Gun control in Benicia: High School students hold indoors walkout, Elementary student leaves the building

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Benicia High students rally on campus for gun control

In lieu of a walkout, Benicia High students organized a rally in the quad during Access Period to pay tribute to the victims of school shootings and call for stricter gun control measures. (Photo by George Johnston)

Unlike at the thousands of schools across the country, zero students walked out of Benicia High School during the National School Walkout. Instead, students held a rally in the quad during Access Period to give speeches on preventing future gun violence and improving their school.

Senior Carson Rendell began the rally with a moment of silence for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland Fla. on Feb. 14 He then delivered the first speech of day, focusing on the many victims of school shootings and how easily he believed gun violence could be prevented with stricter gun control laws like stronger background checks and bans on assault weapons.

“When will we realize this is a problem?” Rendell asked. “When will we take a step back and look at the fact that in this country there are 300 million people here, and there are over 300 million people with guns? That in states like Florida, 18-year-olds do not have to go through a background check to buy an assault rifle and and on average 96 people are killed each day by guns?”

Kaitlyn Tang gave the second speech, calling for her fellow students to take action so that young people would not have to fear attending school.   Joseph Perez read from a poem he had written, titled “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Politician.”

Lisa St. Pierre and Lulu Wilson delivered a joint speech, saying America was on the catalyst of change and that the current generation will not rest until this change has
happened. The duo also called for more support of mental illness and health care, and criticized arming teachers.

“We have the right to come to school without being shot,” St. Pierre and Wilson said. “We shouldn’t come to school with the fear of death every time we hear the fire alarm and hear someone speak on the loudspeaker or even when someone opens our classroom door. This is not a matter of right and left. This is a matter of life and death.”

Shannon Sweeney, the senior class president, laid out the legislative rules of the Never Again movement: banning assault rifles, expanding background checks, passing gun violence restraining laws and stopping the militarization of police. She then made a call for civic engagement.

“We can make a change,” Sweeney said. “In 2012 in the general election, only 38 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted. We need to bring this change to the ballot box. We must demand it from our legislators. We are the future voters. We will not accept their complacency or corruption, and if it continues we will replace them.”

Upon completion of Access Period, students returned to class.

However, one Benicia Unified School District student did walk out: at Matthew Turner Elementary School. Earlier in the morning, Emma Willeford’s mother explained, without going into much detail, why people were protesting and asked Emma if she would be interested in joining the national movement. According to her mother, Emma thought it over and agreed to walk out of school.

Around 10 a.m. Emma was picked up by her mother and met outside by her stepsister, who was a holding a protest sign. For 17 minutes, Emma Willeford waited outside as a part of the walkout. When the 17 minutes were completed, Mrs. Willeford signed Emma back into school. Emma’s teachers were understanding of her choice, according to Mrs. Willeford.

Mrs. Willeford said she was very proud of Emma.

Benicia will next be participating in the March for Our Lives 10 a.m. Saturday, March 24 at the foot of First Street.

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Vallejo’s Jesse Bethel High School: students hold indoors walkout for gun control

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Area students join thousands nationwide in walkout for gun control

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, Vallejo Times-Herald, 03/14/18
Madison Buster, center, holds a sign to protest gun violence on Wednesday as Jesse Bethel High School students joined others from across the nation in a Walk Out to remember the 17 victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Madison Buster, center, holds a sign to protest gun violence on Wednesday as Jesse Bethel High School students joined others from across the nation in a Walk Out to remember the 17 victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. CHRIS RILEY — TIMES-HERALD

“18th Century laws won’t protect 21st Century Americans!”

That was just one of several points made by students who took the small stage in the center of Vallejo’s Jesse Bethel High School on Wednesday, joining a national walkout, organized one month after a gunman took the lives 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

School administrators estimated that up to 1,200 of the school’s 1,550 students filed out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. for the event, planned to last 17 minutes — one for each of those killed at Parkland — as suggested by the surviving Parkland students. They joined thousands of students nationwide who walked out of class to protest gun violence and urge lawmakers to strengthen gun control laws.

The Bethel students assembled peacefully — some, including at least one school employee, with homemade signs bearing messages like, “Arm me with books, not guns,” Never Again,” “ No more silence, end gun violence,” and “Let’s make a change — this is our time.”

One senior, Oliver Saunders, 17, said for him, Wednesday’s event is about demanding gun control.

“Gun control is needed,” he said, citing the number of school shooting incidents in the last year. “Never again, and we call B.S.”

Ren Simbol, a 16-year-old junior, said it was about making a stand on principle.

“I feel like I’m part of a historic event,” Simbol said.

Some shared umbrellas as protection from the intermittent drizzle, while others had hoods up and still others simply braved Vallejo’s damp, chilly Wednesday morning weather.

Trinity Love, a 17-year-old Bethel junior, said she was out in the elements because there have been enough school shootings.

“It’s quite terrifying that someone would harm another person just to make a point,” she said.

With students holding signs bearing the names and ages of those killed in Parkland, several students spoke their thoughts into a microphone set up under a canopy in Bethel’s quad.

Some spoke of living in fear of gun violence in school and demanding the government take action. Others spoke of the loss of innocent lives. But at least a couple reminded listeners that many believe the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the “right to bear arms” for good reason.

“But we want improved mental health screening and better background checks,” in any case, said one.

“I feel there needs to be awareness of gun violence; that this is important and forward-looking,” said Carol McCrory, 18, a senior who said she’s going into the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation. “I hope this creates national, if not global awareness.”

Bethel principal Linda Kingston said she was fine with the event, so long as it was student-driven. Bethel’s event was primarily organized by the school’s Law Academy students, she said.

Another, related informational event was planned for the lunch break, as well, she said.

“There’s a lot of good energy,” Kingston said. “We support the kids in what they have to do. They wanted to stand in solidarity with those in the nation saying it’s time to make a change.”

Organizing and participating in an event like Wednesday’s peaceful and respectful walk-out will help the students develop a sense of power, she said. But, there will also come some hard lessons in the speed with which change is made in the real world, she said.

“It’s pretty powerful in understanding how their world works, and how they’d like the world to work,” she said. “It’s pretty powerful to know you have a voice. I think they’re full of optimism that they can apply pressure.”

School administrator Patty Crespo described Wednesday’s event as “phenomenal.”

“The students organized all of this,” she said. “They’ll be running the city, the country, the world, some day. They can be the catalyst for amazing change in Vallejo.”

A similar walkout was organized at nearby Benicia High School. A track meet later in the day between Benicia and Vallejo high schools was also related to the national theme but had to be cancelled due to wet weather. Athletes were expected to wear orange ribbons and a moment of silence was scheduled.

Vallejo High and American Canyon schools held similar walkouts at their campuses on Wednesday.

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