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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Walking out of class in Brooklyn

Students from Brooklyn Technical High School were hopeful,

Students from Brooklyn Technical High School were hopeful, but also incredulous and angry as they walked out of class to call for stricter gun control. Photo Credit: amNY / Mark Chiusano

It was too cold for much pedestrian traffic around Brooklyn Technical High School Wednesday morning. A dog led a dog walker. A bundled-up woman pushed a baby carriage down the street. But at 10 a.m., the school’s doors flew open and the students emerged.

Tens and then several hundreds, freshmen through seniors, the students spilled onto Fort Greene Place like it was dismissal. Theirs was one of hundreds of school walkouts taking place across the nation, students calling for stricter gun control one month after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The students had signs: “I’m voting in November.” “Thoughts and prayers won’t cut it.” They fanned out along the sidewalk in front of the massive high school, covering the block. They walked double and then triple file. Some linked arms, others talked about AR-15’s. They also added more local concerns like ending gun violence, making for visible and audible statements about the way the American gun obsession is received by NYC youth. Within the gathering crowd, which sometimes spilled into the street, students seemed hopeful, but also incredulous and angry. It seemed possible that Congress might be convinced to “make a change” in gun laws, as 17-year-old student M.D. Syed said, taking earbuds out of his ears as he was pulled along by classmates.

The serious tone didn’t prevent this from being high school. Buddies searched for buddies. There was plenty of chatter about seizing a great midday opportunity to duck into the deli.

Administrators watched warily and tried to keep students on the sidewalk. Tech’s principal David Newman said there were teachers inside for students who did not want to march. Despite words of encouragement from city politicians, a formal letter from schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña reminded students and families that skipping class for the main protest would be marked as a cut (but not an absence).

Hundreds of students didn’t mind, and they didn’t need help from adults instructing them on how to protest. In front of a grocery store around the back end of the school one organizer, Anna Kinlock, 16, hopped up on a pile of empty crates and yelled for the milling students to take a knee.

“Oh take a knee? Nah,” one student muttered off to the side, hands jammed in pockets. It was pretty chilly. But he kneeled anyway, as Kinlock began reciting the names of those killed at the Florida high school one month ago.

“This one is for Alyssa,” she began: Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the 17 killed in February. Kinlock continued, giving the names and some details about the slain students and school personnel: who was a swimmer, who was a dancer, who had been a member of ROTC.

Kinlock left space between the names, so that the street was quiet for long stretches. She stared down at a piece of paper on her curbside perch above a mailbox and bags of recycling. In front, silent students waited for another name in the cold.

A few became engrossed in their phones, but most kneeled quietly, respecting the ritual. North Face backpacks bumped against oversize totes. One student was unlucky enough to be wearing gym shorts. Yet he hardly fidgeted, his legs goosebumped with cold. A lone lacrosse stick rose from the middle of the crowd, held in firm place by another student’s hand. Finally, Kinlock came to the last name. “You can stand now, thank you,” she said simply.

Kinlock explained later that for her and some of her classmates the protest was also “about black lives” disproportionately affected by gun violence.

“It’s also notable that black people have been speaking up about these issues for years,” said Runnie Exuma, 16.

There was a quick back and forth about intersectionality, the way various social issues such as race and gender and socioeconomics are connected.

They might have missed classes in sociology and AP Government but it was “all worth it,” Kinlock said.

The kneelers were on their feet and seemed unsure of where to go, which the young women quickly realized. They marshaled the students down the street, and began to lead the crowd in chants: “No more silence, end gun violence.”

The kids continued on their way, not yet ready to return to class.

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