Wynta-Amor stood out in the crowd with her striking appearance – a mint-green t-shirt, a pink-grey jacket tied around her waist, and a blue face mask tucked under her chin. Her fearless voice joined the chorus of demonstrators, chanting the powerful words that had become the movement’s rallying cry: “No justice, no peace.”
The 2020 protests had many memorable scenes, but this one in particular stuck with me. The sight of Wynter-Amor Rogers, a 7-year-old girl, protesting against systemic racism and police brutality in Merrick, New York. She marched boldly and chanted fiercely; frequently locking eyes with the camera that appeared to be capturing her every move. As I observed her, I felt a combination of awe and intrigue. Her raised fists, energetic arm movements, and stern countenance left me wondering if her actions were a genuine expression of anger in response to recent events or just a naive mimicry of the passion and frustration of the crowd around her.
A couple of days later, Wynter-Amor found herself on the frontlines once again. This time, she took part in another public outcry following the death of an inmate at a New York City jail, Jamel Floyd (no relation to George Floyd). Jamel had died at the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn after law enforcement officials claimed that he had barricaded himself inside his cell and became increasingly disruptive, leading to him being pepper-sprayed. This caused him to become unresponsive, prompting his transfer to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Video footage captured the first-grader addressing the crowd with conviction and fervour, taking charge as she led them in chants and call-and-response. While some commended her active participation, others raised concerns about its appropriateness and potential impact on her well-being, both physically and psychologically.
Protests can sometimes become chaotic, often featuring clashes between police officers and demonstrators or counter-protesters. Placing a young child in an environment that exposes them to potential danger is unwise. Even when public demonstrations commence peacefully, safety concerns such as crowd control measures and the possibility of violence remain.
Moreover, a child of Wynter-Amor’s age may not fully comprehend the complexities and nuances of the issues being protested, which could result in confusion or emotional distress as she transitions into adolescence and adulthood. Direct involvement in mature themes and adult discussions can overwhelm and potentially impact a child’s cognitive and emotional development.
Given my misgivings about the Black Lives Matter organisation, it’s easy for me to object to a child’s involvement in the protests. However, consistency requires that I be just as critical of movements I wholeheartedly support.
For example, witnessing recent videos of children trampling on Pride flags during a protest in Ottawa left me with the same unease I experienced while observing Wynter-Amor. Christian and Muslim parents united at the rally to voice their opposition to what they rightly perceived as LGBTQ indoctrination in their children’s classrooms. As the children stomped on the flags under the guidance of their parents, they were met with cheers and applause from the crowd, and some individuals even approached to shake their hands.
Children directly engaging in any movement or cause must be carefully considered, even though their presence may inspire empathy and heighten the emotional impact. When I come across content or news about some of the graphic and inappropriate materials that are being presented to young pupils, I feel nothing short of outrage and believe we should spare no effort to protect their childhood innocence. However, in our mission to protect their innocence, we must not put them in any additional situations that might jeopardise it. Organised public demonstrations are adult means of addressing problems, and it is not always fair or healthy that children are exposed to such environments.
The visual impact of children expressing apparent concern for causes that resonate with their parents or guardians can be powerful. It tugs at the heartstrings and highlights the gravity of the issue. However, it is crucial to ensure that their participation is age-appropriate while also considering the potential long-term effects. While parents have the responsibility to impart their beliefs about what is right and wrong, it is crucial to acknowledge that engaging in political action may not always be the most effective method.
It is critical to safeguard and nurture the innocence and sense of wonder in children for as long as possible, which means keeping them as far away from anything that threatens these qualities, including political activism
Ada Akpala is the founder of Different Voice Initiative. It is a space for learning to help people navigate in this world of uncertainty and disorder.
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