As the sun set over Memphis on Monday night, dozens of grieving students gathered at Hamilton High School for a mourning vigil for the life of 15-year-old Phillexus Buchanan, a victim of shootings, but their grief turned to frustration when officers police ordered them to leave campus.
Instead of honoring their classmate with a balloon toss on her high school grounds, the students, banned from campus after hours, left the large empty parking lot and huddled across the street on a small sidewalk.
The moment, which comes in the aftermath of a tragedy, illustrates how grieving politics can be complicated for black children as their traditions of grief collide with a litany of rules and regulations.
Wearing a “rest in peace” shirt violates the dress code in uniformed schools, a common requirement in Shelby County Schools, a black majority district. Creating a TikTok tribute with classmates at lunch runs counter to the district’s cell phone policy which warns that administrators can confiscate phones if they are visible during the school day. Scheduling a vigil means navigating the city park permit application or district procedures.
“As part of the district protocol, we require all required use of school facilities or property to be submitted through our facilities portal which is reviewed by facilities, security and school management,” the school spokesperson said Monday evening. Jerica Phillips. “Unfortunately, we have not received extensive notification for the review of this request.”
Collecting more than 100 shares on social media, posts about the wake began circulating on Sunday at noon, two days after Buchanan was killed.
The Hamilton student, known as Lexus, was killed Friday night after a high school basketball game when the car she and other students were traveling in was ambushed at a gas station, according to police reports. . 16-year-old Breunna Woods, a cheerleader at Wooddale High School, was also killed in the shooting.
Family members announced a wake and release of purple balloons for Woods Thursday at 5:30 pm on Riverfront Drive near the Bass Pro Shop.
A young mother and her baby were also injured in the shooting, with the mother sharing publicly on social media that the “strong” baby is recovering from surgery. “Mommy [is] sorry Jr. I tried to take every bullet for you, “he wrote in a post that was shared more than 2,000 times.
Lexus and Breunna’s deaths are the 28th and 29th juvenile homicides in Memphis this year, according to the Memphis Police Department. To their loved ones, they were more than just numbers. Lexus loved fashion and selfies and was a devoted friend, her family said. She went out on Friday to support Breunna, who was cheering for the match.
Breunna was an emerging hairdresser who aspired to become a brand ambassador.
“Breunna was a kind person who performed exceptionally well in class and on the pitch. Every day, she hugged us with her smile and her fashion, “Wooddale school administrators said in a statement posted on the school’s Facebook page.
Hamilton did not publish a statement about Lexus on Monday, an oversight that some students at the wake saw as an affront.
“Hamilton isn’t doing his job,” said Morgan Dandridge, 15, who attended both middle school and high school with Lexus. “They haven’t even had a moment of silence for her.”
Morgan said the school provided pain counselors and counselors instructed students through relaxation techniques. “They say, take a deep breath, take a deep breath. I get tired of taking deep breaths, “she said.” I’m tired.
Hamilton High proceeded with classes as usual on Monday, Morgan added.
The school’s approach stands in stark contrast to the path taken by Rhodes College in October following the gunshot death of one of its students. Campus leaders urged classmates to share public tributes to victim Andrew Rainer in the school newspaper, and the administration canceled classes to give students time to cry. Rhodes is a $ 51,000-a-year liberal arts college with a white majority student body. Hamilton is a black majority historic high school with a postcode where the median household income is lower than the Rhodes tuition.
Wanting to do something on campus to remember Lexus, certain Hamilton students created and circulated a commemorative poster for classmates to sign, a gesture that received mixed reactions from staff but which the principal eventually allowed. said Morgan. Many students also promoted the wake on Monday and came carrying balloons in Lexus’ favorite color of pink. No one at the wake identified with Chalkbeat as Hamilton High School staff.
Parents and older relatives on hand calmed and reassured frustrated students as they were forced out of the school parking lot.
“I feel it really made the kids feel like school wasn’t worried about the death of one of their classmates,” said mom Melanie Harris, whose 15-year-old daughter had been in school with Lexus since school. medium.
Just before 6pm, when the crowds peaked, from the curb to the street, mourners gathered around Lexus’ aunt Tanya Dockins to hear her tearful plea to “stop killing these children who haven’t. had a chance to find their way into life. ”
The students who had lasted all night collapsed.
The still composed classmates comforted those around them.
And a Memphis police officer stood up from the loudspeaker and cautioned the crowd for staying on the street, ordering them to return to the overcrowded sidewalk.
Some whistled at the police as they released their pink balloons to float freely in the air, and in the background, the flashing blue lights of police cars protected the assistants from drivers on the busy street and served as a reminder of how black students are banned, guarded. , and supervised, even in mourning.