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

MARCH 14, 2018 BY GEORGE JOHNSTON
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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      NYTimes video: National School Walkout – Thousands Protest Against Gun Violence Across the U.S.

      Repost from The New York Times
      [Editor: For Benicia Walkout coverage, see here.  For Vallejo coverage, see here.]

      National School Walkout: Thousands Protest Against Gun Violence Across the U.S.

      A month ago, hundreds of teenagers ran for their lives from the hallways and classrooms of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and staff had been shot to death.

      On Wednesday, driven by the conviction that they should never have to run from guns again, they walked.

      So did their peers. In New York City, in Chicago, in Atlanta and Santa Monica; at Columbine High School and in Newtown, Conn.; and in many more cities and towns, students left school by the hundreds and the thousands at 10 a.m., sometimes in defiance of school authorities, who seemed divided and even flummoxed about how to handle their emptying classrooms.

      The first major coordinated action of the student-led movement for gun control marshaled the same elements that had defined it ever since the Parkland shooting: eloquent young voices, equipped with symbolism and social media savvy, riding a resolve as yet untouched by cynicism.

      “We have grown up watching more tragedies occur and continuously asking: Why?” said Kaylee Tyner, a 16-year-old junior at Columbine High School outside Denver, where 13 people were killed in 1999, inaugurating, in the public consciousness, the era of school shootings. “Why does this keep happening?”

      Even after a year of near continuous protesting — for women, for the environment, for immigrants and more — the emergence of people not even old enough to drive as a political force has been particularly arresting, unsettling a gun control debate that had seemed impervious to other factors.

      In Florida, where students from Stoneman Douglas High and other schools had rallied in the state capital, the governor signed a bill last week that raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days.

      On a national level, the students have not had the same impact. This week, President Trump abandoned gun control proposals that the Republican-led Congress had never even inched toward supporting.

      But, for one day at least, the students commanded the country’s airwaves, Twitter feeds and Snapchat stories.

      Principals and superintendents seemed disinclined to stop them. Some were outright supportive, though others warned that students would face disciplinary consequences for leaving school. At many schools, teachers and parents joined in.

      Wreathed in symbolism, the walkouts generally lasted for 17 minutes, one for each of the Parkland victims. Two more nationwide protests are set to take place on March 24 and on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

      On a soccer field burned yellow by the Colorado sun, Ms. Tyner stood alongside hundreds of her fellow students, who waved signs — “This is our future,” one said — and released red, white and blue balloons.

      Yet in many places, for many students, Wednesday was just Wednesday, and class went on. Even at Columbine, the embrace of the gun control movement was not universal.

      “People say it’s all about gun control, it’s all about, ‘We should ban guns,’” said Caleb Conrad, 16, a junior, who stayed in class. “But that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is the people who are doing it.”

      In the one-school rural community of Potosi, Wis., no student group had organized a protest. After a handful of students expressed some interest, the school decided to hold an assembly at 10 a.m. to talk about school safety measures and the value of being kind to one another.

      At 10 a.m., one student, a female freshman, left the building alone.

      Throughout the assembly, she sat by herself outside, by a flagpole, for 17 minutes. She appeared to be praying, said the principal, Mike Uppena, adding that she was not in trouble for leaving.

      Officials in Lafayette Parish, La., initially said that students could participate in the day’s events, believing that it was appropriate to honor the Florida victims. But when it became clear there was a political motive to the walkout, a torrent of complaints from the local community led the school board to adopt a new plan: a minute of silence.

      Dozens of students walked out anyway.

      Photo

      Students walked out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, one month after 17 people were killed in a shooting at the school. CreditSaul Martinez for The New York Times

      Out of Class and Into the Streets

      In some places, demonstrators chanted and held signs. At other schools, students stood in silence. In Atlanta, some students took a knee.

      Thousands of New York City students converged on central locations — Columbus Circle, Battery Park, Brooklyn Borough Hall, Lincoln Center.

      Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, stretched out on the sidewalk as part of a “die-in” with students in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the former home of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

      Hundreds sat in the middle of West 62nd Street for several minutes before rising to their feet and shouting, “No more violence.” A cry of “Trump Tower!” sent dozens of protesters marching toward the Trump International Hotel and Tower across Broadway. Onlookers gave them fist-bumps.

      In Washington, thousands left their classrooms in the city and its suburbs and marched to the Capitol steps, their high-pitched voices battling against the stiff wind: “Hey-hey, ho-ho, the N.R.A. has got to go!” One sign said: “Fix This, Before I Text My Mom from Under A Desk.”

      Members of Congress, overwhelmingly Democratic, emerged from the Capitol to meet them. Trailed by aides and cameras, some legislators high-fived the children in the front rows, others took selfies, and nearly all soon learned that the young protesters had no idea who they were.

      Except, of course, for “BERNIE SANDERS!” which the protesters screamed at the Vermont senator, as well at some other white-haired, bespectacled legislators.

