As youth organizers rooted in working class and low-income communities of color, we are well acquainted with the pain that is felt when loved ones are lost to violence. Our hearts and solidarity are with the community members of Parkland, FL. We are also excited and inspired by the young people from Marjory Stoneman High School who have chosen to channel their grief and anger into a fight for change. Many of us became activists in direct response to injustices perpetrated against us, our families, and our communities. We too are dissatisfied with the status quo we inherited. We too feel the call to change this society we live in.
Unfortunately violence in America comes in many shapes and forms. Everyday in our communities we see both individual acts of interpersonal harm as well as state violence enacted by police, courts, immigration agents, and even our schools. Regardless of how it is expressed, one thing we know from personal experience is that violence causes pain. It takes people away from us, whether through death, incarceration, or deportation. It destroys families and it traumatizes young people. As we try to make sense of yet another mass shooting, we invite the rest of the country to join us in analyzing root causes and demanding transformative solutions.
We unite with the Parkland youth who have called on the entire country to move beyond thoughts and prayers and move into meaningful action. And we urge those concerned with making progress to think beyond the narrow debate of gun control vs. gun rights. Yes, we do have a gun problem in this country. There are too many of them and they are way too easy to access. We also have a systemic racism problem in this country. Historically, in the aftermath of tragic shootings such as the one in Parkland, the result has been laws that subject us – youth of color- to even more violence. Bringing more police into our schools, putting guns into the hands of our teachers, creating more reasons to lock up black and brown people, these are false solutions that increase the level of harm experienced in our day to day lives. If we truly want to make our society safe for everyone, we need solutions that address systemic injustice, invest in our communities, and rebuild social institutions that center human connection and supportive relationships.
This is why we are calling on policy makers at all levels of government to do the following:
- INCREASE INVESTMENTS in social, emotional, and mental health supports for all young people.
- DIVEST from the systems of incarceration and deportation and INVEST in quality public education for all, robust community programs, and universal healthcare.
- DIVEST from school police and absolutely DO NOT put guns into the hands of our teachers or other school staff.
- DO NOT feed the jail system by increasing the penalties for illegal gun possession.
To the activists around the country standing up for tighter gun laws, we wish for our movements to be in solidarity with each other. Therefore we ask the following of you:
- SUPPORT our vision of a safer society that is grounded in expanded democracy, racial justice, and a just economy.
- DO NOT fight for gun control laws that will bring further harm to communities of color.
- STAND WITH US to fight back against right wing control of our politics.
Finally, to the world of philanthropy and motivated individual donors, help us resource the movements we need by doing the following:
- PRIORITIZE GRASSROOTS organizing groups who have a track record of activating youth of color around these issues. We encourage you to support organizations directly and through collective funds such as the Youth For Safety and Justice Fund.
- Make LONG-TERM INVESTMENTS in our organizations so that we can sustainably do the time intensive work of growing and deepening our bases while also forging the broadest progressive alliances possible.
This crisis has opened up an important opportunity for us to unite across race and class to demand safe schools and communities for all people. The forces aligned to prevent meaningful changes to our gun laws are the same ones committed to keeping our communities under resourced and overpoliced. Fortunately for us, we who desire a society based on safety and inclusion outnumber those who would keep us separated and afraid. It is now up to us to build our collective power and win the change we desire, the change we deserve.