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Photos courtesy of Councilmember Carl Menchaca
Photos courtesy of Councilmember Carl Menchaca
Students from Sunset Park discussed their concerns during National School Walkout Day.

Sunset Park stood with the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and across the nation.

On Wednesday, March 14, a month after the mass shooting at the Parkland, Florida high school, students within the Sunset Park community joined the country in National School Walkout Day to remember the 17 that perished during the attack and call for changes to gun laws so students can feel safe in school again.

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, middle school students and parents from various schools within the 38th Council District were among those outside P.S. 371, 355 37th Street, the day of the protest.

“These young people are so ready to be heard on this issue,” Menchaca told this paper. “There’s so much they want to say and there’s emotion and intellect behind their ideas and suggestions, which is great in a time like now when democracy feels like it’s slipping away from our hands. I feel so encouraged that there’s a real participatory democratic thing happening now and it’s happening right under our noses.”

Seven students spoke out during the 7:30 a.m. event.

“The reason why I’m here is that I wanted to tell you that us as young people when we speak up together, our voices are stronger and that’s really important,” said Britney Espinosa from M.S. 821. “It’s not fair that the politicians that are in Congress don’t know what to do or say about gun control. The students from Stoneman Douglas High School have asked for more safety but the politicians are using these tragic events to sell more guns.”

She also discussed President Donald Trump’s plan to arm teachers with firearms.

“When I heard that they were training teachers how to use guns, that makes me uncomfortable and scared,” Espinosa said. “I am here to ask you to come together and raise up our voices so that everyone can hear and we can ask for more safety in our schools. Today we have a walkout for 17 minutes in memory of the 14 students that were unfairly killed at an early age and the three teachers. It’s very painful to remember those moments.”

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“It’s also not a good idea to have teachers having guns,” added Sunset Park Prep student David Torres. “They can snap and something bad can happen afterwards.”

Menchaca said that he sat down with students right after shooting.

“I have spoken with them individually,” he said. “They were sharing their outrage, fear, concerns with some of the stuff that’s been coming out of the White House. Their ideas were pretty clear actually. They don’t want guns in schools. They don’t want anyone carrying a gun in school.”

They also shared suggestions.

“They said there needs to be a connection and communication with the Police Department, as they are a vital connection to security,” Menchaca said. “There were so many ideas that came out of those discussions like instead of putting a gun in a teacher’s hands, put a radio in schools to be able to communicate with the police. They want more communication. They want to do more research.”

Showing support for those who lost their lives was at the forefront of many of the students’ speeches.

“I want to show my support to the families of the victims,” added Gabriel Martinez. “I want them to know that they’re not alone and I believe this walkout is important because it gives us an opportunity to demand safer schools. We should feel safe in our schools yet gun violence has inflicted fear in students, parents and staff members. School should be a safe haven for every child.”

An eighth grader from New Voices Middle School discussed how important the walkout has been for her as the weeks have gone by since the shooting.

“By participating in this movement, I feel I can get my message out to the world,” she said. “I can stand up and say it’s not right that our society lets this happen over and over again.  Even when they are told to find a solution, all too soon we see another mass shooting on the news. How can we let this become normal in our world? This constant cycle of shooting and forgetting needs to end. We need to do more than send thoughts and prayers.”

Among the local schools that participated over the course of the morning were Sunset Park Prep, M.S. 88, New Voices Middle School, and Summit Academy Charter School, where students walked out for 17 minutes and released 17 balloons with the names of the victims written on them.

“They want to be at the tables of decision-making,” Menchaca said. “These are public housing youth. These are immigrant youth. This is a diverse group of kids that are ready and they’re not going away until they get some stuff done, nationally, on the state level and on the city level. The best thing policy-makers can do right now is listen directly to the kids.”

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