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‘Never again!’ Students demand action against gun violence in nation’s capital

March 24, 2018 at 7:00 PM

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March for Our Lives brought hundreds of thousands of people from across the nation to Washington on March 24. Here's some of what you missed. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the nation’s capital and cities across the country Saturday to demand action against gun violence, vividly displaying the strength of the political movement led by survivors of a school massacre in Parkland, Fla.

Organized by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman killed 17 last month, the March for Our Lives showcased impassioned teens calling on Congress to enact stricter gun-control laws to end the nation’s two-decade stretch of campus shootings.

Hundreds of “sibling protests” took place across the world, from New York City — where demonstrators spread across 20 blocks — to Jonesboro, Ark., a small city marking the 20th anniversary of a middle-school shooting that left four students and a teacher dead. Gun-rights advocates mounted counterprotests in Salt Lake City, Boise and Valparaiso, Ind., where one sign read “All Amendments Matter.”

Although the D.C. march was funded by Oprah Winfrey, George and Amal Clooney, and other celebrities, Stoneman Douglas High students have been its faces. Their unequivocal message to legislators: Ignoring the toll of school shootings and everyday gun violence will no longer be tolerated.

“To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn: Welcome to the revolution,” Cameron Kasky, a Stoneman Douglas student, said to a crowd that packed at least 10 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue. “Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”

People gather near the front of the stage hours before the start of the March for Our Lives rally in Washington.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: People gathered near the front of the stage hours before the start of the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
People onstage before the start of March for Our Lives.
People gather before the start of the march.
A group of marchers head down Seventh Street on their way to March of Our Lives.
A march participant holds a sign before the start of the rally.
Jaiden Shaw, 13, of Baltimore, sits with her family after they arrived early for the March for Our Lives.
Julia Keegan, 18, of Louisville, holds a sign near the stage before the start of the rally.
J.J. Miller, 17, center, of Baltimore, blows bubbles as he arrives for the march.
Peter and Barbra Klaver, of Ann Arbor, Mich., sit along Pennsylvania Avenue before the march.
Security personnel stand along Pennsylvania Avenue before the start of the March for Our Lives.
A crowd gathers for the rally.
Two protesters hold aloft a sign while the crowd gathers for the rally.
People gather in front of the march stage.
Leah Lipke, 16, left, and Ashley Keene, 16, center, from Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., embrace as they gather with fellow Florida students outside the U.S. Capitol for a news conference in connection with Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence. They were in town for March for Our Lives. Several of the students with the group attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Students from Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland, where a student gunman killed a classmate Tuesday, protest during the march.
Angela Sitaras, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, holds a shirt referring to the 17 people killed in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at her high school.
Jayla Blair, 17, of Washington, gathers with others for the march.
A crowd gathers near the U.S. Capitol for the march.
Attendees holding signs gather near the stage.
A crowd of people gather for the march.
Savannah Desrosiers, 7, of Parkland, Fla., stands with her mother before the march.
People gather near the front of the stage hours before the start of the march.
Marchers converge on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Police stop the crowd on Sixth Street, right, from joining another crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Thousands of people pack Pennsylvania Avenue.
An attendee holds up a sign at the march.
Daisy Hernandez, 22, of Stafford, Va., displays “Don't Shoot” on her hands.
Satellite image of the March for Our Lives rally in Washington.
Marchers crowd Pennsylvania Avenue.
People on the roof of a building look at the crowd below.
A select group of people get a view of the march from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.
A crowd swarm around police cars during the march.
People in the crowd of marchers hold up placards reading “No More Dead Kids.”
Andra Day performs “Stand Up For Something” with Common.
Common performs during the rally.
Children from Cardinal Shehan School of Baltimore sing.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, left, and Ben Platt perform “Found Tonight.”
Singer Demi Lovato performs for the crowd.
Jazelle Tucker, 16, of Washington, gathers with others during the rally.
Demi Lovato performs onstage.
Andrea Walker, 17, of Washington, D.C., cries while attending the march.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg speaks.
A huge crowd of people march along Pennsylvania Avenue.
A crowd of people participate in the march.
From left, Matthew Groum, 18, Aster Zeleke, Edan Groum, 15, and Yeshi Zeleke, of Wilmington, Del., attend the march.
A sticker is worn on the cheek of a march participant.
Sam Stapleton, 9, of Cheverly, Md., attends the march.
Foreground from left to right, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, Katherine Guerra, 16, Tyler Le, 16, and Chloe Trieu, 15, sing along to Miley Cyrus.
Singer Miley Cyrus performs.
Students listen as Miley Cyrus sings.
Ariana Grande sings for the march crowd.
Vanessa Chapin, of Fredericksburg, Va., hugs her daughter Katharine Chapman, 17, as they listen to speakers.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma González speaks.
Emma González walks across the stage after her speech.
Singer Jennifer Hudson performs.
Meghan Thomas and her daughter Sophie, 11, of Arlington Va., participate in the march.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Allison Laveaux, center, and fellow students watch as speakers take the stage.
Speakers and others take the stage as Jennifer Hudson, left, concludes her performance.
Speakers and other participants onstage.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Tyra Hemans, 19, center, embraces fellow student Emma González at the conclusion of the March for Our Lives rally.
Photo Gallery: A huge crowd turns out for what is billed as a youth-led movement spearheaded by student survivors of school shootings. Many D.C.-area families, businesses and organizations are lending their support, and ?sibling marches? are planned nationwide.

