On March 24, I attended the Binghamton March For Our Lives. I was initially exhilarated by the energy with which the organizers marched and moved by the three-minute moment of silence to honor the victims of the 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association on Front Street in Downtown Binghamton, which is not far from Binghamton University.
By the time the speeches were done, however, I just wanted to go home. The ideology contained within the speeches for the Binghamton March For Our Lives in particular and the national movement in general is at best misleading, and at worst actively harmful, ableist and racist.
Any movement focused on gun violence would do well to address the many ways it can manifest itself. That is not what the Binghamton March For Our Lives did; instead, it only focused on mass shootings. This is an incredibly flawed lens with which to view this crisis. We know that more than two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States each year are suicides, and yet serious proposals for mental health were not discussed — only generalizations were. And often, they were incorrect.
For example, one of the speakers called the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, mentally ill individuals. This, too, is a dangerous red herring, because it masks intent. It is eminently clear that Harris and Klebold were neofascists. Both professed admiration for Adolf Hitler; one anecdote from a fellow student recalled: “When [Klebold] would do something good, he would shout ‘Heil Hitler’ and throw up his hand. It just made everyone mad.” Whether the speaker knew this or not is irrelevant; it obscures the role that white men often play as the shooter in these mass shootings and has the effect of stigmatizing mental illness.
The national March For Our Lives is not blameless either. It has utterly failed to center the voices of black and brown students, and instead crafted “solutions” that would lead to their being overpoliced. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students writing for The Guardian have suggested putting more armed officers in schools and relaxing privacy laws to allow mental health providers to communicate with the police — both policies that would give away the rights of black and brown communities by bolstering a surveillance state that already targets them.
In a press conference, black and brown students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and community members made these concerns known. Kai Koerber, a student at the school, said “It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks. Should we also return with our hands up?” After armed guards were put in place at the school, Rosalind Osgood, a school board member in Broward County, Florida, said “[The students] were shook. It felt like there was a thousand police there. Having all those police there made their school feel like a prison.”
The prisonization of schools across the country is a well-known phenomenon — what the Parkland students propose in The Guardian will only accelerate it. It is a trend that we do not need, especially now with the extrajudicial police killings of black people across this country. It is a fair question to ask: Will those who marched on March 24 march for Saheed Vassell? Did they march for Stephon Clark? For Eric or Erica Garner? For Trayvon Martin? Will they march for the killings of people of color to come, especially considering the Supreme Court’s ruling on April 2 that officers can shoot and kill with immunity from legal action against them?
I do not know what the answers are to those questions. I can only hope that they will march, and that they will come up with solutions to the public health crisis of guns that do not criminalize large swaths of people by virtue of existing.
Jacob Hanna is a sophomore majoring in economics.