Lauryn Renford approached the microphone and calmly told the crowd that she lost her boyfriend to gun violence last year. Then she choked up as she pointed out that his wasn’t the only life cut too short in Southeast Washington: A teenage girl struck by a stray bullet. A teenage boy slain for his shoes.
“My city shines no more,” said Renford, a student at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia. “Too many sons are gone.”
As thousands of visitors traveled to the nation’s capital, motivated by a mass shooting in Florida, hundreds of Washington residents packed Folger Park beforehand to remember the local teenagers lost to gun violence.
Renford was among seven local students who described the fear of being shot while walking to school and the feeling of being ignored as black youth.
“This issue, it’s no stranger to youth in D.C.,” said Aaron King, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High who said his cousin died while trying to help a friend. “Many of us know someone who has been a victim of gun violence.”
“I had a friend ask me, ‘If this same shooting, this same situation happened in our school, would we get the same amount of press? A school of color?’ ” said Imani Romney, a junior at Richard Wright Public Charter School. “I told her I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting. And that doesn’t mean we should sit back and watch and let more of these things happen.”
They spoke to hundreds holding signs with the faces of D.C. teenagers who were fatally shot. Volunteers passed out free coffee and Dunkin Donuts, while the Board of Elections staffed a table with materials for people to register to vote ahead of the June 19 primary.
The “Rally for D.C. Lives” was organized by the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a grass-roots arm of the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety. But it also gave an opportunity for the city’s elected officials to rally against a Republican-controlled federal government.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) urged national action on gun control, pointing out that the District has some of toughest gun restrictions in the country.
“Our laws doesn’t help us if Virginia doesn’t pass common-sense gun laws, if Maryland doesn’t pass common-sense gun laws, and we have illegal guns coming into our city,” Bowser said. “That is why we need federal action, so we have gun laws that affect every state.”
Much of the anger was directed not at the National Rifle Association or President Trump, but at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who has proposed a bill eliminating the District’s gun laws.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the city’s non-voting representative in the U.S. House, called him the “ultimate villain.”
“Special shame on Marco Rubio, who has just lost 17 precious lives in Florida,” Norton said.
Elected officials said the student-led movement was the best hope for finally changing gun laws nationally. “The adults have failed. It’s time for something new and different,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), flanked by six of his colleagues. “We want to hear from the students.”
As the rally wrapped up around 10 a.m., attendees walked toward the national March for Our Lives, shouting “free D.C.” as they passed the U.S. Capitol.