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Marching for Their Lives

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from throughout the nation gathered in Washington Saturday and in cities across the country to demand stricter gun control laws. Within that crowd were some 3,000 students, parents and community members, from Baltimore, who rode school buses, paid for with private donations raised by Mayor Catherine Pugh, to the nation’s capital.

Some 50 demonstrators met at the Patterson Park Recreation Center early Saturday, one of eight pick-up points in the city, to board the buses for Washington.

“I think it’s very powerful,” said Kurt Schiller, president of the Upper Fells Point Community Association, who came along as a chaperone. “That’s one reason I had to support this.”

He said the youth of Baltimore want others to realize “that they have gun violence, too, that they have to be dealing with on a regular basis, that’s not making the headline news.”

One 15-year-old student from Coppin Academy, whom we can identify only as Elijah, said gun violence was an everyday occurrence for him.

“Not even in the school. Outside the school,” he said. “It’s gun violence. We know people keep dying every day. Baltimore is the most dangerous city in the whole country.”

There were a record 343 homicides in Baltimore in 2017, making it the deadliest city in America per capita. And most of them could be attributed to gun violence.

Some students compared the message of the march to the Black Lives Matter movement. One girl, who wouldn’t give her name, said she stood in solidarity with the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, scene of the mass shooting that sparked the march, because they realized the voices of students in places like Baltimore have been silenced.

As they boarded the buses at Patterson Park, demonstrators received a free t-shirt with the slogan “Bmore and Beyond: March Against Gun Violence.”

Nate Bender brought his 11-year-old daughter, Sophi, to ride the bus to Washington. Bender said he encouraged Sophi to march because he wanted her to have the experience.

“She’ll make the decision of whether or not this is something she wants to do more in her life,” he said. But at least she’ll have the chance to do it for an issue that affects her directly.”

And Sophi said its “important that we fight for our lives because I really think it’s terrible that kids don’t feel safe in school.”

The Baltimore demonstrators joined the rally on Pennsylvania Avenue, right in front of the Trump International Hotel.

Jason Vega, a 12-year-old student from New Era Academy in Brooklyn Park, compared gun violence to cancer.

“Now kids are dying from this cancer, and people continue buying guns,” he said.

At one point during the rally, the group saw Yolanda King, Martin Luther King’s granddaughter on a giant screen projecting speakers.

Like her great grandfather, Yolanda said she had a dream, too. “Enough is enough.”

And she led the crowd in a chant: “We are going to be a great generation.”

The crowd in Baltimore wasn’t as massive as that in Washington, but demonstrators packed War Memorial Plaza at city hall, chanting and demanding action from lawmakers and their fellow citizens to confront gun violence in schools in particular and the city in general.

They waved signs that carried hashtags “#Enough Is Enough” and “#Never Again” and blasted the National Rifle Association for having too big a voice in the gun debate.

And they mocked an NRA-backed proposal to arm school teachers and the phrase “thoughts and prayers.”

One of the demonstrators, 14-year-old Faith Murdoch, said she would have gone to Washington, but the friend who was going to give her a ride canceled. So she opted for the local demonstration.

“Baltimore is where I grew up, so it’s an important city to me,” she said. “It’s just important to me.”

Faith said she decided to march after officials at her school, Ridgely Middle in Lutherville, forbade student walkouts March 14, one month after the shooting that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She said she walked out anyway.

“I live by, ‘if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything,’” she said. “So I think it’s just really important to stand up for what you believe in.”

Even little kids had something to say. There was Henry and his sister, Ruby, fifth and fourth graders at the Friends School in Baltimore, whose dad wouldn't let us use their last name.

“Shootings are killing tons of people. And it’s really not good,” said Henry. “A lot of the people are dying in school shootings. They haven’t even lived for like 20 years.”

Ruby said she felt good that she was participating, but “sad that people have to march.”

“The government should know this is not okay,” she said. “Guns shouldn’t be allowed to stay. Guns shouldn’t be killing innocent students who are just trying to learn.”

Nadira Young, a Roland Park Elementary Middle School language arts teacher, tied the issue of guns to social justice as well.

“We stand here today to say never again, not in our schools, not in our homes, not on the streets of Baltimore city and not on the hands of the police,” she told the crowd.

Others criticized lawmakers for taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the NRA, including Maryland Congressman Andy Harris.

“While nearly a quarter of Baltimore City residents live below the poverty line, Representative Harris was given more than what a family of three living below the poverty line makes in a year,” said Juno Ada Conway Owings, a freshman at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

At one point, organizers invited elected officials and candidates onstage to pledge to work to enact strict gun control measures.

“I absolutely, damn well pledge,” shouted Delegate Luke Clippinger, chair of the House Democratic caucus.

Afterward, the demonstrators marched south, along the Inner Harbor promenade to Key Highway before disbanding.

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