Black teens on Parkland gun debate: What about us?
Imani Holt was just 10 when she saw a neighbor get fatally shot by a triggerman riding a bicycle. The black girl from a gritty section of Baltimore was so traumatized by the drug-fueled bloodshed she refused to leave her family’s apartment for weeks.
In the eight years since, Holt has seen the chaotic aftermath of two more deadly shootings and has lost seven high-school classmates to gun violence.
Like many black teenagers in neighborhoods hobbled by generational poverty, she is scrutinizing the national gun control debate intensely, frustrated because her community feels ignored but also cautiously hopeful that the massacre in Florida may bring about change closer to home.
“I feel really bad that they lost those kids in Florida. But, like, we go through shootings all the time. It’s just that our shootings happen day by day. Because it happens on the regular up here, the world says it’s really not that important,” said the 18-year-old Holt, a junior at Excel Academy, an alternative high school across the street from a cluster of West Baltimore’s boarded-up row houses.
Christina Martin, a 17-year-old who lost two schoolmates to gun violence this year at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, noted that the victims in the affluent Parkland community were mostly white and Latino. None were black.
“We should have got the same attention in return,” said Martin, who is black.
The gun violence toll is unrelenting in parts of Baltimore – a city that reached a grim milestone last year when the per-capita homicide rate rose to 56 killings per 100,000 people. That’s the highest rate among the country’s 30 biggest cities.
Even as Excel Academy students prepared for last Saturday’s March for Our Lives protest, gun violence struck again: A 17-year-old classmate was shot on a street corner, three bullets in the back by an unidentified gunman.
The deaths of seven classmates to gun violence over the span of 15 months have left deep emotional scars. The students at Excel agree that their high school – with a metal detector at the entrance – provides a sense of security. But the toll on their bodies and minds is significant. Nerves are on edge. It can be hard to concentrate.
Parkland’s student protesters are well aware that their peers in inner-city districts are dealing with the impact of gun violence daily. Earlier this month, they met with Chicago teens. Before the Washington march on Saturday, a number of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School went to Thurgood Marshall High School to hear from students there.
“We openly recognize that we are privileged individuals and would not have received as much attention if it weren’t for the affluence of our city. Because of that, however, we share the stage today and forever with those who have always stared down the barrel of a gun,” Parkland student Jaclyn Corin said during a speech Saturday.