Some metro Atlanta students participated in school walkouts Friday to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. The walkouts were part of a national effort to raise awareness about school safety and advocate for tougher gun laws. It was the second round of such demonstrations inspired by the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
At Lakeside High School, in DeKalb County, students organized displays to honor shooting victims. 200 t-shirts hung in the school’s fine arts center, representing the number of people who lost their lives in school shootings since the Columbine massacre. Students recruited some of their peers and state lawmakers to speak.
“The decision that has to be made is: are we going to continue to allow weapons of war in places of peace?” said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.
Some students were equally committed to gun reform.
“We demand to feel safe in our schools,” said Sawyer Wolf, a senior who helped organize the walkout. “We demand to feel safe everywhere. We are not safe until there is a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”
Wolf, and other organizers, stressed that gun control isn’t a partisan issue. They want students of all political ideologies to feel comfortable participating in events like this one.
Another big focus for Lakeside students is racial equality. Several of the walkout’s organizers are white, and they said they’re aware that gives them an unfair advantage.
“Why did it take this [school shooting] happening to an affluent, majority white community for people to start doing anything?” said Roni Wagner, a Lakeside junior who helped plan the walkout. “Whether it comes from being white, whether it comes from being affluent, whether it comes from being well-educated, we must use our privilege to ensure the coverage of gun violence in communities of color.”
Najah Alwakeel, an African-American student, said she has experienced the difference first hand.
“My parents always told me to be respectful to police officers, to be very respectful of white employers and teachers, and to be very mindful of how I dress,” Alwakeel said. “At any point in time, I could leave home and never return. Gun violence affects us all, but people of color don’t have the same experience.”
Students also ran kiosks to urge their classmates to register to vote and become civically engaged. The event also featured drama and singing performances. Because it lasted all day, students who participated were marked absent. However, principal Damian Bounds told them the absence is ‘excused.’
“It’s not often that you see students who are really stepping up and actually coming together in the right way, really thinking through the process,” Bounds said. “That’s what makes me most proud. They’re really thinking about that process and handling it in the appropriate manner.”
The DeKalb County schools has encouraged students to take part in demonstrations like Lakeside’s. Other metro Atlanta districts, like the Marietta City Schools and the Atlanta public schools, have done the same. Other school systems have discouraged walkouts, referring to them as ‘disruptions,’ and expressing concerns for students’ safety during the events.