A few days before the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, the school held a Black History Month assembly during which a student walked onto the stage to read a statement defending the Black Lives Matter movement.
Nadege Green from WLRN in South Florida reported that the statement was a last-minute decision to respond to a letter that ran in the school newspaper headlined "All Lives Matter," in which a student called BLM "ridiculous" and said "they seem to be good for nothing but creating mistrust between civilians and police."
This view doesn't take into account that police disproportionately murder Black and brown civilians. Black people, according to an analysis of FBI data, represent 13% of the population, but one-third of those killed by police. As evidenced in many cases, most recently those of Saheed Vassell and Stephon Clark, unarmed Black men are at greater risk of being killed by police officers. Also, police officers are rarely ever charged for on-duty shootings: According to researchers, there are about 1,000 police shootings a year in the U.S., and there were only 80 arrests (one-third of which were convictions) between 2005 and April 2017.
During the assembly, a teacher had the student's microphone cut off and shut them down while they were speaking. Students said they felt this was insensitive.
"The rebuttal [we had prepared] was pretty much saying that the Black Lives Matter movement is a respected movement," Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, a junior who helped plan the assembly, told WLRN. "Just because you don't have to experience it doesn't mean that it's absurd and ridiculous."
A Broward County Public School spokesperson told WLRN that the teacher stopped the speech because it hadn't been planned or approved in advance. "Due to the potential for disruption and breach in protocol, the student was asked to stop and leave the stage."
In a population of about 3,000 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, only 11% are students of color. Some Black students at the school have said that their voices are not being heard in the growing Never Again movement, which was launched in the wake of the shooting. The students called a press conference just a few days after attending the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. The issue of increased police presence at the school is a particular concern: It might make some white students feel safer, but intimidate their peers of color because police officers are often not properly trained.
"There's not that many of us, and if we're doing checkpoints and we're doing backpack checks I feel like we may be viewed in a different light by officers, and we may be criminalized and we may be looked at as if we hold a weapon or we pose a threat to school campus," MSD junior Kyrah Simon told WLRN. "The racism that our country is built upon...is still something that plagues our country, it may be subconsciously, but a lot of people have it in the back of their minds when they look at Black people."
You can argue that this was a cut-and-dry protocol situation. But to shut down a message that Black people shouldn't have to live in fear of being gunned down, during a Black History Month assembly — even if it's an unexpected one — takes an extra amount of cognitive dissonance. What type of "disruption" were the teachers hoping to avoid?
A student has every right to write or publish a letter with the headline "All Lives Matter." But you better believe people will speak out in response.
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