Naomi Walder is only 11 years old and already she is the voice of millions of black boys and girls affected by gun violence. A student at George Mason Elementary High School in Alexandria, Virginia, Walder was interested in showing solidarity for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When she began seeing reports of middle and high schoolers walking out of class, Walder wondered: why not elementary students too?
Walder and her classmate, Carter Anderson, organized a walk-out at her school alongside national walkouts against gun violence. The disruptions often featured 17 minutes of silence in honor of the 17 Parkland victims. Walder’s walkout, however, added another minute of silence in honor of Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old black girl who was shot to death in her Alabama high school on March 7. This school shooting, which occurred three weeks after Parkland, received little national media coverage.
This moment of silence was meant to highlight the erasure of black victims from the gun control debate. On her national stage, Walder wasted no time stating her message for the country. “I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” Walder said. “I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”
Similarly, on March 28, a group of black students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High called a press conference to say they have concerns that do not mirror those of their white peers. One student, Kai, says while some might feel comfortable in having more police officers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, he would not. He says it’s “intimidating” and that black students will face most of the consequences of an over-militarized, predominantly white school.
The concerns of black students are not unfounded. According to the CDC, black women have the highest rate of death by homicide than any other group. Another study of more than a decade’s worth of CDC data on gun violence shows that black people are twice as likely to die by gun violence than their white peers. A new study by the School of Public Health researchers used information from the Mapping Police Violence Project database, a source of data on police shootings. The researchers found a strong association between the racial disparity in unarmed fatal police shootings and a range of structural racism indicators.
“The problem of police killings of unarmed Black victims should not be viewed merely as a problem of flawed action on the part of individual police officers, but more as a consequence of the broader problem of structural racism,” senior author Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences said. “Unjustified homicide by police should be added to the long list of the public health consequences of societal racism.”
Walder is only 11 years old and she has brought her voice to the national stage and spoken for black girls and boys just like her. Black children will carry the heaviest weight of over-policed school zones, the same way their families carry the weight of over-policed neighborhoods. They are disproportionately policed and disproportionally shot while unarmed. Then they are swept under the media-coverage rug. “For far too long, these names, these black girls and women, have been just numbers,” Walder later said. “I’m here to say ‘Never again’ for those girls, too.”
Tamir Rice was 12 years old, Michael Brown was 18 years old and Laquan McDonald was 17 years old. Stephon Clark was shot in his grandmother’s backyard for holding a phone. Putting police in schools jeopardizes the education of black children. It ignores the concerns of the black community and the specific violence they face. How are black children supposed to learn with cops in the classroom? The boys in blue meant to protect them are the same boys who shoot them in the back.