Students across New York City walked out of their schools to protest gun violence, joining peers resound the country on the one-month anniversary of the deadly Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
From elementary school students in Brooklyn singing songs about social action to teenagers in the Bronx marching against metal detectors, students and teachers left their classrooms for the protest, slated to last 17 minutes to commemorate the Florida shooting’s 17 victims. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesman said over 100,000 students participated.
Outside of an educational campus in Hell’s Kitchen, students waited behind a gate until precisely 10 a.m. then flooded 50th Street and 10th Avenue. They shouted “Tell me what does democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” and carried signs reading “how many more?” and “we are not safe” that they had stayed late to make the night before.
“The outcome was a lot bigger than what we expected – it was huge,” said Elizabett Baez, a senior at the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology and one of the protest’s organizers.
At the Grace Dodge campus in the Bronx, students were walking out and marching to nearby Department of Education offices to call for fewer metal detectors and more alternatives to traditional discipline. “We need more social workers and counselors in all schools!” students chanted.
Some protests were far quieter, such as the one held by elementary school students at Public School 40 in Manhattan. Parents signed their young children out of school for a moment of silence.
Carla O’Connor, who has two daughters in 5th grade at PS 40, said her family made signs together last night as they talked about the meaning behind the protest. Shielding young students from the truth, she said, only deprives them of the understanding that these are important issues.
“We talk about all the latest topics because they learn anyway,” said O’Connor said, whose daughters made signs saying “Control Gun Usage” and “Strict Gun Laws.” “They know what lockdown drills are for.”
While some protests today may be loud, elementary and middle school students from PS 40 and SALK are opting for silence to remember those lost in Florida. pic.twitter.com/e9fPVBH5Mm
— Monica Disare (@MonicaDisare) March 14, 2018
Many of the walkouts appeared to have died down by mid-morning, perhaps since school officials said that students wouldn’t be punished aside from a notation in their attendance records if they returned to class afterwards.
Indeed, students at the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology and Stephen T. Mather Building Arts Craftsmanship High School in Hell’s Kitchen quickly returned to class. “It’s 10:18!” one of the student organizers shouted out.
Other protests and rallies were expected to be held throughout Wednesday afternoon. Students may attend events after the walkout with the permission of a parent or guardian. And the protests appeared to be largely peaceful.
Students’ reasons for taking to the streets are diverse, they told us. In a state that already has strict gun laws, some want to push for national change. Others say they’re frustrated with the solutions that adults have offered, such as arming teachers or relying more heavily on metal detectors.
What unites them, they told us, is a desire to honor the 14 teenagers and three teachers who were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago — and to influence the debate locally about how schools should respond to violence. Meet some of the students who are leading today’s protests.
Quaseem Aziz, a senior at Stephen T. Mather Building Arts Craftsmanship High School, inside the Hell’s Kitchen campus, said the protest was important to him because “There’s been a lot of gun violence going on and nobody’s been really talking about it. It’s important that people know they’re not alone.”
Bryan Aju, a sophomore at High School for Energy and Technology who helped organize the walkout at the Grace Dodge campus, said protesters were hoping to “have our voices heard,” particularly the Department of Education.
“I feel like we go to a jail instead of a school,” he said. “And that’s why we did what we did today. Because we need that to stop… No more cops. No more SSAs. What we need are more counselors and social workers so that, whatever issues a student has, they can help.”
Aju and other students stopped a planned rally outside of a Department of Education building an hour early after seeing a heavy police presence.
Not all students walking out Wednesday were in agreement about how to address gun violence and safety in schools, of course. Houssainatou Diallo, a sophomore at Bronx Academy for Software Engineering, differed from some classmates by supporting metal detectors in schools. “I think they should keep it,” she said. “If we didn’t, people could walk in there with guns. Even students. Because there are students who are in gangs and carry those types of stuff or have access to those weapons and can go inside.”
City and state leaders were largely supportive of the students.The mayor joined students at Edward R. Murrow High School during the walkout Wednesday. “I have to help you understand one thing, in the decades and decades before this moment, we have never seen anything like what you are doing today,” he said. De Blasio, who stepped up random metal detector screenings as school following the Florida shooting, faced tough questions from students at a town hall meeting about school security last week.
Students from several schools have flooded streets at 50th and 10th Ave. school safety agents corralling them back pic.twitter.com/D66c21VTKF
— Alex Zimmerman (@AGZimmerman) March 14, 2018
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined students at Leadership and Public Service High School in Manhattan. Video from the protest shows Cuomo and Weingarten participating in a “lie in,” lying on the ground and clapping as students chanted “Gun control now!”
Some students said they hoped this time would be different — that the outpouring after Parkland would finally lead to solutions to end school shootings. Leanne Robles, 16, a sophomore at Bronx Academy for Software Engineering, personally advocates for more school counselors to help troubled students before they turn violent.
“After how many school shootings and safety issues, there has been no change at all,” she said, “and something needs to change.”