‘These Must Stop:' Speeches From Parkland Students, Statewide Walkouts Mark Columbine Anniversary
Underneath a blue sign reading “I will vote” in bold white print, 17-year-old Carlos “Carlitos” Rodriguez addressed a crowd in Littleton, Colorado about life since a former student shot and killed 17 of his peers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I have had two months to understand what it’s like to feel alone, what it’s like to feel despair, what it’s like to feel pain,” he said, flanked by dozens of his classmates. “We have been eternally scarred. But now we share a common voice.”
Rodriguez, along with hundreds of sign-holding attendees, called for tougher gun laws Thursday night in Clement Park during a political rally doubling as a remembrance for the 12 students and one teacher killed in a shooting at Columbine High School 19 years ago.
“Two months does not compare to 19 years,” Rodriguez said. “This nation should have realized that the right to live — the right to feel safe — was more important than the right to bear arms 19 years ago.
The rally, coined “Vote For Our Lives,” was a callback to recent “March For Our Lives” protests. It featured speeches from Columbine High School students and educators, family members of victims of the 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, gun control activists and musical performances — most notably, Isaac Slade, lead singer of The Fray.
Former Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis recited the names of the 13 victims while students lit candles behind him, one for each name.
“Never again,” he yelled to the crowd. “Enough is enough and these senseless deaths must stop!”
Columbine High School teacher Paula Reed read aloud a letter she received shortly before the shooting from her student at the time, Rachel Scott.
“Just felt the need to write,” Reed read, her voice breaking. “I’ve never taken a class so seriously. I just wanted to tell you I love you and appreciate you so much. Thank you.”
Scott was the first student to be killed on April 20, 1999.
Reed went on to say little has changed at Columbine since the shooting.
“For the most part, that’s a good thing,” she said.
What has changed, Reed explained, is the types of drills the school does. Instead of just fire drills, the school, like many, now has regular active shooter drills.
“I no longer feel perfectly safe in the school where I work, active shooter drills notwithstanding,” she said.
Nia Arrington, a representative of Youth Power Collective, a social justice organization in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spoke during the event to raise awareness of gun violence outside of schools.
“I am here speaking today to address how gun violence has become embedded in American culture,” she said to the crowd. “But more so to state that black men and women have been fighting to end gun violence for years.”
Standing in front of Parkland and Columbine students, she asked those present to start labeling the men and women wrongly killed by law enforcement officers as “survivors” and “victims” as well.
“Despite our many differences, we are becoming united by this gross narrative that clumps us all together and throws on the label which reads ‘survivor’ or ‘victim’ of gun violence,” she said.
Beyond remembering the victims of multiple tragedies, organizers of the rally aimed to register people to vote in the upcoming 2018 midterms. Clipboard-toting volunteers wove through the crowd at Clement Park throughout the night.
Similar “Vote For Our Lives” events took place around the country Thursday, according to the group’s Facebook page.
Co-organizer Emmy Adams, a student at Golden High School, carried a walkie-talkie during the event and sported a light denim jacket, covered in buttons. She said the 2018 midterms will be the first election she’s participated in.
“Voting is instrumental in making a difference, especially at these midterms,” she said. “We’re going to send a message to our leaders that we’re not playing around — we’re not just talking the talk, we’re walking the walk.”
Friday, April 20 is the official 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. In remembrance, students in Boulder, Denver, Aspen, Fort Collins and around the country took to the streets to protest gun violence.
Columbine High School was closed Friday to honor the victims of the 1999 shootings.