The main march in Washington was a heady mix of political activism, famous entertainers and the undisguised emotion of teenagers confronting the loss of friends and loved ones in a national spotlight.

Sam Fuentes, a senior shot in the leg at Stoneman Douglas, threw up on stage while delivering her speech to a national television audience. She recovered and led the crowd in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for her slain classmate, Nicholas Dworet, who would have turned 18 on Saturday.

Emma González, 18, took the stage in a drab olive coat and torn jeans, speaking of the “long, tearful, chaotic hours in scorching afternoon sun” as students waited outside Stoneman Douglas High on the day of the shooting.

With a flinty stare, tears streaming down her face, González stood silent on the rally’s main stage for nearly four minutes — evoking the time it took Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz to carry out his attack. The crowd began chanting, “Never again.”

The moment was widely shared on social media. “Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job,” González said before she left the stage.

The march emphasized not just the highly publicized mass shootings in suburban, white schools, but also the far more common shootings that leave one or two young people dead and often affect predominantly black and Hispanic students in poor neighborhoods.

Zion Kelly, a senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Southeast Washington, spoke about his twin brother, Zaire, who was shot and killed by a robber in September. Choking back tears before a rapt crowd, Kelly described the close bond they had shared.

“From the time we were born, we shared everything. I spent time with him every day because we went to the same schools, shared the same friends, and we even shared the same room,” he said. “I’m here to represent the hundreds of thousands of students who live every day in constant paranoia and fear on their way to and from school.”

The march drew a huge crowd, though there were no police estimates of its size. One indication: Metro officials reported there had been about 334,000 trips on the system by 4 p.m. Saturday, compared to 368,000 trips by the same time on the day of President Trump’s inauguration. The Women’s March last year generated 597,000 trips by the same time of day.

Because many of the demonstrators were children, authorities in the nation’s capital said they took extra security precautions. By day’s end, police had reported no violent altercations or other problems, despite a small contingent of counterprotesters decrying efforts to toughen gun laws.

Related: [Live blog: The latest from the March for Our Lives]

“To be honest, I’m scared to march,” Stoneman Douglas senior Carly Novell said in a Saturday morning tweet, citing the risk that a shooter might terrorize those gathered to protest in Washington. “This is a march against gun violence, and I am scared there will be gun violence on the march. This is just my mind-set living in this country now, but this is why we need to march.”

The march offered a window on a generation that has come of age after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 13 dead and is considered a milestone in the evolution of modern school shootings.

Nearly 200 people have died from gunfire at school since 1999, and more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a Washington Post analysis. The analysis found that Hispanic students are nearly twice as likely as white students to experience gun violence at school, and black students three times as likely.

Related: [The extraordinary number of kids who have endured school shootings since Columbine]

The most recent shooting took place Tuesday at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland, where 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey was killed by her 17-year-old former boyfriend, who also died. About 100 Great Mills students attended the march, which drew people from around the country.

