Local protesters join nationwide call for action against gun violence

(l-r) Members of Black Truce rally to end gun violence; protesters swarm the streets of downtown St. Paul en route to the Capitol for the March for Our Lives rally. Keith Schubert/Chris Juhn

Thousands of young people marched through the streets of St. Paul on Saturday as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence.

After the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida, students of the school began organizing March for Our Lives, which grew into over 800 events worldwide.

At the St. Paul protest, students, lawmakers, and anti-gun violence advocates spoke at the event and urged the crowd to continue to fight for stronger gun control laws and better school safety measures.

The St. Paul Police estimated nearly 18,000 people showed up at the State Capitol, while the Minnesota State Patrol stated the number was closer to 20,000. The crowd size for March for Our Lives has been compared to the estimated 100,000 protesters who attended the Women’s March in St. Paul last January.

A small but vocal group of people attended the protest under the banner Black Truce, a St. Paul nonprofit founded by Darnella Wade. The mission of the group is to end violence by spreading messages of Black love and peace in the community.

Darnella Wade (in gray) and members of Black Truce rally to end gun violence on March 24. Keith Schubert/MSR News

In 2016, Wade’s son was shot in the head. His injury compelled her to take action and create Black Truce. “I saw March for Our Lives as a way to keep gun control a hot topic,” Wade explained.

As Black Truce marched to the capital they engaged in chants like “Black Truce on the loose” and joined the larger crowds chanting, “The NRA has got to go,” and “This is what democracy looks like!”

Black Truce at March for Our Lives in St. Paul Keith Schubert/MSR News

At the Capitol steps, Democratic state leaders spoke and condemned the Republican-controlled state legislature for tabling bills that push for more gun control like universal background checks and the ban on the sale of assault weapons like AR-15’s.

Students and parents from MSD were in town for a hockey tournament and attended the rally. Stephanie Horowitz, a freshman at MSD, spoke to the crowd about losing a friend during February’s shooting. Senior, Joey Zenobi, also paid tribute to a friend lost in the shooting and said, “Never again will anyone have to make a speech like this.”

Protesters gathered at the Capitol steps for March for Our Lives in St. Paul Chris Juhn/MSR News

Wade recognized that a lot of people at the Capitol on Saturday didn’t have to deal with the same type of gun violence in their communities as she does. “When this Moms Demand Action and Everytown — two organizations that support common-sense gun laws — are calmed down, and the legislature is closed, our communities are still going to have to deal with gun violence,” said Wade.

But Wade said she is thankful for the organizing that culminated in Saturday’s event. “They did more than what most people in the Black community are doing,” she said.

When he was five years old, Jaylin Grasty, a sophomore at Washington Technology Magnet school in St. Paul, lost his father to gun violence. He said he was at the protest because, “I feel like if I speak about how [gun violence] has impacted me, it will help change other people in a positive way.”

Grasty shared the same sentiment as Wade: He wished more people from their community, specifically his school, would have shown up. “I feel like they just don’t think it’s real when it actually is.” Grasty also surmised that many of [the students] don’t trust that lawmakers will make any significant change.

Community activist KG Wilson said he was at the march to unite with different people and communities. “I have the expertise to bring to the table; today there’s a lot of different tables out here,” he said.

KG Wilson Keith Schubert/MSR News

However, Wilson explained that he was frustrated that it took 17 White people to die for this type of publicity and public outcry to take place when there is daily violence happening among the people in his community every day. “For the last 15 years, I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure that it’s publicized daily,” he said.

But both Wade and Wilson agreed that the overall goal of the march was bigger than race — it was about ending all gun violence, and making sure that children feel safe at school and on the street. As an adult and community leader “I have to be out here leading by example,” Wade said.

Keith Schubert welcomes reader response to kschubert@spokesman-recorder.com.

See more protest signs and scenes from March for Our Lives in St. Paul below. All photos by Chris Juhn

April 11, 2018 Update: A previous version of this story listed Darnella Wade’s son as having died from a gunshot wound. This is incorrect – Wade’s son survived his injury. The story has been corrected. We apologize for the error.