Saturday 26 May 2018

Students begin walkouts on 19th anniversary of Columbine massacre

American pupils are pushing for greater gun control and to honour the victims of school shootings.

David Hogg, a student activist from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks to a student as they walk out of their school
David Hogg, a student activist from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks to a student as they walk out of their school

By Collin Binkley, Associated Press

US students have begun leaving classes in protest over gun violence and to honour shooting victims.

Demonstrations from Washington to Florida and Michigan have drawn hundreds of students as part of the latest effort by youth activists pressing for gun control.

More than 2,700 protests were planned across the country on Friday – the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Dozens of Washington-area students gathered near the White House for a moment of silence before reading the names of the Columbine victims.

Organisers encouraged students to leave class at 10am local time and gather in honour of shooting victims. Many have also planned rallies calling for tougher gun laws.

Plans for the walkout were started by a Connecticut teen hours after the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Some students have headed to rallies at their statehouses. Others stayed at school to discuss gun violence. Some are holding voting registration drives.

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Two rings of chairs encircle the words “NEVER AGAIN” in a silent protest on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting outside Trinity High School in Manchester, New Hampshire (AP)

The Washington-area students marked 19 minutes of silence for each year that has passed since the Columbine massacre in which 13 people were killed in Littleton, Colorado.

In New York City, crowds of students gathered in Washington Square Park and lay down in a “die-in”.

Organisers said there will be walkouts in every state, with more than 2,700 registered on the event’s website.

City-wide protests are expected to attract thousands in New York City and Austin, Texas. Police in Richmond, Virginia, say they expect at least 10,000 at the state Capitol.

Shortly before the walkouts, another school shooting in Florida left one student injured. Authorities say one student shot another in the ankle at Forest High School in Ocala. A suspect was taken into custody.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman killed 17 people on February 14, student David Hogg said the latest shooting underscored the urgency of the protests.

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Jorge Flores, left, consoles fellow Stoneman Douglas High School survivor Carlitos Rodriguez during the kickoff event for the Vote For Our Lives movement (AP)

“We have to stop this. We’re not going to be able to stop this unless we continue to make our voices heard, though, when our elected officials won’t,” Mr Hogg said on a video posted to social media.

“We have to get out there and make our voices heard, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.”

Mr Hogg was among about 50 students who walked out of Stoneman Douglas after administrators threatened protesters with unexcused absences.

The walkouts are the latest in a wave of youth activism that has emerged after the Parkland massacre.

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Students are led out of Forest High School in Florida after a shooting on the campus on Friday (AP)

Plans for Friday’s walkout began only hours after the Parkland shooting, when a Connecticut teen started an online petition calling for protests on the anniversary of Columbine. Sophomore Lane Murdock then gathered a few other students at Ridgefield High School to orchestrate the national protest.

They also have received help from Indivisible, a left-leaning nonprofit based in Washington that helps boost grassroots activism. The group says it was formed after the 2016 election to oppose the policies promoted by President Donald Trump.

Administrators at many schools tacitly allowed the walkouts in March, opting not to punish participants.

Press Association

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