News

KOIN: Portland students join nationwide gun violence walkout
Author: Trevor Ault, Eileen Park and KOIN 6 News Staff
Posted: March 15, 2018

Read the original story on KOIN.

Thousands of students in the Portland metro participated in a national walkout to protest gun violence on Wednesday morning.

The walkout was organized in memory of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day.

National Student Walkout at PSU

At Roosevelt High School, students gathered in the bleachers and field, many carrying signs calling for stricter gun regulations.

Gov. Kate Brown attended the protest to show her support. 

"These student voices are incredibly articulate, they're incredibly beautiful and they're very very smart. They need to keep speaking out," Brown said.

"It's great to have people listen to what you have to say, and for the superintendent and governor to be here, that was pretty cool," a student said. 

Students at Glencoe Elementary School lined up to create a peace sign during the walkout.

In Beaverton

The Beaverton School District told KOIN 6 News students at nearly all their high schools plus some of their middle and elementary schools took part in the walkout.

The student-organized walkout was peaceful and many students carried pre-made signs that expressed how they feel about gun violence.

At Sunset High School, hundreds of students left their classroom to stand in solidarity with other students in the region, the state and the country to honor the 17 people slain in Parkland, Florida.

Many students who spoke with KOIN 6 News said they don't want to live in fear anymore. They're afraid because of the regularity of school shootings and are concerned with how Congress is addressing the gun legislation.

"This is our lives at stake," Sunset High senior Uma Panit said. "Truly our country was founded by people who believed in something and stood up for what they believe in, and that's what we're doing today."

She said students "have a right to go to school without fear, without wondering if we're going to come home, without having to tell our parents that we love them every day with the feat that we won't come home to tell them that same thing."

Junior at Sunset High Miles Imai said, "To help us unite as one voice, we may have different opinions of what needs to happen, but we all agree something needs to happen and I think this is the best way by all getting together and showing what needs to happen."

Students said this is merely the beginning. They're drafting letters to the state legislators and are planning a march soon.

They also said they believe their message isn't political -- but to decry the repeated violence seen in schools all across the country.

At Portland State University

PSU students held a demonstration in their Urban Plaza at the same time as the high school walkout. One of their speakers, Joshua Friedlien, survived the massacre at Umpqua Community College in 2015.

"Never again will they feel normal like before the event," he said. "Never again will they be able to live or learn like they were before."

PSU officials said they neither endorsed nor opposed the walkout, though they did encourage faculty not to penalize the students who took part.

Around Oregon

At Churchill High in Eugene, students gathered in the school courtyard at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes of silence and then marched down a road chanting: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has to go."
    
In Eastern Oregon, dozens of Pendleton High students gathered silently by a flagpole. An assistant principal monitored the event from afar and a police officer was on the scene.

However, not all school districts were amenable to the walkouts.

Scappoose School District warned their students that a walkout protest is an act of civil disobedience. 

In a statement sent to KOIN 6 News, they said, "Part of adolescence is developing informed decision-making skills and knowing the intended consequences of actions."

Some of the consequences include Saturday detention and being excluded from after-school activities.

No problems were reported by districts whose students peacefully participated in the walkouts.

Around the country

Young people in the U.S. walked out of school to demand action on gun violence Wednesday in what activists hoped would be the biggest demonstration of student activism yet in response to last month's massacre in Florida.

More than 3,000 walkouts were planned across the U.S. and around the world, organizers said. Students were urged to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Thousands of students gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, holding colorful signs and cheering in support of gun control. The students chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho. The NRA has got to go!" and "What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!"

President Donald Trump was traveling in Los Angeles at the time.

Stoneman Douglas High senior David Hogg livestreamed the walkout at the tragedy-stricken school in Parkland, Florida, on his YouTube channel. Walking amid a mass of people making their way onto the football field, he criticized politicians for not taking more action to protect students.

He said the students could not be expected to remain in class when there was work to do to prevent gun violence.

"Every one of these individuals could have died that day. I could have died that day," he said.

From Florida to New York, students poured out of their schools, marching through the streets or gathering on campus to demonstrate.

Some schools applauded students for taking a stand or at least tolerated the walkouts, while others threatened discipline.

The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women's March, which brought thousands to Washington last year.

Although the group wanted students to shape protests on their own, it also offered them a list of demands for lawmakers, including a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.

"Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence," the organization said on its website.

Other protests planned in coming weeks include the March for Our Lives rally for school safety, which organizers say is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation's capital on March 24. Another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High shooting in Colorado.

Some students in Massachusetts said that after Wednesday's protest, they planned to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson.

The walkouts drew support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which planned to pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts.

Districts in Sayreville, New Jersey, and Maryland's Harford County drew criticism this week when they said students could face punishment for leaving class.

In suburban Atlanta, one of Georgia's largest school systems announced that students who participated might face unspecified consequences. Some vowed to walk out anyway.

"Change never happens without backlash," said Kara Litwin, a senior at Pope High School in Cobb County.

The possibility of being suspended "is overwhelming, and I understand that it's scary for a lot of students," said Lian Kleinman, a junior at Pope High. "For me personally, this is something I believe in. This is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for."

Other schools sought a middle ground, offering "teach-ins" or group discussions on gun violence.

Meanwhile, free speech advocates geared up for a battle. The American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can't legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they would provide free legal help to students who are punished.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.