Thousands of students across Los Angeles walked out of their classes on Wednesday to call attention to the effects of gun violence and push for stricter gun control laws.
The walkouts were expected to last 17 minutes to pay homage to the 17 people who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., exactly one month ago.
At Granada Hills Charter High School, students gathered on their field to spell out the word “Enough.” Venice High School students held up a banner with the names of the Stoneman Douglas High School victims.
At 10 a.m., about half of Venice High’s 2,000 students made their way to the school’s front lawn, where organizers had set up a display of 14 empty student desks and three teachers’ desks, for the 17 Parkland victims.
Students signed petitions calling for the federal government to resume research into the effects of gun violence and for “common sense gun laws.” At various tables, students registered to vote, wrote to Parkland families and to lawmakers, asking them to take action on gun control.
“I am here to stand with Parkland,” said Jesse Fabian, a sophomore at Venice High School. “Me and my fellow peers are here with you guys. I’m here to see that change can happen, because I know that it can happen. I’m fighting along with my generation so that future generations don’t have to.”
At Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, a chant rose up among students outside the school: “No more deaths.”
At 10:06 a.m., students in Juan L. Garcia’s A.P. U.S. history class at Garfield High School stood up. Five of them, all wearing orange, led the group past a photo of Sal Castro at the 1968 walkouts, past a poster announcing the district’s “celebration” of the 1968 East Los Angeles walkouts, past a black-and-white poster of Malcolm X with a quote, “By any means necessary.”
Garcia was wearing a white shirt bearing two footprints and “#Enough” in orange. The footprints represented a student who should have been standing but had been lost to gun violence.
Hundreds of students walked out of Garfield High and filed into bleachers alongside the school’s field, where some had made orange hearts, each with the name of a Parkland shooting victim. Each time a student read the name of a victim, an orange balloon was cut off the fence and a moment of silence was held.
Student speakers called on lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws and on their school to find more effective ways than random searches to keep students safe. Many students say they are targeted in those searches, which make them feel more unwelcome than secure.
Kimberly Robles, 17, said she walked out not only for stricter gun control laws and better mental health resources nationwide but because she thinks Garfield should better prepare students for an active-shooter scenario.
“If we don’t speak out about how we feel … there will be no change on our campus,” Robles said.
The LAPD stated in a tweet early Wednesday that it understood the need “for students to participate in peaceful dialogue,” but asked that they remain on campus under the protection of the Los Angeles Unified School Police Department.
“While the Los Angeles Police Department encourages young adults to express themselves, it is imperative students do it in a manner that is respectful to fellow classmates and Los Angeles residents, as well as remain on their respective campuses during the demonstration,” the statement said.
The LAPD said it would support L.A. Unified, as well as independent schools within city limits, with extra patrols.
Students are hoping their show of unity will encourage lawmakers to take action to stop the steady drum of gun violence on campus after campus.
They are demanding a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks and laws that would disarm people who show signs of violent behavior.
“Youth across the country including myself are tired of gun violence and the fact that our elected officials … aren’t listening to us,” said Winter Minisee, a 17-year-old student at Encore High School for the Arts in Riverside.
Winter is one of about 14 high school and college students who coordinated the walkouts. She’s an organizer with Empower, a youth activism arm of the Women’s March.
Walkouts and other actions are expected at nearly 3,000 schools nationwide. They are likely to look different in different spots around the country.
Some students will leave their campuses to gather outside, while others will hold rallies in campus common areas. There will be speakers, poem recitals, voter registration drives and moments of silence. Some students will wear orange in the spirit of the Wear Orange campaign associated with National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Others will wear white to symbolize peace and love.
Some kids will skip school altogether, and some parents will keep their children at home — worried about possible threats from the attention of the day.
Brandon Najera, a 17-year-old student at Wilson High School in Los Angeles, says he is heartened to see young people like him so galvanized. Back in 2016, he was one of the student activists who organized the postelection walkouts.
But this time, he is planning to stay in math class.
“I’m already doing bad in that,” he said.
Rather than walk out on Wednesday, Najera planned to join thousands of students nationwide at a separate event, March for Our Lives, on March 24 in Washington. The march is being organized by the survivors of the Parkland shooting and has sparked plans for protest events on that day across the country.
The focus on March 24 also will be gun control legislation.
“I think it is a better place for me,” Najera said.