Hundreds of Baltimore students walked out of class and marched to City Hall on Tuesday to protest school gun violence.
Tuesday’s event in Baltimore brought together public and private schools from across the city, including the Friends School of Baltimore, Baltimore City College, Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Baltimore School for the Arts and the Roland Park Country School. Many students marched for miles, snaking through the city and chanting, “Guns down! Grades up!”
The protest comes a few weeks after a deadly shooting at a Florida high school left 17 students and faculty members dead. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have become powerful voices for gun control, galvanizing a movement among young people across the country.
“Students were willing to walk out, to let go of whatever test or project they had, and put their energy toward the protection of their friends,” said Cassius Comfort, a senior at Friends School who walked nearly five miles to the plaza outside City Hall.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) and Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa addressed the students, who later participated in a 17-minute “lie-in” to honor the Parkland victims. Pugh said the city plans to spend an estimated $100,000 to send students on a fleet of buses to the national march in Washington planned for later this month.
“America needs to hear the voices of the young people of Baltimore,” she said.
The local students compiled a list of demands, which originally called for stricter gun-control legislation, including the passage of a “red flag law” allowing judges to temporarily order gun owners to surrender firearms if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has endorsed the creation of such a law. The students had also called for a ban on detachable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
By the end of the march, the students had chosen to limit their demands to more local action: They called for more frequent active-shooter drills and comprehensive follow-up investigations into allegations of school police misconduct. They also want all schools to establish social work and counseling services “to prevent the culture of violence,” among other measures.
The student organizers from Friends said they were disappointed with the mayor’s response and her plan to spend money on transporting students to the March 24 event. The students said they wanted Pugh to focus on local action and spend money instead on improving school infrastructure.
“Gun violence in Baltimore is unique and you have to address it based on environmental circumstances,” said Friends senior Carrie Zaremba. “Her solution was not addressing the actual problem. Spending money on lunches and T-shirts is not going to protect students.”
Unique Chisholm, a 17-year-old Dunbar student, said she wants to see universal background checks for gun owners and the minimum age for purchasing a gun raised to 21 years old.
“Something needs to change,” she said. “Guns just need to be stopped. People need to stop killing people. Period.”
The Baltimore Sun sat down last week with seven students at Excel Academy in West Baltimore to talk about the impact gun violence has had on their lives. The students have lost seven of their classmates to gun violence over the last two school years.
The Excel students, and those taking part in the march Tuesday, said they want lawmakers to heed their voices.
Quinn Parker, 16, walked out of his Spanish class at Friends holding a sign that read, “We stand with Excel Academy.”
“Our city, with its history of such high homicide rates, needs to do a better job of keeping its students safe — everywhere,” he said.
Elizabeth Sacktor, a sophomore at Baltimore School for the Arts, said it’s important the city not grow numb to violence on its streets or in schools across the nation.
“Everyone is just so used to the violence and gun threats and children fearing for their lives,” she said. “I’m participating to remind people in power that this is an issue,” she said. “Children should not fear for our lives while trying to get an education.”
Elijah Eaton, an 18-year-old student at City College, set up a voter registration booth outside of City Hall.
“Gen Z is going to vote staunchly against gun violence,” he said.
Baltimore schools chief executive Sonja Santelises said in a statement that the district encourages students “to make themselves heard about an issue that affects them profoundly.” But she also said principals were encouraged to use time and space within their buildings for students to discuss gun violence and steps to prevent it.
Charlotte Corcoran, 14, said she had no reservations about walking out of Roland Park Country School, regardless of the potential consequence for skipping class. She carried a sign that read: “I’m missing a day of school because 17 are missing the rest of their lives.”
The students involved said they felt overwhelmed by how many people showed up. As they marched near the Johns Hopkins University campus, one girl turned around, looked at the massive line of students behind her and said to a friend: “Wow, that’s all us.”