‘I Should Be Writing Essays Not My Will': Thousands of Students Walk Out Against Gun Violence

By Denisa R. Superville — April 20, 2018 7 min read
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By Denisa R. Superville, Kavitha Cardoza and Andrew Ujifusa


With chants of “no more silence, end gun violence,” and holding signs like “Books Not Bullets” and “One Child is Worth More Than All the Guns on Earth,” students across the country streamed out of classrooms Friday morning for the second mass walkout this year to protest gun violence.

The protest, timed to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in which two students killed 13 students and teachers, continued throughout the day, with staged die-ins, marches, voter registration drives, and rallies at state capitols.

But before many students could start their protest, authorities in Florida reported yet another school shooting. This time a 17-year-old student at Forest High School in Ocala, Fla., was allegedly shot in his ankle by a former student. Teachers and students piled chairs, desks and cabinets against doors as the school went into “code red” mode.

Still, students assembled on football fields, parks, and town squares to demand that legislators listen to their pleas as part of a wave of student activism that ignited after the Feb. 14 Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. Schools from Florida to Anchorage, Alaska, participated. The student turnout varied, from one student walking out of school in a few places to hundreds in others. (See photos from the National School Walkout on the Full Frame blog.)

For Zy’Dale Brock, 14, a student at Washington Leadership Academy, a charter school in the nation’s capital, Friday’s protests were deeply personal.

“My dad has been shot, my mother has been shot, my uncle has been shot...,” Brock said. “I’ve experienced a lot of gun violence. This is personal. This is a small act to show I support everyone who is affected by gun violence.”

“This is a big deal because it can happen any time, any school, any where,” he said.

In Iowa, hundreds of students from across the state rallied at the state capitol in Des Moines to call for tighter gun restrictions. The event featured songs, poetry, speeches from candidates who were running for state office—and a reminder to politicians many of them will be able to vote in November.

In New York City, students held a die-in at Washington Square Park.

In Bloomington, Ind., students rallied at the court house square.

At the Washington, D.C., event, about 150 students held a 19-minute moment of silence at Lafayette Park, across from the White House, beginning at 10 a.m.

“I stand in solidarity with other kids, especially black and brown kids,” said Brooke Jacobs, a 16-year-old African-American student who attends Sidwell Friends School. “Underrepresented groups are not recognized. If you’re not affluent and not white you don’t get the same kind of exposure.”

Jacobs said the school encouraged students to participate in the walkout, and that students would not be punished for doing so.

Matt Compton, 15, a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, said he wanted stronger gun laws. While he felt safe at his suburban Washington, D.C., school, that was not the case for all students, he said.

“I support more federal regulations for guns,” he said. “It’s [ridiculous] the number of people who die in schools.”

The names of 199 teen victims of gun violence so far this year were written on white t-shirts and hung on the black fence outside of Compton’s high school. Some of the t-shirts simply said “unknown.”

Friday’s National School Walkout was organized by Lane Murdock, a 16-year-old student from Ridgefield, Conn., who started a petition shortly after the Parkland shooting calling for the protest. Educators, who are also staging a National Day of Action to End Gun Violence on Friday, wore orange and carried signs supporting students.

While the National School Walkout was held on the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, students at the Littleton, Colo., high school did not participate in the walkout. The school was closed on Friday, and students instead participated in a “day of service,” which is a tradition at the school.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who sparked this movement, joined the walkout, but could face disciplinary action in the form of an unexcused absence if they left the campus, according to CNN. Some students and Principal Ty Thompson followed Columbine High School’s example for a day of service.

While many schools are allowing students to walk out of class, some will be disciplined for leaving campus. At Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., students were given permission to participate in a walkout onto the football field from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The entrances to the school were blocked and monitoried by local police during that period. Students who did not return to class afterward or who left campus will face a one-day out-of-school suspension.

Friday’s actions also featured students who do not support stricter gun control. The most prominent student activist on that issue is 16-year-old Kyle Kashuv, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. He hosted a live stream on Twitter with conservative commentators, including former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, to discuss the Second Amendment and mental health.

And a reporter captured this image of a student who did not support the call for stricter gun laws.

Alongside other top state conservatives, Kansas Secretary of State and gubernatorial hopeful Kris Kobach held a pro-gun rally on the steps of the state capitol just as students from nearby Topeka High School were participating in the National Student Walkout.

The Kansas City Star reported that Kobach contends that gun control advocates are taking advantage of the recent school shooting for their own agenda.

“Instead of walking out of class, why don’t you stay in class and spend that half hour studying the history of the Second Amendment,” Kobach told the students calling for stricter gun measures on Friday.

David Luria, an Army veteran from Washington, carried a sign in that city’s walkout, thanking kids for their service.

“These kids are creating a minor revolution,” Luria said. “I know firsthand how powerful guns are. You have to have strict training to drive a car and liability insurance, why isn’t there the same requirements for guns?”

Najayeh Belton, 16, a student at Sidwell Friends, held a sign saying, “I should be writing essays not my will.”

When asked why a student at an elite private school is protesting she said: “I don’t feel safe in my school unless every place has stricter gun laws passed.”

“There’s been a lot of protesting and nothing has changed,” she said.

Photo: High school student Sebastian Chavez, center, joins hundreds of students walking out of school to rally against gun violence, April 20, in downtown Los Angeles. Protests were held across the country, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

--Damian Dovarganes/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.