(Eva Langer will be a senior at Arizona School for the Arts this fall. She reported and wrote this article as part of a program with the Boston University Summer Journalism Institute.)
More Arizona teens are joining Black Lives Matter protests and trying to do what they can to fight against systemic injustice.
In response to the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minnesota, protests and demands for action have sparked across Phoenix and throughout the Valley. On July 4, Phoenix police officers shot and killed James Porter Garcia, the 28th officer-involved shooting occurring in Maricopa County this year. This incident incited further protests, and the youth in Phoenix are rallying for the cause and using their voices to help shed light on these issues.
Black Lives Matter was created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi as a response to the 2013 death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old. Since its beginnings, the movement has garnered worldwide support with more than 40 chapters.
In Phoenix, several rising juniors and seniors at Arizona School for the Arts, a local charter school, are joining and helping to organize protests, in addition to taking other actions to help the cause.
Brandon Harris, who's 18, helped organize a student-led protest, spending three weeks planning a June 20 demonstration at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix.
“As a community leader, I feel a sense of responsibility to represent the community at large,” said Harris. “I want to be a voice to the voiceless and ensure that we’re all speaking out against our double-standard system.”
When more than 300 people showed up at the protest, Harris was taken aback, expecting only 20 to 30 students to participate.
“I didn’t realize the power we had. People noticed us and that’s what we wanted to achieve. People knew what we were fighting for,” said Harris.
Many white students think it’s critical that they participate in the movement.
“For a young, white woman like me, it’s about listening, learning, and showing up to support Black people in their fight for reform and justice,” said 17-year-old Katie Brown.
Izzy Hoffman, who's also 17, said: “I believe the youth has the most involvement in spreading awareness online and in protests."
Young people may lack money, she added. “However, the youth voices are able to get the attention of those who do.”
With Arizona now a coronavirus hotspot, many teens are using social media to protest.
“Sharing on social media is the first step in being a participant in the movement,” Brown said. “It spreads awareness and shares statistics and stories with your followers.”
Sixteen-year-old Gillian McSheffrey created a QR code for protesting. When the code is scanned, users are redirected to a website containing petitions about Black Lives Matter and police brutality cases, she said. She printed the codes onto stickers, shared them in different Phoenix neighborhoods, and posted them on social media. These codes allow people who may not come across this information otherwise, to engage with it in a new way.
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“I came up with the idea after seeing the work others had put in to create accessible places to find petitions,” McSheffrey said. “I have learned so much about how I can advocate for change from social media.”
Some ASA students are donating money to the causes. Eva Pruitt, 17, pledged to donate some of the money she made selling clothes on Depop, a mobile resale app.
Even if they can not vote, these teens say they can still have a useful voice in politics.
“It’s as simple as using your social media platform,” Hoffman said.