In protest of gun violence including school shootings, nearly 100 Wellington High School students staged a walkout last Wednesday morning.
Juniors Grace Broome and Meredith Becher led nearly 100 classmates into the cold at 10 a.m., dedicating their demonstration to victims of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to speak out and send a message,” Becher told the crowd. “Kids should not be afraid to go to school. There are police officers and the fire department here to keep us safe. However, we cannot let fear stop us from saying what we believe in.”
“Gun violence has grown out of control and no one wants to talk about it,” she said. “In 2018 alone, there have been 15 incidents of guns being discharged on school property, and it’s only March. That’s about 1.5 per week. The shooting that took place on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was one of the top 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history.”
REMEMBERING THE VICTIMS
Becher and Broome read the names of all 17 victims killed in Parkland and placed a candle for each on the school’s spirit rock.
The duo also prepared written tributes for each victim.
“Born in Mexico, Martin Duque was 14 years old,” Broome said. “He was funny, outgoing, and well-liked. He was friendly to everyone he met and loved by his family.”
“Scott Beigel was 35 years old and a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” said Becher. “He often talked about friendship, humor, and mentorship. He was unselfish and died while saving students’ lives.”
“Cara Loughran was 14 years old and a freshman,” Broome said. “She always had a smile on her face and had a beautiful soul. She liked Irish dancing and leaves her brother behind.”
Both girls are National Honor Society members. They approached WHS principal Tina Drake about planning the event roughly two weeks in advance and gained full support for the idea.
“I thought it was beautiful and those two girls did a fantastic job,” Drake said after the demonstration. “They kept the focus and the purpose of the event spot on. They did it perfectly and it was beautiful.”
‘OUR VOICES ARE THE FUTURE’
After students returned to class, Broome and Becher spoke about their motivations for organizing the walkout and measures they feel could help mitigate gun violence and mass shootings.
“I think we can make it a little harder for people to get these weapons,” Becher said, encouraging students to contact state politicians such as Rep. Bob Gibbs, a Republican who represents Ohio’s 7th Congressional district. “People want to protect their rights as far as owning a gun, obviously. But there comes a point when protecting your rights might be infringing on other peoples’. Hurting other people to uphold your right isn’t always the right thing to do.”
Broome thinks changes in gun regulation and better treatment of mental health problems don’t have to be mutually exclusive. She said both are vital to stopping the next school shooting.
“A lot of other countries have strict gun control laws and it’s obviously helped there,” she said. “The U.S. is high up there, if not first, in gun violence. If we had those laws and those regulations it would make a world of difference.”
“Mental health is not a crime and people shouldn’t be punished for issues they may have,” she added. “Mental health is a big part of gun violence being such an issue. They do go hand-in-hand sometimes. But if we focus on getting the guns away and helping people with mental health issues, school safety would be so much better and we wouldn’t have to be scared all the time.”
Both organizers responded to the notion that teenagers’ opinions should not be considered part of the debate.
“Our voices are the future,” Becher said. “This is the way my generation looks at things, and because of that, it’s eventually going to come about. Eventually, we’re going to be the ones in offices and in powerful positions. We’ll be able to change it. I feel like we can see more going on.”
“This violence is happening to us and we should have a say in what happens next,” said Broome. “We should be protected. We want to offer our help but we have to be given the chance.”
Becher said she has dreamed of one day becoming a teacher, but school shootings have given her second thoughts. Drake encouraged her to put those apprehensions aside.
”Mrs. Drake told me to not let fear stop me from doing something I believe in, and that’s why I went ahead and planned the walkout,” she said.
Women’s March Youth Empower called for walkouts at schools all across America and said there were more than 2,500 planned for March 14.
That group has very political aims — it promoted walkouts as a way to pressure Congress for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; expanded background checks on all gun sales; passage of the federal restraining order law that would allow law enforcement to remove guns from a person’s possession if they pose a threat to themselves or others; and an act to demilitarize police.
“We view this work as part of an ongoing and decades-long movement for gun violence prevention in honor of all victims of gun violence — from James Brady to Trayvon Martin to the 17 people killed in Parkland,” the Youth Empower website said.
Not all demonstrations that day took the shape of a walkout.
Some districts encouraged students to wear orange, a color associated with gun violence prevention efforts. Others, such as the Oberlin City Schools, prompted students to wear red and silver, the colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15-style rifle in his attack, leading to renewed calls for common sense gun control legislation.
Cruz has been indicted on 17 counts of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree attempted murder. His lawyers have asked for his not-guilty plea to be withdrawn, saying they want to avoid a death penalty verdict — they ask instead for 34 consecutive life sentences without parole.
Other sweeping student demonstrations are being planned in the U.S.
March for Our Lives is organized by students who survived the Parkland tragedy. It will be held in Washington, D.C., and other locations nationwide on Saturday, March 24.
The National High School Walkout is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. It will ask students to leave classes at 10 a.m. and not return that day.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.