Philly students protest for tougher gun laws on Columbine massacre's anniversary

Students from Germantown Friends School hold up a banner that reads "#ENOUGH" during a school walkout held in the City Hall courtyard on Friday, April 20, 2018.

Joining counterparts nationwide, hundreds of students from around the Philadelphia area staged school walkouts Friday, publicly pressing for tougher gun laws on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that left 12 students and a teacher dead in Littleton, Colo.

For some, participation in the National School Walkout was about standing with the student activists who have found their voices after the February shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. For others, it was about things going on closer to home.

Nicholas Ear was held at gunpoint last year on his way home from school — he’s now a junior at Masterman. He escaped uninjured, but some do not, Ear said.

“Children are dying left and right, and we have to do something about it,” said Ear, 17, who held up both his palms, on which a friend had written “DON’T SHOOT” in red marker.

Camera icon SYDNEY SCHAEFER / Staff Photographer
Makaylah Cleaves, 16, holds up a sign in the City Hall courtyard during a school walkout.

Ear and several hundred other students from the city and suburbs converged on City Hall before 11 a.m., staging a “die-in,” lying down for six minutes. Later, some made their way to Eakins Oval. Smaller protests and rallies were held around the city, including a lunchtime event at Temple University.

Walkouts took place in every state. More than 2,600 were planned, with thousands of others unfolding throughout the day.

In Marion County, Fla., district-wide walkouts were suddenly canceled after a school shooting at Forest High School in Ocala left one student wounded and another in custody.

The Philadelphia walkout was more loosely organized than other recent protests, but once students joined forces, it was no less fervent. The crowd was diverse and charged up.

“Gun violence isn’t abstract,” said Zillah Eichin, a student organizer at Academy at Palumbo, a South Philadelphia magnet school where hundreds of teens walked out. “We see violence on our streets all the time.”

Some students walked out against administrators’ wishes; others were told participation was OK. At Masterman, a Philadelphia magnet school, the principal sent a letter to parents telling them that the protest was not a district-sanctioned event, but that teens had the right to protest.

“While we will not impede students from leaving to protest, please know that if a student is missing from class he/she will be marked absent and is still responsible for his/her work,” Masterman principal Jessica Brown wrote. Students were allowed back into the school after the walkout.

Akili Farrow and Niajah Mallard, students at String Theory Charter School, stood amid the crowd at City Hall with homemade signs they had constructed from manila folders.

“Our lives are at stake,” said Mallard, a junior. “Gun violence isn’t even shocking anymore, and that should not be.”

“We’re proud of the Stoneman Douglas kids and we want to do whatever we can to support them,” said Farrow, a senior. “We believe in the movement. How can we lead if we’re not alive?”

READ MORE > > > Littleton native Renee Chenault-Fattah on Columbine anniversary: ‘Not enough has changed.’

Later, at Temple University, a collection of college students, community members, and teenagers from Raised Woke — a group of student activists from Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus — gathered at the Bell Tower for a separate rally.

During the gathering, the names of the Columbine shooting victims were read out.

Milan Sullivan, a junior at Mastery-Shoemaker, talked about how gun violence has touched her life: Her sister’s father was killed, and her own father was shot in a separate incident.

“We are here to make change for the students of Columbine, Parkland, Great Mills, Douglas, and other schools, just to name a few,” said Sullivan.

Camera icon SYDNEY SCHAEFER / Staff P
Karina Roman, 21, a junior at Temple University, speaks in front of dozens of people gathered at the Bell Tower.

Tatiana Amaya, another Raised Woke member, encouraged those gathered to channel their sadness, anger, and frustration into action by voting and demanding accountability from politicians.

“You matter, I matter, we matter,” Amaya said. “The fight is just beginning. It’s time for a revolution.”

Ewan Johnson hadn’t planned to speak. The 21-year-old Temple student from Mount Holly talked about the challenges of being a young black man in President Trump’s America.

“I am always viewed as less, and that’s something I carry with me every day,” said Johnson. But, he said, he and others must be galvanized by the challenges they see in the current political climate.

“Raise hell!” shouted Johnson. “Bring about change!”

 

Friday’s protests followed a wave of youth activism that has emerged since the Feb. 14 massacre in Florida.

Tens of thousands of students left class March 14 to protest gun violence in what historians called the largest youth protest movement since at least the Vietnam War. Days later, more than a million teens and their backers rallied across the United States calling for tougher laws on guns and ammunition.

In what they called an unprecedented series of hearings, three dozen Pennsylvania House members recently took turns speaking over six days about gun safety and how to prevent mass shootings, proposing a number of measures.

Staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article, which also contains material from the Associated Press.