On the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, students from across New York City packed into Washington Square Park on Friday morning to protest gun violence.
The students ranged from middle school to college age, all chanting, “Teach us, don’t shoot us,” and “We are students, not targets.”
The event was largely organized by NYC Says Enough, a coalition of more than 30 schools throughout the city whose students gathered to protest gun violence. Similar walkouts were staged across the nation.
For 16-year-old Morgan Hesse, a co-organizer of NYC Says Enough, the goal of the walkout was simple.
“We need common sense gun laws,” the Stuyvesant High School sophomore told WSN. “We want 17 kids to walk into a room and 17 kids to walk back out.”
Others pointed to the importance of putting pressure on their government representatives to pass legislation for comprehensive gun control.
Soha Amdu, a senior at City-As-School High School, handed out flyers encouraging attendees to call their representatives and providing information about the dollar amount of donations certain Congress members have received from the National Rifle Association.
“It shouldn’t be so easy just to be able to go to some store not even far from here, just going up to like Jersey or the Poconos, and going into a Walmart and easily getting a gun,” Amdu told WSN.
John Quihote, a high schooler from Bard High School Early College, spoke to the crowd on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“To the many, many students and teachers parents who came today but not [in response to the shooting of Michael Brown], to the officers and representative that stand behind us but threatened us three years ago, for those who see the problem with Parkland, but not with [Brown] … we are here for you, all we ask is for you to stand with us,” Quihote said.
Quihote ended his speech with a call to action towards teachers, police officers, legislators and the President.
“We were all brave enough to get up out of our seats and come here today, to make it very clear that our lives are being threatened,” he said. “When are you going to be as brave?”
Shortly afterwards, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Christopher Hansen, took the stage to tell his story. During his detailed narrative of the night of June 12, 2016, the noise from the audience died down, tears streaming down onlookers’ gazing eyes. When he brought a survivor to the stage, a woman he saved during the massacre, the crowd erupted into its loudest applause of the day.
With the two survivors on the stage, protesters took two minutes of silence, fists raised in the air, to acknowledge all of the lives lost to gun violence. For the first time in three hours, the entire park was silent.
When the two minutes came to a close, chants rose up in a slow crescendo.
“No more silence, end gun violence,” they whispered. “No more silence, end gun violence,” the crowd chanted.
Email Kristina Hayhurst and Sarah Jackson at [email protected]