Callie Stone, 18, traveled to Washington from Raleigh, N.C.

“We’ve grown up knowing this could happen to us,” said Stone, 18, walking down Pennsylvania Avenue before the march wearing a denim jacket emblazoned with “Nasty Woman,” a term President Trump used to insult Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election and that progressive women adopted as a moniker.

With Stone was her mother, whom Stone had told the previous day that she wasn’t sure she wanted to raise children in a world where students fear going to school. “But I said, ‘Look at you, at your generation — you all are bringing us hope,’” said Kelly Stone, 54.

One couple at the rally, Rebekah and Chris Sullivan, described how their 4-year-old son already performs “active shooter” drills with his class, sitting quietly as his teacher rattles a locked door from the outside.

Jordin Torres, a junior at Howard High School in Ellicott City, Md., said she helps her instructors check that the blackout paper they’re supposed to draw over classroom windows if a shooter attacks is untorn.

Torres carried a sign: “I have a dream that one day I won’t be scared to go to school.”

Other signs read, “It happened at my school,” “Enough is enough!” and “I survived. My daughter didn’t.”

In Boston, where a sister rally was underway, a group of about 25 counterprotesters gathered in front of the gold-domed Massachusetts statehouse to decry calls for tougher gun laws.

“After a tragedy like this one, everyone looks past the motives of the shooter and immediately focuses on guns,” said Robert Johnson, 21, of New York. “If you run over someone with a car, they don’t blame the car. But if someone is shot, they immediately blame the guns.”

As they have spoken out in the wake of the Parkland shooting, Stoneman Douglas students have endured frequent attacks from opponents of gun control, with some even falsely suggesting they were actors paid by liberal activists.

Houston lawyer and gun-rights activist Collins Iyare Idehen Jr., who uses the pseudonym Colion Noir as a host on NRATV, took to the airwaves ahead of the march to say the students were “getting ready to use your First Amendment to attack everyone else’s Second Amendment” and that “no one would know your names” if the shooting had not occurred.

The White House issued a statement Saturday praising the marchers, despite their calls for tougher gun-control measures than President Trump supports.

“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in the statement, in which she added that “keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s.”

The president himself was in Florida at Trump International Golf Club, about 35 miles from Parkland. The spending bill he signed on Friday includes a provision to tighten the nation’s background-check system and may slightly open the door to restoring federal funding for gun research.

Related: [Demonstrators gather around the U.S. to protest gun violence]

The Parkland students have already had an impact on the debate.

Lawmakers in Florida, a state long renowned as a laboratory for gun deregulation measures, passed its first significant gun-control legislation in 20 years this month in response to pressure from the Stoneman Douglas survivors.

They will stage another nationwide student walkout on April 20, the anniversary of Columbine, said David Hogg, one of the movement’s leaders. And they are planning future marches on every state capitol.

It remains unclear whether they can shame Congress into passing new restrictions on guns. Many expected action after the killing of 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. But although President Barack Obama wept on television and convened a task force to craft stricter gun controls, nothing happened.

James Barden, 17, was in Washington on Saturday, carrying a photo of his 6-year-old brother, Daniel, who was killed at Sandy Hook. Barden and his family have toiled for five years advocating for stricter gun-control laws.

He said he was heartened by the turnout Saturday. “If this doesn’t do anything,” he said, “I don’t know.” Asked how he felt about the demonstration, he replied, “Hopeful.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the age of James Barden. He is 17, not 16.

Moriah Balingit, Kayla Epstein, Mary Hadar, Luz Lazo, Erin Logan, Justin Wm. Moyer, Antonio Olivo, Dana Priest, Katie Shaver, Rachel Siegel, Ellie Silverman, Kelyn Soong, Shira Stein, Patricia Sullivan and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.


Peter Jamison writes about politics and government in the District of Columbia. He has worked at The Washington Post since 2016.

Joe Heim joined The Washington Post in 1999. He is a staff writer for the Metro section. He also writes Just Asking, a weekly Q&A column in the Sunday magazine.

Lori Aratani writes about transportation issues, including how people get around -- or don't. Her beat includes airlines and airports, as well as the agencies that oversee them.

Marissa J. Lang is a local reporter covering the D.C. metro area.

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