Broward County

Black Marjory Stoneman Douglas students want the movement to include their voices too

Kai Koerber, 17, speaks about his experience as a black student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the wake of the school shooting in February.
Kai Koerber, 17, speaks about his experience as a black student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the wake of the school shooting in February. WLRN

Eleven percent of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 3,000 students are black, but you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage of the school’s horrific mass shooting in February or the gun control movement that sprung up in the aftermath.

Black students gathered in Parkland Wednesday said they felt overlooked and underrepresented by both the media and their peers leading the charge for more gun control. And some of the solutions meant to keep them safer in the wake of a gunman slaughtering 17 of their classmates leave them feeling more afraid than before.

Kai Koerber, a 17-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, returned to school after the shooting to see his slain classmates’ empty desks turned into memorials — and a campus swarming with police officers. To him, extra cops around doesn’t mean more people to protect him; it means more chances to become a victim of police brutality.

Kai worries that police will racially profile students and treat them as “potential criminals,” particularly students of color.

“It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” he said. “Should we also return with our hands up?”

Rev. Rosalind Osgood, a Broward County school board member, said Kai’s comments are exactly why black students’ voices need to be elevated. Without this conversation, she said, she would have never thought of that consequence of heightened police staffing.

Osgood, tapped by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to join a state gun violence task force, said the policy created by adults won’t be effective without input from the students it’s meant to protect. She accepted Wasserman-Schultz’ invitation to the panel with the caveat that she could bring her mentee, Stoneman Douglas student Mei-Ling Ho-Shing.

“I don’t want the minority kids to be angry and feel that they’re being ignored,” she said. “I don’t think anybody’s intentionally excluding them, but nobody’s intentionally including them either.”

Including black students in the gun violence conversation means broadening the topic from mass shootings to police-involved shootings, said Tifanny Burks, a community organizer with Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, which helped gather the students on Wednesday.

Burks said black students told her the return to a school newly swarming with law enforcement officers was jarring, especially for a generation that grew up in the era of Trayvon Martin and Alton Sterling.

“They were shook. It felt like there was a thousand police there,” she said. “Having all those police there made their school feel like a prison.”

Now that some students have started to talk about how the assumption that more police officers means less fear doesn’t apply to then, Burks said she hopes that this jump starts a conversation about more inclusive solutions.

“Is the solution to less gun violence more guns, just with police officers’ names on them?” she said. “We have to have that conversation.”

Ke’Shon Newman’s brother was shot nine times on Chicago’s South Side, where gun violence is a daily threat. Now, Ke’Shon is heading to Washington to march with high school students from Parkland, Fla.

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