The nation mourns the tragedy of the school shooting in Florida, ironically set on Valentine’s Day. CNN reported that nearly 17 were dead by one shooter. On a day that is dedicated to love, we see a prevailing trend in history where a student who suffers from mental needs. The media coverages the shooting, the death counts, the snapshots of a traumatic event, and the president’s condolences. The stories highlight the shooting and the trend, re occurring and almost predictable events, where a student expresses mental health concerns and communicates a school-wide threat.
There is so much to say about what entails an appropriate response and systematic change that is in need to help prevent such terrors from occurring. However, as a current teacher in Los Angeles public schools, I turn to my environment and community and press the culture to recognize the violence that our youth encounter, internalize, and inflict almost daily.
What the media coverage on Florida shooting says about our culture
The mass coverage of Florida shooting was necessary in highlighting the prevailing mental disturbances that many of our youth are at risk of acquiring. The conversations surrounding the release of the event have been regarding gun control laws, police enforcement/security, and the process of assessing student’s mental stability. However, one discussion that is not at the forefront is the violence and shootings our young people of color experience on a day to day basis. Youth of color are exposed to youth on youth violence both in and out of school campus sites at higher proportions than white youths.
Comparing the impact of suburban shootings and inner city violence
In a matter of a day, one shooter took away 17 lives. Typically in these mass shootings, there are more than a handful that die in one day. The community goes through a collective grieving and processing of the trauma that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, in our hoods, 17 lives are lifted to the next life often.
Earlier this month, Autumn Johnson barely turned 1 week old when she was shot and fatally wounded, while standing up in her crib in Compton. Many of homicide victims are unarmed and innocent. LA Times report that since January 1 2000 217 boys and 183 girls fell victim to homicide--these are accounting for documented and reported deaths. In LA County alone, blacks represent 10% of the population, yet 30% of homicides. Latinos are likewise overrepresented in these numbers. With that to say, these reports are young girls and boys. If we were to account for adolescent teeneagers, the numbers would only increase. For school shootings, ABC News reported since Columbine in 1999, 141 victims have been reported.
It is highly imperative that we respond to school shootings. The massive media coverage and public respond has both brought awareness to the supports we need for our youth and gun control issues. Yet, I question what will it take to bring this sense of urgency to address the deaths of our youth of color.
..So why aren’t we making moves to stop school violence.
The past few years I have seen numerous campaigns involving youth violence and wellness. To name a few: Schools Not Prisons, People’s Ed Movement, District programming and initiatives, California Endowment. Though there are varying initiatives that are popping up, I have yet to see a surge of media coverage on either the shootings or traumatic impact of these shootings on youth of color.
One of the reasons is due to the culture of the media. News sources are here to not only cover what’s happening, but also create a shock factor and engage a wide audience. Shootings in the hood is nothing new I guess..I am a little relieved that the news does not do shallow stories on shootings among our communities of color because of the risk of criminalizing our youth. As youth advocates for our brown and black students, we need to come together and tell the true stories of our kids. The media’s silence may have a small impact in misinforming the public about the crimes committed by young folks, but the silence also hides the real life trauma and luggage our young ones carry.
Yet, immediate media coverage would not have long lasting impact or thoughtful response to the current violence our youth are emerged in. Furthermore, a concerning consequence of media coverage could be the hyper criminalization of our black and brown youth. In history, we have seen during Reagon's era and Clinton's era, the War on Drugs and War on Crime. In these time periods, news broadcasting sites evoke fear in the public against our people and youth of color--we do not need that again.
It is imperative that we find a platform to share the layers of complexities of the intersections of issues that our youth internalize. Their stories need to be told--with or without CNN. I was listening to the radio and someone suggested more police at schools; I immediately cringed. Our youth receive this enough. On my school site alone, there are 3 police cars parked in the center of our lunch area, meaning nearly 6 police (not counting security guards) roaming on campus. The last thing we need is more government patrol and social control; what we need more is an intervention that address the root causes of violence and the aftermath of our people who experience the impacts of historical residence in highly concentrated poverty.
If their stories are not told, we will have people who will speak and advocate in our youths, without considering our young folks who live in our nation's hoods.
Facts. It’s a challenge to bring education reform for equity in the focus of our political dialogue. Yet, when advocates come together and constantly push out discourse that narrates our experiences and the stories of our youth, the public responds.
The education system is the current example of the New Jim Crow. Our silence enables the apparatus and gives permission for the system to make its efficient outcomes that are the very disparities we see in our schools. The more people speak out against normalizing deaths of young people of color and violence in our schools, the more the public will have reason to respond. We need to speak out and say that this is not okay. Lawyers, policy makers, administration, and anyone working in the school districts need to continue our effort in honoring our students their human rights. They are our future.