‘Something has to be done’: Summit County students, parents protest school gun violence today
March 14, 2018
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, hundreds of Summit High School students walked out of their classrooms to sit in the common areas and hallways in silence. A few miles up the road along Highway 9, dozens of protesters waved signs to passing cars at a busy intersection in Frisco. Still further up the road and across Frisco Bay, seventh graders at Summit Middle School defied their elders and walked out the door to march in the sunshine.
It was a moment when Summit County residents joined schools and communities across America and declared that it had #ENOUGH with school gun violence.
These three separate protests in Summit joined with thousands across the country on "National Walkout Day," which demanded action to stop school shootings exactly one month after the Parkland, Florida high school massacre.
In Summit County, each protest had its own leaders and mode of dissent. All were spurred into action by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month that left 14 students and 3 staff members dead.
At Summit High School in Breckenridge, four students organized a mass "sit-in" in the high school common area. Chase Byers, Jenna Piehl, Priya Subberwal, and Sylvie Westerhoff are SHS seniors and members of the school's chapter of "People Power," a grassroots organizing and activist movement endorsed by the ACLU. They said they were inspired to act after seeing Parkland student survivors like Emma Gonzales speak out about the lack of action on gun violence in schools, as well as rising anxiety about their own safety in school.
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However, due to recent security scares at Summit schools, the People Power group needed to figure out a way to organize an event that promoted change while taking into account the community's frayed nerves about school safety. The group decided that a mass sit-in and note-writing event in the high school's common area would be more appropriate than a walkout, as it allowed students to protest while still being able to reflect about what they thought of gun violence in America.
"We felt like if people see all these students gather in a small area like the commons, they'd be forced to see how big the movement is," Piehl said.
"We also wanted to do something constructive with a bigger outcome than just leaving the school and coming back," added Byers.
Subberwal said that the group was also pragmatic about the ends it wanted to achieve while not placing an undue burden on students or school staff.
"We didn't want to disrupt class too much, as the point of this isn't to rebel against the school," Subberwal said. "It's to draw attention to the fact that we're protesting violence in schools. We wanted a small, but impactful statement where we would walk of schools and condense in one area for 17 minutes."
The 17 minutes of silence and reflection were observed around the country in honor of each of the 17 Parkland victims. Most students at Summit Middle School in Frisco also observed the 17 minutes with their own sit-in. However, around 150 to 180 students of the seventh grade class bucked school administration requests to stay inside and staged an actual walk out. According to SMS principal Greg Guevara, 10 to 12 adult teachers and security staff supervised as the students marched a lap around the school grounds.
Video submitted by Maria Molina
A third protest took place at the corner of Main Street and Highway 9 in Frisco. Around 80 Summit residents congregated at the busy intersection, many wearing orange shirts and stickers labeled with the #ENOUGH hashtag associated with the movement to end school shootings.
Naomi McMahon, a Breckenridge mother of two Summit students, organized this protest independent of the school protests. She said she was not much of an activist in the past, but after seeing what happened in Parkland she took the "Enough!" message to heart and decided she could not stay silent any longer.
"Something has to be done, and I don't have the answers to what that is," McMahon said as cars passing the intersection honked in support of the effort. "But with all the protests going on around the country, I should also be out here supporting my kids, trying to make schools safer."
Among the crowd was Breckenridge resident Becky Van Horn, who tearfully explained that she was there to honor the memory of Christopher Hixon, athletic director at Stoneman Douglas who was hailed as a hero when he sacrificed himself to shield students from gunfire.
Van Horn, 24, knew "Coach Hixon" when she attended South Broward High School and he was athletic director there.
"I just remember him being such an incredible goofball, and the way he interacted with people was amazing," Van Horn said. She added that Hixon was a hero and active military at his death, having served in the Navy for 27 years. Hixon was buried with military funeral honors.
"I was in disbelief at first, but not entirely surprised," she said about her reaction to the Feb. 14 shooting. "South Florida isn't exactly the safest place, but it never really resonated to me that it would happen to someone I knew."
When asked about what solution she proposed for school shootings, Van Horn was pragmatic about striking a balance between rights and safety.
"I grew up around guns, I shot my first gun when I was 6," she said. "I know what a responsible gun owner looks like, and I know what they don't look like. Do I think all guns should be taken away? Not necessarily. But should they be taken out of the hands of people who can't handle them respectfully? Absolutely."
During the protest, at least two Summit residents expressed their opposition to gun control, with one man expressing loud and angry displeasure at the supposed political aims of the protesters.
The man, who declined to be identified, accosted the crowd for gathering in support of any gun control. Arguing with protesters, he yelled the protest was "exacerbating the problem," and that protesters were "insane thinking they can get rid of all the guns."
About 100 feet away from the crowd, Summit County Republican Party Chairman Kim McGahey sat in a lawnchair with a sign that read, "Protect our kids: Make our schools gun zones."
Addressing a group of young girls who approached and asked him why he was advocating for guns in schools, McGahey explained his position.
"What happens when a lunatic comes into your school and starts shooting people and there's nobody to deter him," he asked the pre-teens. "It would take 10 minutes for police to arrive to try to stop him."
McGahey went on to explain that he was in favor of arming teachers and other citizens on school grounds if they were trained or if they had a concealed carry permit, a view that has been slowly adopted by President Trump and the Republican Party at large.
Despite these tense exchanges, all three protests were conducted peacefully and without incident. During the sit-in at the high school, Subberwal and Piehl gave a joint speech thanking their peers for exercising their right to peaceful assembly and for showing the larger community that they were "committed to change, and that there is incredible potential here for [their] voices to be heard." The speech ended with a quote by anthropologist and activist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small, committed group of citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."