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‘Our ballots will stop bullets’

Thousands take to streets in Richmond, D.C. and across the nation to demand gun control and school safety

3/30/2018, 10:57 a.m.
Chanting “Enough is enough” and “Never again,” more than 5,000 students and other demonstrators marched through Richmond last Saturday as ...
Thousands of people fill the area in front of the South Portico of the state Capitol during Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally and march in Richmond. The event was sponsored by a variety of community groups and organizations, including Richmond Public Schools, the Richmond Branch NAACP, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Richmond Peace Education Center, The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and Liberal Women of Chesterfield County and Beyond. Virginia Commonwealth University Capital News Service

IN RICHMOND

By Irena Schunn

and George Copeland Jr.

Capital News Service

Chanting “Enough is enough” and “Never again,” more than 5,000 students and other demonstrators marched through Richmond last Saturday as part of a nationwide protest against mass school shootings and gun violence.

Cheering against the chilly breeze, the Richmond march started with a bevy of student speakers alongside prominent local and state leaders on the lawn of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School on Mosby Street in the East End.

Corey Stuckey, left, an Armstrong High School freshman, and Sam Alburger, a junior at  Hermitage High School, join in a chant with the crowd of thousands at the state Capitol who turned out in Richmond last Saturday for the March for Our Lives. Corey was one of the student speakers at the rally.

Corey Stuckey, left, an Armstrong High School freshman, and Sam Alburger, a junior at Hermitage High School, join in a chant with the crowd of thousands at the state Capitol who turned out in Richmond last Saturday for the March for Our Lives. Corey was one of the student speakers at the rally.

Throngs of people of all ages then marched across the Martin Luther King Bridge to Capitol Square in Downtown, where they heard from more students speaking at a rally outside the state Capitol.

The array of signs they carried proclaimed their succinct messages:

“We want education without fear of annihilation,” “Books not bullets,” “Arm schools with more counselors, psychologists, nurses,” “Learning not lockdown,” “Protect our children, not guns,” “Disarm hate,” “Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets” and “Is my grandson next? Stop the violence.”

At the start of the rally, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Richmond resident and former Democratic vice presidential candidate, expressed pride in seeing the action taken by students in his home state.

“Congress and the General Assembly — of not just this state but of other states, too — have a hard time finding a way to do anything because of the power of gun manufacturers and NRA leadership. But they’ve never had to come up against high schoolers before,” Sen. Kaine said to the cheering crowd.

The youth-centric nature of the march was present in the speeches and chants heard throughout the day. Once the march reached the Capitol, the younger speakers took the lead as state legislators and Richmond School Board members deferred to their voices. Students repeatedly called on older participants to protect them by doing what they can’t — vote for gun reform.

Maxwell Nardi, a student speaker from Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, was one of many to call for changes in school safety, universal background checks for firearm purchases and the removal of politicians unwilling to support gun control.

“This isn’t a new issue,” Maxwell said. “It’s been happening for 19 years in school shootings, and gun violence has been plaguing America for a much longer time.”

Speakers also emphasized the greater impact gun violence has on the African-American community, tying it to historical acts of violence against minorities.

“How many more black families will be devastated by gun violence — threatened or killed by the people whose job it is to serve and protect?” Stephanie Younger, an activist with the Richmond Youth Peace Project, asked the crowd.

“How many more times do my parents have to give me that talk explaining to me that I’m 10 times more likely to become a victim of gun violence because I am black?”

Maxwell echoed her sentiments, saying, “We have to look at this both from the perspective of schools and also from the perspective of communities that have been disproportionately impacted by this.”