High school and college students across the nation motivated by gun violence in their communities and on their campuses made their voices heard on Wednesday, March 14.
But, with few exceptions, not many students were seen walking out of their schools to protest —at least locally.
Wednesday’s National School Walkout was promoted by the nonprofit Women’s Youth March Empower to push the US government to enact stricter gun control legislation. The event was for the one-month anniversary of the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
But, LAUSD officials, school administrators and school principals had strongly encouraged their students to remain on campus and have their say on school grounds with organized events. In some cases, students were told they would face truancy or other possible repercussions if they left campus.
The strategy seemed to work. Students at Sylmar High School observed 17 minutes of silence to commemorate the victims in Parkland. At Kennedy High School, the name of each victim was read over the school’s public address system during their 17 minute observance. At Granada Hills Charter, students went out to their football field and linked arms and spelled out the word, “#Enough.” The powerful image was captured by media flying overhead.
A group of college students from Valley College marched along Oxnard Street to Van Nuys Blvd. to hold a small gathering in front of the Van Nuys Civic Center. They were joined by a few students from Pierce College.
The college students were aware that high school students were restricted from leaving campus so they wanted to be actively protesting on the street for all students.
“We are tired of the uprising of school shootings. The government continuously ignores or demands, leaving children and young adults to fend for [our own] safety,” said Dominik Reyes, a Pierce College student. A student from Valley college carried a sign that read, “Fear has no place in school,” while another carried the message on her protest sign, “Arms are for hugging.”
Among the isolated numbers of high school students who actually walked out of their school campus were students from Sal Castro Middle School of Los Angeles — where two students in a classroom were wounded (one critically) on Feb. 2 by an accidental discharge of a handgun hidden in a student backpack. They marched from their campus to LA City Hall.
Their school is named after the famous teacher who accompanied hundreds of students in 1968 who “Walked Out” of East Los Angeles schools to demand an equitable education fifty years ago.
A smattering of students from Belmont High in Los Angeles briefly disrupted a rally at Miguel Contreras High of Los Angeles held inside its main front gate. They encouraged the students there to join them out to walkout of their campus onto the street, but the Contreras High students stuck to their on campus program.
At Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, students offered chants of “No More Silence, End Gun Violence” and held up signs on their football field. Many joined hands and stood around the running track while others sat in the bleachers and listened to speakers.
Two groups of students stood on the football field facing the bleachers, carrying an enormous sign that read “Never Again.” It was pointed to the sky, where media helicopters hovered.
“We’re advocating for school safety and stricter gun laws,” said student Klever Pirir, an event organizer.
Added student Joey Zarate, “Nobody should be able to purchase a gun as easily as (accused Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz) did.”
Orange was the color worn by many this day in solidarity with the Florida victims
“We want an environment that has to be safe and caring,” student Alexandro Garcia said. “We have to raise our voices. If we stay quiet we’re not going to accomplish anything.”
At Contreras High, students approached the main entry gate with signs and chanting “No More Guns!” and “Viva La Raza!” But the crowd stopped just inside the campus grounds at the school’s entrance, where a podium was set up.
Marvin Barahona, a student organizer, quieted the students and demanded 17 seconds of silence to honor the shooting victims at Parkland, Fla.
“Today we express our solidarity with the students from Florida who suffered this terrible tragedy,” Barahona read from a statement. “But this is not a message of sympathy. It is a message of solidarity. We announce our solidarity with fears, partly because gun violence has affected us here in Los Angeles for many years.
Midway through Barahona’s remarks, approximately 20 students from nearby Belmont High swarmed in front of the Contreras main gate, holding their own signs amid cries of “Everyone walk out.”
For a minute both sides chanted at each other. When there was no effort by the Contreras students to walk out of their gates, the Belmont students began to disperse, but not before they had a chance to speak before the assembled television cameras.
Jacob Sanders, another Belmont student, said he left his campus to protest because “it’s unfair, you know? It’s unfair how the government knew everything that was going on and they didn’t do anything.”
“We want guns to stop coming into schools and we need more protection for our schools,” said a Belmont freshman who gave the name Katiana.“We need more students to be louder, to come out (of the classrooms).”
“Many of us are used to hearing gunshots at night and in our streets. All too recently we were shook to learn of a school shooting at a middle school down the street from here,” said Barahona, referring to Castro Middle School.