New York City students moved to action by gun violence called for “reform and change” at walkouts across the five boroughs Wednesday.
About 100,000 city students, mostly sixth through 12th graders, participated in the National School Walkout, according to Department of Education spokesperson Will Mantell. The demonstration was organized after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The students left school at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 people killed.
Many students said the Parkland shooting was a horrifying reminder that even teens are not safe from seemingly random violence.
“The (tragedy) that happened in Florida really hit home for us as high school students,” Rusat Ramgopal, 17, the student government president at Harlem’s Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering, said. “We want to do what we can in a small way here … So this issue that’s deeply affecting us is finally addressed.”
“I think our elected officials will see that kids are not politically disengaged,” he added. “It’s important for our elected officials to see the activism of our students.”
Leah Davidow, 14, also a student at the Harlem school, said, “A lot of us don’t feel safe in the school. Not just us, but we don’t feel safe for our fellow students. As long as people are putting the Second Amendment over the lives of our students, we’re going to have issues.
“With people getting hurt like this there needs to be reform and change,” she added.
Rhondaya Fishburne, 17, a student at Academy of American Studies and Newcomers High School in Long Island City, said: “I’m participating today because this has happened too many times. Gun violence has been a prominent issue not only in schools but everywhere. It’s time for our government to acknowledge this.”
Elected officials also supported the students’ efforts. Mayor Bill de Blasio joined students at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo was at Leadership and Public Service High School in TriBeCa.
Cuomo could be seen lying on the ground with students, surrounded by chants of “What do we want? Gun control. When do we want it? Now!”
“I admire what you’re doing,” de Blasio told students at Edward R. Murrow kids just before 10 a.m. “I was a student activist too.”
Speaking later at the school gates to thousands of Murrow students outside, de Blasio said: “There’s been a fight for change for a long time, but there’s never been a more powerful movement than what the students of Brooklyn and New York City and this nation have done in these last few weeks. You are making so clear to this whole country that you are sick of the violence, you’re sick of the madness, you’re sick of the slaughter, and you won’t stand for it.”
The Parkland shooting inspired a renewed sense of activism and renewed calls for stricter gun control, such as tighter background checks, raising the minimum age to buy long guns, possibly revisiting an assault weapons ban and more. City students on Wednesday said that the demonstration was proof that even young people can help pressure leaders to action.
Mackenzie Mattone, 16, who organized the walkout at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, said, “We should not have to worry about being shot while sitting at our desks or walking through our halls. I cannot imagine the moment where I witness my own best friends being killed before me and there is nothing I can do.
“We can make our voices heard. We can force legislators to listen to the demands of students.”
“I’m excited right now, to show that we can make a difference,” Madison Abreu, 16, a student at Young Women’s Leadership School in the Bronx, said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m just one person, how am I going to do this by myself? But right now I have my school with me. And all other students across the country.”
Abreu expressed concern that “America is the country where this happens the most” because of its gun laws. “Other countries don’t even carry guns. Why can’t we be like that? We don’t hear about mass shootings in China.”
Some elected officials echoed the students’ calls for stricter gun laws.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, while speaking with students outside Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, said: “We can no longer stand by and wait for the next attack to pass meaningful gun control legislation in Washington… We should not have our kids in the street telling you down in Washington to pass gun control laws. Go ahead and do your job!”
Some students marched to gathering places across the city, including Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where more than 500 converged.
“Just because it didn’t happen in our school doesn’t mean it can’t happen next. We want this to stop,” Danayvia Nieves, 16, said, standing in the park in below-freezing temperatures. The Leadership and Public Service High School student is encouraged by the student activism.
“When one voice turns into 100, and then into 1,000 you know you can make a difference.”
With Matthew Chayes, Rajvi Desai, Ivan Pereira, Alison Fox, Lisa Colangelo and Anne Ehart.