Atlanta Public Schools students rallied last week on the steps of City Hall and said city, county and state officials need to do more to prevent their peers from being killed or imprisoned due to gun violence,.
At a Dec. 15 “Stand with Me Rally” organized by The Atlanta Board of Education Student Advisory Council, students urged more collaboration between local and state lawmakers and agencies. They also recommended more security at APS schools, increasing education funding for family and student mental health services, and addressing income inequality in Atlanta and across the state.
The rally was organized in response to the fatal shootings of Zyion Charles, 12, an APS student, and Cameron Jackson, 15, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Three teens, including two APS students, have been arrested and charged in the shooting.
“We are in a crisis,” said SAC President Eleanor Jones, a senior at Charles R. Drew Charter School, at the Dec. 15 rally.
“Too long and too often our students leave school grounds and become victims of senseless gun violence or the prison pipeline system and it must come to an end now,” she said.
“Let me be crystal clear — gun violence in this city is not solely an APS issue, it’s not solely in Atlanta issue, or solely a county issue,” she said. “It is everyone’s issue to join together and address collectively.”
She said Zyion and Cameron’s families are grieving their losses like “countless Black families n the same situation.” The three teens who were arrested now have a permanent criminal record, she said. She asked her peers to not search for love or validation through criminal activity.
“I want you to know that you are loved,” she said. “You are valued. Your lives matter far more than you could ever imagine.
“I am tired of this misconception that the streets will provide you with something greater than what you already have,” Jones said. “The streets are not worth the risk of your life. Every dispute does not have to be settled with guns.”
SAC Vice President Ayden Leibert, a senior at Maynard Jackson High School, read out a list of demands from APS students to reduce crime, including:
- For the Atlanta Public Schools Police Department to develop an active-shooter training for all students, faculty and staff;
- Additional law enforcement at APS schools so educators are not forced to intervene in violent situations;
- A photo ID requirement for students;
- For APS to partner with the Atlanta Police Department to have a stronger police presence and strategy during school hours to allow students to get home safely;
- For community organizations and the private sector to provide more attractive enrichment programs after school;
- An examination f the state’s the economic structure. Leibert said rising inflation rates, higher costs of living and a state minimum wage that has not been increased in more than 20 years all play a role in socio-economic struggles that can lead to violence. “We need to really examine the economic structure of our state and the way we can benefit everybody,” he said.”
- For the SAC and The Atlanta City Council to work closer together.
- Funding to increase the availability of family therapy and counseling sessions. “Many of our youth are displaying poor behavior due to a lack of love and support from their home,” Leibert said. “We’re demanding increased funding to enhance the accessibility of family therapists to restore these broken homes.”
“These things that we’re talking about, they’re not unique to the city of Atlanta,” Leibert said. “We’re seeing this everywhere, but we have a unique opportunity with our strong city leadership and state government to create beneficial futures for our students and a better tomorrow.”
Just two days after the rally, two more students in Southwest Atlanta were gunned down following a dispute on social media.