Oakland, Bay Area students step out against guns

Hundreds of students poured out of Oakland Technical High School Wednesday morning as part of nationwide school walkouts to protest gun violence a month after a deadly mass shooting at a school in Florida.

The demonstration was one of many held across Oakland and the Bay Area. Oakland Unified School District spokesman John Sasaki said that it appeared that nearly all of the school’s more than 2,000 students were participating in the rally.

Actions were planned at most of Oakland’s middle and high schools and at some elementary schools Wednesday.

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell was among local politicians who joined walkouts or expressed support for the students’ actions on gun reform. Farrell joined students at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts Wednesday morning.

School districts and individual schools handled the walkouts differently, with some encouraging moments of silence or rallies that remained on campus and others allowing supervised marches from the school.

Milpitas Unified School District officials earlier this week said students who left campuses in the district as part of the walkouts would be given an unexcused absence, but later relented and said the district was allowing a supervised march from Milpitas High School to the Police Department a few blocks away.

The protests were called in the wake of the shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students were killed by a 19-year-old former student.

 

Survivors of the Parkland shooting have become outspoken proponents of gun control in the weeks following the shooting, prompting protests nationwide and injecting renewed energy into a stagnant debate on how to prevent mass shootings.

Since the Parkland shooting, there have been some suggestions on how to prevent mass shootings at schools and some new legislation has passed. One controversial suggestion floated by President Donald Trump involved arming teachers in classrooms, a suggestion that Oakland’s students chided.

One speaker at today’s rally said:

“Giving our teachers weapons will not diffuse the problem, it will only make it worse.”

The students said they were standing in solidarity with victims of gun violence nationwide, but also particularly called attention to the protracted issue of gun violence in Oakland, which affects many Oakland youth. When the gathered crowd was asked if they’d known someone killed by gun violence, nearly every student raised their hand.

The students called for silence as speakers announced the names of gun violence victims for 17 minutes, including many from Oakland. The list included Davon Ellis, a 14-year-old student at Oakland Tech who was shot and killed in 2015, whose name drew loud applause. They ended the list by chanting:

“Enough is enough.”

They also listed children who had been killed by guns in Oakland, like 5-year-old Gabriel Martinez Jr., who was killed in a drive-by shooting near his family’s taco truck in 2012, or Hiram Lawrence Jr., who was 1 year old when he was shot in West Oakland in 2011.

The list of school shootings included the 2012 shooting at Oikos University in Oakland, when a former student killed seven people and injured three others.

After each victim, the speakers said, “may he rest in peace” or “may she rest in peace,” and remained silent for 30 seconds.

The students unequivocally called for stronger gun laws nationwide, calling out Trump and other politicians for taking donations from the National Rifle Association while refusing to take action on gun control.

One of the student organizers, Maxwell Stern, said at the rally:

“Youth have been at the forefront of almost every movement for social change in American history. … Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough.”

The students seemed confident in their ability to effect change on the issue.

Another speaker said:

“Doesn’t it seem like people with the Second Amendment are awfully scared of teenagers armed with only the First?”

Student Ellie Davis spoke at the rally about her experience grappling with the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, when 49 people were killed.

The massive loss of life at a gay nightclub was terrifying to LGBT people nationwide, Davis said, but the shooting was ultimately forgotten with no action. Now she fears the Parkland shooting will be forgotten with no action as well:

“Time and time again, our government has refused to do anything. … That feeling, that fear of being killed and forgotten has to end.”