At 10:00 a.m. on March 14, 65 students walked out of PS/IS 217 to join families and community members in demanding stronger gun laws. The event was part of the #Enough! National School Walkout and marked the one-month anniversary of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead.
Outside the school, the protesters carried homemade signs and sang Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In the Wind and John Lennon’s Imagine. The protest lasted 17 minutes – one for each of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims. Public Safety provided barricades outside the school.
“I firmly believe that people like us, people who are not in the direct line of fire, must stand up and fight for those who are,” said Kristin Bruan, mother of a first grader at the school and a public defender in Bronx County. Bruan, who organized the Island’s march with the help of other parents said, “I work in a community that feels the effects of gun violence almost every day and I am so proud to live in a community that is working together to put an end to it.”
To ensure that all interested PS/IS 217 students could participate, even if their parents had to work, Bruan enlisted parent volunteers to help sign out students and maintain order.
Parent Rebecca Bailey, who is from New Zealand, participated with her three kids. “Taking part in the march was very important to me, it was quite a sobering experience,” she said afterward. “The repetition of these hideous events leaves me feeling beyond angry and frustrated – it makes me feel unsafe and fearful. I come from a country where guns are properly controlled, where our police don’t carry guns, and we do not have mass shootings.”
The Island’s students were just some of the more than 100,000 NYC public school students that participated in the national walkout, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. Ahead of the march, De Blasio declared that no NYC public school student would be disciplined for participating.
In a letter to parents after the Parkland shooting, Carmen Fariña, the chancellor of New York City’s Education Department, said her agency was working with the NYPD to keep students and staff safe. She said schools would perform safety drills – known as lockdowns – and that principals were reviewing the safety protocol for their buildings.
According to Everytown For Gun Safety, a group that advocates for tougher gun laws, there have been 271 school shootings nationwide since 2013.
While there has not been a school shooting in New York City, the city isn’t immune to threats. Schools were locked down 90 times in the 2016-17 school year, a 41 percent increase over the 64 lockdowns the year before, Department of Education data shows.
Just last month, CBS reported that a teen who threatened a shooting at his Bronx school was arrested after he repeatedly tried to purchase guns online. And on March 15, a Forest Hills high school was put on lockdown after a student claimed to have a gun, a threat that turned out to be unfounded according to the NYPD.
“I urge all of you to continue the effort to end gun violence, not only in our schools but in our homes, our parks, our streets, and our playgrounds,” said Bruan. “Write letters, make phone calls, volunteer your time, make donations, talk to your friends and family. Do whatever it takes to get our voices heard and end gun violence.”
Two more nationwide protests are set to take place in the coming month: one on March 24 and another on April 20. The latter marks the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine shooting that killed 13.
[This post was last updated on March 26]