In response to last month’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. which resulted in the death of 17 people, the Minority Rights Coalition hosted a march to end gun violence starting in the University Amphitheater Wednesday evening. Despite cold temperatures, a crowd of over a hundred congregated in the amphitheater in solidarity to listen to speeches from local and University students.
When the guest speeches concluded, the group made its way up McCormick Road to the north side of the Rotunda, which faces University Avenue. There, they gathered in front of the Jefferson statue and posed for a photograph. A number of students held a large banner reading “Gun Control Now #Enough” while others held individual posters including ones that said, “Kids > Guns,” “Stand with Parkland and Ferguson” and “Arm Teachers with $$$! Not Guns!”
In addition to showing support for the victims of the Parkland shooting, the purpose of the march was to “call attention to inaction on the part of our leaders and legislators when it comes to gun violence … stand in solidarity with black and brown victims of gun violence perpetrated by the state, condemn the ease with which dangerous figures can get their hands on guns, and allow a space for people to express their thoughts, grief, and outrage,” the Facebook event page read.
“Gun violence has been plaguing communities of color for decades and also gun violence is perpetrated against communities of color by the state,” said Raiya Al-Nsour, a second-year College student and the MRC’s vice chair of advocacy. “While we are here to honor the memory of the victims of Parkland and stand in solidarity with the incredible work the students are doing, we also want to center certain voices that have been left out of this recent burst of activism.”
Al-Nsour added that the MRC chose to host a march because they wanted to foster a sense of community in the crowd, which included both students and Charlottesville residents.
“Marches are always a very powerful form of direct action, as we saw with the against the Muslim ban and the march in the wake of August 11 and 12,” Al-Nsour said. “We feel that marches bring people together in a way that most actions don’t. I think it’s powerful to stand side by side with people who believe in a cause just as passionately as you, and march in defense of that cause.”
The event began a little after 6 p.m. in the McIntire Amphitheater. Eight speakers took the stage one by one, including two local high school students, Wes Gobar, a fourth-year College student and president of the Black Student Alliance and Danyelle Honore, a third-year College student and the president of the NAACP at the University. Each of them spoke about the need for gun control to protect the lives of minorities.
“Here’s the thing,” Uma Loganathan, the daughter of a Virginia Tech shooting victim and University alum, said. “Gun violence, it’s not an anomaly. There is gun violence in our streets, in our cities, in our homes, and it’s an epidemic.”
Loganathan was followed by Shaun Khurana, a fourth-year College student and the president of the Queer Student Union.
“I am inspired by the Parkland survivors and their bravery to transform their victimhood into power,” Khurana said.
Later, Abigail Boitnott, a senior at Western Albemarle High School, took the stage.
“Children should not have to fear for their lives in places of education,” Boitnott said. “Children should not have to fear for their lives anywhere.”
Brad Slocum, a 2012 graduate of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, was among the attendees.
“I wanted to support a lot of the student actions,” Slocum said. “I consider myself an activist. I’m concerned about gun safety and reducing gun violence.”
Also in attendance was Audrey McClurg, a second-year College student, a longtime supporter of gun control.
“I’ve been a huge proponent my whole life,” McClurg said. “Our generation is the first one that grew up with school shootings as an accepted reality … So just the fact that I think we grew up with this as a reality when older generations didn’t, I think it’s important for us to take responsibility.”