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When Teens Protest, Race Matters

The media and the public have tended to offer support for the teen protesters from Parkland, Florida, and other predominantly white communities. It’s been a different story for youth of color.
Students who walked out of their Montgomery County, Maryland, schools protest in front of the White House.
Students who walked out of their Montgomery County, Maryland, schools protest in front of the White House.Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

In the spring of 2016, African-American children as young as 11 marched in protest against the gun violence in their Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. The low-income area had lost 13 teens and children so far that year to guns. The kids demanded the right to play outside safely; they held signs and chanted slogans like “We want to live” and “We want to see another day.” Phillip Agnew, leader of the Florida-based Dream Defenders, a youth-led group fighting for racial justice, said the demonstration didn’t get much attention from the national media at the time.

Liberty City is about 40 miles from Parkland, Florida, site of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two weeks ago. But it’s been hard not to notice the difference between how youth-led protests against gun violence in these two communities were received. Since the Parkland tragedy, the national news has been filled with the school’s student survivors, who rose up to protest school shootings and demand—in eloquent and defiant terms—tighter gun legislation. Across the country, teens have been walking out of class in solidarity, often standing together in silence for 17 minutes, one for each of Parkland’s victims. National walkouts are planned for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the shooting, and April 20, which will mark 19 years since the Columbine High School massacre.