      Photo

      A screenshot of a Snap map for student walkouts in the New York City area.

      Asked by reporters about the walkouts, Raj Shah, Mr. Trump’s deputy press secretary, said the president “shares the students’ concerns about school safety” and cited his support for mental health and background check improvements.

      As the hours passed, the walkouts moved west across the country.

      “It’s 10 o’clock,” said a man on the intercom at Perspectives Charter Schools on Chicago’s South Side. With that, hundreds of students streamed out of their classrooms and into the neighborhood, marching past modest brick homes, a Walgreens and multiple churches.

      Photo

      Posters advertising the walkout at Perspectives Charter Schools in Chicago. CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

      Several current and former Perspectives students have been killed in recent years, the school president said.

      “You see different types of violence going on,” said Armaria Broyles, a junior who helped lead the walkout and whose older brother was killed in a shooting. “We all want a good community and we all want to make a change.”

      At Santa Monica High School in Southern California, teachers guided hundreds of students to the football field. It felt like a cross between a political rally and pep rally, with dozens of students wearing orange T-shirts, the color of the gun control movement, and #neveragain scrawled onto their arms in black eyeliner.

      “It is our duty to win,” Roger Gawne, a freshman and one of the protest organizers, yelled to the crowd.

      Staying Silent, for the Opposite Reason

      Although the walkouts commanded attention on cable television and social media for much of Wednesday, it also was clear that many students did not participate, especially in rural and conservative areas where gun control is not popular.

      At Bartlesville High School in Bartlesville, Okla., where hundreds of students walked out of class last month to protest cuts in state education funding, nothing at all happened at 10 a.m.

      “I haven’t heard a word about it,” the principal, LaDonna Chancellor, said of the gun protest.

      In Iowa, Russell Reiter, superintendent of the Oskaloosa Community School District, suggested that temperatures below 40 degrees may have encouraged students to stay indoors, but he also said that “students here are just not interested in what is going on in bigger cities.”

      There was opposition even in liberal Santa Monica. Just after the organizers of the walkout there read the names of the Parkland victims, another student went on stage, grabbed the microphone and shouted “Support the Second Amendment!” before he was called off by administrators.

      ‘We Need More Than Just 17 Minutes’

      Some of the day’s most poignant demonstrations happened at schools whose names are now synonymous with shootings.

      Watched by a phalanx of reporters, camera operators and supporters, hundreds of students crowded onto the football field at Stoneman Douglas High shortly after 10 a.m.

      A month after the Feb. 14 shooting, notes of condolence, fading flowers and stuffed toys, damp from recent rain, still lay on the grass outside the school and affixed to metal fences.

      The walkout was allowed by the school, but several students said they were warned that they would not be permitted back onto the campus for the day if they left school grounds. Despite the warning, a couple of hundred students marched to a nearby park for another demonstration.

      Photo

      Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., gathered at the nearby Pine Trails Park.CreditSaul Martinez for The New York Times

      “We need more than just 17 minutes,” Nicolle Montgomerie, 17, a junior, said as she walked toward the park.

      An email from the school soon went out telling students they could return.

      In Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, hundreds of students at Newtown High School gathered in a parking lot near the football field. Two hours later, it was Columbine’s turn.

      Photo

      Students rallied for gun control legislation in Manhattan on Wednesday. CreditKirsten Luce for The New York Times

      A Word or Two From Gun Rights Groups

      Shortly after the walkouts began, the National Rifle Association said on Twitter, “Let’s work together to secure our schools and stop school violence.”

      But the next tweet left no doubt as to where the N.R.A. stood on the message of the protests. It said, “I’ll control my own guns, thank you. #2A #NRA” atop a photo of an AR-15, the kind of high-powered rifle used at Stoneman Douglas High and in other mass shootings.

      The Gun Owners of America, a smaller organization often seen as more militant than the N.R.A., was more defiant.

      The group urged its supporters to call their elected officials to oppose gun control measures like Fix NICS, which is intended to improve reporting by state and federal agencies to the criminal background check system. “We could win or lose the gun control battle in the next 96 hours,” the group said on Twitter.

      The group also celebrated “the pro-gun students who are not supporting their anti-gun counterparts.”

      Warnings From Schools, Not Always Heeded

      Some schools accommodated or even encouraged the protests. But others warned that they would mark students who left as absent, or even suspend them.

      In Cobb County, Ga., near Atlanta, the threat of punishment did not keep scores of Walton High School students from standing in silence on the football field for 170 seconds. A school district spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on what would happen to the students.

      Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for policy and advocacy for AASA, the association of the nation’s superintendents, said that schools had to balance the First Amendment rights of students with their other responsibilities, including safety.

      Indeed, several protests were canceled because of threats of the same kind of violence the students were demonstrating against. A demonstration at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C., was called off when the principal learned of what she later described as “a false rumor of a threat and a post on social media that caused unnecessary fear among our school community.”

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