A Racial Justice Framework for Talking About Gun Violence and School Safety

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue

The young people of Parkland have captured the imagination of the nation across race, class and geography and have reignited hopes for gun reform. The tragedy in Parkland has also renewed a national conversation about school safety with many people calling for even further “toughening” of our school safety plans. We know what that means for young people and families of color. After the Columbine massacre almost two decades ago, we saw a major push for zero tolerance in schools, militarization of our campuses and criminalization of our students. Suspensions and expulsions went up exponentially while real solutions focused on supporting students mental health needs fell by the wayside. These actions not only failed to keep guns out of schools but fell most heavily on young people and communities of color.

This moment provides a pivotal opportunity for youth leaders, organizers, and advocates to frame the debate around violence in our schools and communities to ensure that the same solutions that followed Columbine are not replicated. It is also a tremendous opportunity for young people affected by school shootings in more affluent, middle class neighborhoods and young people in urban and rural communities affected by regressive policies enacted in the aftermath of these tragedies to come together and lead a new movement for safe and just schools.

To do this we must act swiftly and lead the conversation about genuine school safety and lift up the voices of young people of color and communities that are most deeply impacted. We must simultaneously support the end to gun violence AND promote a vision for our schools that centers solutions that work and truly create safe and healthy environments for all. We offer the following ways to talk about gun violence and school safety to uplift racial justice.

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue


Gun violence cuts deeply across all our communities. Limiting access to guns is the first and most direct step we can take to protect all young people.

● On average seven children die EVERY DAY from gun violence in this country. [1]

● The rate of gun-related deaths was six times higher for children of color in 2016.[2]

● More than half of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. are children of color. [2]

● The majority of gun deaths in the US are suicides and LGBTQ community is over-represented among suicide victims.[3] Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth, and 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide, many in their young adulthood.[4]

“Hardening” our schools since Columbine has failed to keep guns out of schools or keep students safe. Instead tougher security measures, such as zero tolerance policies or putting police in schools further discriminate against and criminalize students of color.

● Schools that have majority students of color are two to eight times more likely to have enhanced surveillance, screening, and random searches than majority white schools with higher disciplinary offenses.[5]

● The presence of school security guards or assigned police officers at schools have jumped dramatically since the Columbine massacre. Yet there have been 200 school shootings since then.[6]

● Black and Latinx students are punished more harshly and frequently than white students for the same behaviors. More than 50% of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Black or Latinx.[7]

● U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office data revealed that Kern County school district in central California was suspending and expelling Black students at a rate 500% higher than White students, and Latinx students at a rate of 380% higher.[8] The district also allows school personnel to be armed.

Genuine school safety begins with creating an environment where all students — regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or citizenship feel welcomed, safe and supported. Arm our schools with the resources for school counselors, nurses, and emotional well being programs not with guns and metal detectors.

● Three out of the five largest school districts in the U.S. have more security officers than counselors.[9]

● Students in schools with more counseling services have greater feelings of belonging and safety.

Sample Tweets/Posts

Any of the above messages and talking points can be used as sample posts and tweets. Here are a few more example including potential and current hashtags that you may want to use.

● Increased security detection does not equal more protection. Tougher school security failed to keep guns out; only discriminates against students of color. #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

● “Tougher” schools equals toughers students. Not more safety. Pushes students out not bring them in. #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

● Arm our schools with counselors, nurses, wellness programs to support students, not guns and metal detectors. #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

● More police on school campuses than ever, yet 200 school shootings since Columbine. More police does not = safe schools. #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

● FBI profile of school shooters are white, male and middle class. But tougher school security hurts kids of color the most. Why do we pay the price? #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

● Nurses, counselors, wellness programs, building healthy relationships create schools where students feel safe and welcomed. #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

● More welcoming and supportive schools help all students feel safe, not more guns and metal dectectors! #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

● All students — regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or citizenship — deserve welcoming, safe and supportive schools. #NeverAgain #WeCanDoBetter #EnoughIsEnough #CounselorsNotCops #SchoolsNotPrisons

YVote (www.yvoteca.org) and Mobilize the Immigrant Vote (www.mivcalifornia.org) are statewide networks in California of 30 youth and community organizations building the voting power of young people of color, immigrants and refugees across California.

Photo credit: Lorie Shaull

[1] Gun Violence by the Numbers: https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/?source=etno_ETHomePage&utm_source=et_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=ETHomePage

[2]Fatal Injury Reports, National, Regional and State, 1981–2016 https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate.html

[3] http://www.gaysagainstguns.net/about

[4] https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.0000cyd2yo39bd9ps0o197i61egk8

[5] Nance, Jason P. “Students, Security, and Race,” http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/372

[6]The presence of school security guards or assigned police officers at schools jumped from 54% in 1999 to 70% by 2013 https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/02/22/generation-columbine-has-never-known-world-without-school-shootings/361656002/

[7] https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/24/politics/zero-tolerance/index.html

[8] http://doloreshuerta.org/historic-settlement-reached-in-lawsuit-against-kern-high-school-district-72617/

[9] https://www.the74million.org/article/exclusive-data-shows-3-of-the-5-biggest-school-districts-hire-more-security-officers-than-counselors/

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