Hundreds of students walked out from midday classes at metro-area schools on Tuesday, May 31 to protest gun violence and stand in solidarity with the victims of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Robb Elementary School in Uvalde Texas.
The walkout was organized by MN Teen Activists, a group founded by metro area students. The group has led several other events in the two years since its inception, including a student walkout over Amir Locke’s police killing in February.
Organizer Aaliyah Murray, who is a junior at Fridley High School, said the choice to hold a walkout and rally was a simple one. “We have had multiple different statewide walkouts and actions before; we were like let’s just do it again,” Murray said. “We wanted to mobilize students because we know students don’t feel safe—we knew that many students were feeling angry right now.”
MN Teen Activists listed five demands to legislators during the event. The demands included a statewide committee to address student safety; changes to active shooter drills; reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban; implementation of annual mental health assessments for all students; and a full ban on AR platform rifles.
Students gathered at Gold Medal Park in downtown Minneapolis starting around 1 pm. Aaliyah Wade, Lila Dominguez, and Mina Bradley, seventh-graders at Sanford Middle School, were among the first students to arrive.
“I have a whole bunch of siblings, and I fear for them when they go to school, and I fear for myself when I go to school,” Wade said. “And I think that’s something that shouldn’t occur. “
Dominguez said she believes the extra mental health support promised by Minneapolis Public Schools in the agreement it struck with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers should be utilized to make schools feel safer.
“I think we should really start using [the mental health support],” Dominguez said. ”Especially in high schools when people are actually old enough to buy guns.”
A group of five juniors from Roosevelt High School said guns legally owned by their classmates were of less concern. They noted that guns that were obtained illegally by underclassmen were a larger issue and claimed that there had been several incidents with illegal firearms brought to the school. The group said they wanted to see metal detectors and a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) at their school.
Solei Carlson, a senior who also attends Roosevelt, had a different view from her classmates. Carlson was concerned the process to legally obtain a firearm was too easy and noted that lots of kids may have access to their parents’ firearms.
“If you’re focusing on just illegal guns, you’re kind of missing a large part of the point,” Carlson said.
Carlson also disagreed with her classmates’ desire for the presence of an SRO, noting that the police response to the shooting in Uvalde took nearly an hour to engage the shooter. Carlson also said that some students were uncomfortable around police officers.
Kay Alexandra, another junior from Roosevelt, was working at the Mall of America late last year when an active shooter prompted a lockdown. She agreed with Carlson that some students are uncomfortable around police. and that a full-time SRO may not be in the best interest of students.
“It honestly just depends on what the student body at Roosevelt wants,” Alexandra said. “There should be a vote, get every single one of their students’ opinions and experiences taken into consideration because sometimes seeing a cop is a trauma for some children.“ Alexandra said.
Students marched from Gold Medal Park to U.S. Bank Stadium, where more speeches were given. Senator Ron Latz (46, DFL) was invited to speak but received some heckling from the crowd when he said he supported police and that more Democrats needed to be voted into the Senate before action can be taken on gun violence.
MN Teen Activists later released a statement condemning Latz’s speech.
“[Latz] shared his agenda and added very little positive contributions [to] the issue at hand,” the statement read. “He was insensitive in areas and was the exact example of what defines many of our White politicians. We do not support, or endorse him.”
The rally ended with a march returning from U.S. Bank Stadium to Gold Medal Park.
The MN Gun Owners Caucus did not immediately return a request for comment.
Cole Miska is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.