Why We Protest – An Opinion Article by Editor-in-Chief Samantha Neely


Samantha Neely

I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for a mass shooting, whether it’s actually living through it or watching the aftermath unfold over. Despite our country having 1,625 mass shootings in the past five years, it seems as though the cycle resets when we see a new shooting on the news. Suddenly, we lose all prior knowledge of previous mass shootings and become numb with fear and confusion. That’s how I felt when I came home last Wednesday afternoon to learn that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had just been gunned down and many of the victims were students my age.

It was difficult to breathe, watching news reports swirl on TV screens with casualties and first-hand videos.  Soon, I began to wonder what was going to happen the following day at school. Watching a high school that isn’t too far from mine become a site for a major mass shooting made me anxious to return. What if someone saw this tragedy and felt inspired to do the same thing at my school? What if one day I come to school and I don’t come home? What would I even do if I was in that situation? I wasn’t the only one to express my concern.

“I felt scared to come to school because of what might happen,” sophomore Kaitlyn Gillispie said. “I was anxious. I had anxiety. I thought there might be a snowball effect with other schools around the state, and maybe there might be a plan to have more mass shootings around Florida.”

Since the shooting was at a Florida high school, the proximity was hard to escape. A population much like ours, in a school much like ours – we could see ourselves in the students, in the victims.

“The Parkland shooting definitely hit home a lot since they were high schoolers,” senior Kailey Kruid said. “It was such a heartbreaking thing because it can happen to any school. And it happened in Florida.”

That’s when I got angry. I shouldn’t have to wonder if I am safe while I am at school. In between worrying about my college applications and my upcoming exams, the pressures of being a teen learning how to be an adult, there is a new fear.  So far, there have already been 18 school shootings in 2018. No one should ever have had to go through what Parkland went through.

“A school is supposed to be a safe place for us to learn and that’s not what happened in that school,” sophomore Ayanna Nieves said.

On Feb. 21st during fifth period, over 2,000 students and faculty member participated in a walkout. I’ll be honest; when I first heard about the walk-out, I had mixed emotions. While I was glad to show support for Marjory Stoneman Douglas and stand up for gun control, would a walk-out actually be that effective? Especially when it seemed as though I was only supposed to show my support for 15 minutes and then I would have to go sixth period. How was that going to solve anything? Yet, as I started to talk with students and why they were participating, it became clear that obviously, this single walk-out wasn’t going to change our entire country, but it was a step in the right direction. When speaking with students, their reasons for joining the movement were varied. A majority of those came out in support of the victims of the Parkland shooting.

“I walked out to pay respect for all of the lives lost and to promote stricter gun laws,”  junior Sajah Yousef said.

Some students joined the walkout to express their opinions on gun control and felt that our government needs to do more to protect us.

“I choose to walk out because guns are very dangerous to use and I think background checks are needed for people, so violent people can’t take a gun and use it on the street, wherever they want to,” junior Reynaldo Nieves said. “People should be more aware of gun violence in America.”

Politicians, such as Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, were especially on student’s minds as they spoke up in favor of gun control. There has been a significant number of politicians who aren’t in favor of increased gun control, citing second amendment rights. However, students have been quick to call them out for their lack of commitment to student safety, with actions such as accepting donations from the NRA and removing laws that would help prevent tragedies like the Parkland shooting.

“Trump wants to make this about mental health issues but hasn’t said anything about gun control,” junior Bella Turlington said. “Which is so hypocritical of him because last February, he repealed Obama’s Act that made it to where the FBI would have to do background checks.”

 On Tuesday, the Florida Legislature rejected a ban on many semiautomatic guns and large capacity magazines. The Parkland shooter used an AR-15, which is sometimes classified a semi-automatic rifle and would have been included in the ban. Semi-automatic guns have also been used in the Orlando and Las Vegas mass shooting. Students had mixed emotions on the ban rejection.

“I am furious with it,” Kruid said. “I’m sorry but us, as normal citizens, should not have that kind of gun.”

Other students felt as though the ban wouldn’t have solved the problem.

“I think guns can get into anyone’s hands whether we ban them or not, so I don’t think the ban is that well of a solution to the problem,” Gillispie said.

While I was at the walk-out, some students had the same thoughts I had on whether or not the walk-out was effective. While it was causing attention and showing support, students thought it could potentially be dangerous since most of the school would be in one place.

“They could be effective but they can be dangerous because they are keeping us in the same area,” Reynaldo Nieves said. “I know there are squad cars to give us protect, but it’s still a dangerous situation. I think it does bring awareness to the whole country because they can see teenagers as a whole coming together and fighting an issue.”

The walkout was scheduled to last from 11:45 to 12:13, making sure that students went to their 6th-period class. As I heard the bell ring, I reluctantly put down my clipboard of questions and put my phone in my back pocket as I walked to the end of the field.  Just like that, our protest was over and we would have to go back to class as if nothing happened. However, that wasn’t enough for some students. Just as I walked up to the basketball courts, a human shield had formed, holding signs and chanting, “We want change.” A group of kids and faculty had vowed to stay outside and take a knee to further protest gun violence.

“I am taking a knee during the walkout because it was a protest just to get publicity for the school and it became a photo-op,” sophomore Ayanna Nieves said. “We are taking a knee to ruin their photo so that way they can’t make this into something it shouldn’t be.”

Those students bravely kneeled for another hour, listening to others talk about how they felt about the shooting and what they felt should be done. I had a sense of pride watching these students demand change from both our school and our nation. I had seen so many adults write off our emotions and cries for actions because we are teenagers yet, here we are actually creating change and starting movements. However, after the protest had officially ended, there was a question still on my mind; what was actually going to be done at our school?

For me, I was curious if we were going to make some change to make our campus safer. Students had some ideas on what administration should. Some wanted them to remember the victims of Parkland and make a bigger effort to ensure our safety.

“I think that they should put more of an emphasis on our safety, because I want to feel safe coming here every day,” junior Erin McGahan said. “Also, they need to make sure they show sympathy for what happened and be sensitive towards the families.”

Others believed we needed to increase our security and have stricter rules on campus that would benefit us in the long run.

“It may cost more money but it’s worth it,” junior Shanette Batista said. “We need more security at our school and this is one of the easiest schools to get into and so are a lot of other schools. We just have a sign that says no guns, it’s not like we have actual protection.”

We, as students, also need to make an effort to create change within our school and nation. We need to make our voices heard, along with the teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Students here have already begun voicing their opinions and offered suggestions on how others can as well.

“I think we should definitely contact our representatives,” Turlington said. “There are plenty of activist text bots where you can fax them because we need our representatives talking to Congress.”

As we continue on from this tragedy, we cannot let Parkland fade away. We can no longer go through this cycle when a new mass shooting happens where we care for a month and then move on to the next one. I can’t bring myself to go through the cycle again and I’m sure that others cannot as well. We have to come together to overcome this, and we can work to prevent it.