In the wake of the school shooting that killed 17, President Trump and the National Rifle Association's main proposal to prevent another tragedy like the one in Parkland, Fla., has been to arm teachers.
“Highly trained, gun-adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive,” the president tweeted Thursday.
But that desire has led some Americans, especially those who discuss race and politics, to raise questions: Will we be arming all teachers, including black teachers or education professionals who teach in mostly minority districts? It's a worthwhile question, given the police killings of unarmed black men in recent years.
It's another layer to the conversation about how racialized the debate around gun violence can be. There has not been a mass shooting in a predominantly minority high school that compares to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a school of mostly white students in a fairly affluent suburb. But some activists have pointed out that there are some students who face gun violence in their community on an almost daily basis.
“Another tragic moment. But there are folks in communities that I know who have been burying their kids for a long time because guns have been in their communities. Parents have been grieving because they've been putting their babies in [the] ground,” Eddie S. Glaude, a Princeton University religion and African American studies professor, told MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle on Thursday.
Glaude added that it took “certain kinds of people to die for us to get this question on the table.”
When it comes to arming teachers and the factor race might play, two issues are being raised: (1) Arming teachers of black students who may have a racial bias, and (2) arming black teachers and education workers, who face their own risks carrying a weapon.
The Internet was quick to remind us that Philando Castile, a cafeteria supervisor at a public school in St. Paul, Minn., was shot dead by a police officer after he told him he was carrying a licensed firearm.
Efforts to tackle school violence have disproportionately impacted black students through arrests and restraint, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Although black students were only 16 percent of the total student enrollment during the 2011-12 school year, they made up 27 percent of the students referred to law enforcement and nearly double — 31 percent — of the students involved in a school-related arrest, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education office for civil rights.
Ashley Nicole Black, a writer for late-night show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” mentioned how carrying a gun could have added to her already-tense relationship with a racist teacher.
“All I can picture is every racist teacher who lashed out at me verbally or physically over the years and what would have happened if that person had a gun? Yeah, there are more good, kind, teachers ... but they're not gonna be the ones signing up for guns,” Black tweeted.
Kelly Wickham Hurst, CEO of Being Black at School, a nonprofit that addresses issues impacting black students, asked: “How long before a teacher feels the need to make use of Stand Your Ground while on a school campus?”
Multiple studies, including one from the Yale University Child Study Center, have shown that implicit bias against black students shapes how teachers respond to them. That's not to imply explicitly that white teachers will be using guns against black students, but it does factor into how students of color are disciplined.
“Implicit biases do not begin with black men and police. They begin with black preschoolers and their teachers, if not earlier. Implicit bias is like the wind: You can’t see it, but you can sure see its effects,” Yale child psychology professor Walter S. Gilliam previously told The Post.
Bree Newsome, an activist who attracted national attention after a mass shooting in a Charleston, S.C., church, argued that the idea that arming teachers with guns will protect youths doesn't seem to take black youths into account.
Whenever politicians talk about giving more guns to people as a solution to gun violence, you can rest assured they aren't talking about Black people b/c we are shot & killed by police for holding BB guns, wallets, cell phones or nothing at all— Bree Newsome Bass (@BreeNewsome) February 22, 2018
Michael Harriot, host of the podcast “The Black One,” wrote that the idea of black educators carrying guns isn't likely to attract lasting support because history has shown that conservatives do not support gun ownership among black Americans as much as they claim.
“If black people arm themselves, America always figures out a way to disarm them through legislation,” he wrote for the Root. “While no one doubts the strength of the American brand of racism, the theoretical use of America’s anti-black sentiment as a legislative, race-based Jedi mind trick ignores an important reality: It won’t work.”
Nearly 6 in 10 — 59 percent — think America would be less safe if more people had guns, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. And only 20 percent say armed teachers are the answer to making schools safer.
More than half of Americans do not think the Parkland shooting could have been prevented had teachers been armed, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll. The school did have an armed school resource officer assigned to protect students, but he reportedly took a defensive position outside the school and did not enter the building during the shooting.
The sample size for how black people feel on this issue was too small to break out. But the current conversation about school safety appears to have more black Americans drawing attention to the consequences arming teachers could have in schools where implicit biases exist, particularly against black students who are deemed threatening.