skittles and tea. We were shouting when the media portrayed Trayvon as a villain for wearing a hoodie. And we screamed and cried for justice when Florida allowed his murderer to walk out of a courtroom having been found not guilty, and then handed him back his gun. A gun that was used in the commission of a murder of a teenager, that he was allowed to auction off as a piece of “American History” for thousands of dollars.
Perhaps you didn’t hear us.