Students walk out to protest killings in Liberty Square
Tessy Manuel crossed Northwest 12th Avenue in Liberty City with hundreds of her Miami Northwestern Senior High classmates to rally against a familiar problem that keeps ripping her community apart.
During a walkout held to protest gun violence, she wrestled with a mix of sorrow and anger forged in the aftermath of a bloody week in Liberty Square, the public housing project where three young people have died from gunfire since March 31. In a time when the national conversation about youth gun violence has a broad platform, this was Northwestern's moment.
"I don't think this is something that should be common," said Manuel, 14. "This makes me sad and mad to see this happening in our own community."
A mass of students and faculty marched from campus to Liberty Square early Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by a small army of police who have been stationed in and around the area since the most recent shootings on Sunday. High schoolers, teachers and staff walked side by side as they moved through Liberty Square. Residents emerged from their apartments and cheered along.
The crowd congregated at the front porch where four young men were shot Sunday afternoon. The flurry of bullets killed Kimson Green, a 17-year-old sophomore at Northwestern, and Rickey Dixon, an 18-year-old former student. Two more were critically injured. Just a week before, 4-year-old Nyla Jones was killed by a bullet in the same neighborhood.
Monday was a day of mourning at Northwestern. On Tuesday, students raised their voices to call for an end to the gun violence they know all too well. As they entered Liberty Square, they chanted "No justice. No peace. No violence in the streets."
When they reached the site of Sunday's killings, now a candlelight memorial, some students held each other as they wept. Others climbed onto the roof to hoist up their posters decrying guns and honoring the dead.
Before walking back, they bowed their heads in prayer before yelling out in unison, "Change!"
"The reason that we’re out here is because we want this to stop, and we want our voices to be heard,” said Jennifer Mirbelle, a Northwestern junior.
The emotional outpouring was laced with frustration at the attention the media has given to the students who have been outspoken about gun control after 17 people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland two months ago. Northwestern students echoed black Stoneman Douglas students who recently spoke out in hopes of elevating their voices in the national gun violence conversation.
Mi-Olda Faustin, 16, walked with Manuel as she explained that gun violence is nothing new in Liberty Square. Long before Parkland students organized the March For Our Lives to call for more gun control, residents of this neighborhood and others saw young people felled by bullets. But the high visibility given to students in Parkland — a well-to-do community not plagued by years of youth killings — has not always reached residents of Miami's black communities.
"It's a racial thing," Faustin said. "If you're white, you get more publicity about these things."
In some ways, Faustin and Manuel's concerns are the same as those student activists in Parkland. They want fewer guns in the streets, and they want more robust background checks for those who buy the weapons.
Other problems reflect the longtime struggles of the community. Some students, such as Mirbelle, are demanding more after-school programs to steer kids away from the violence.
"Too many kids are losing their lives," she said.
The students had wanted to hold the walkout on Monday, but the administration didn't allow it. Miami Herald news partner WLRN reported that after community activists called school board member Dorothy Bendross Mindingall, she told administrators the students had the right to protest.
"They have rights," she said. "We're to protect them and keep them safe, but they have rights."