Raneen El-Barbarawi stood atop a wooden box outside of Proviso East High School in Maywood, armed with a bullhorn and an impassioned plea.
The Proviso East senior was among high school students across Proviso Township, and around the country, who participated in the National School Walkout, held March 14 at 10 a.m.
The demonstrations were scheduled to last for 17 minutes to symbolize the 17 victims murdered at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. Another national walkout is scheduled to take place on April 20 — on the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre that took place in 1999.
The Florida mass shooting has served as something of a shock to a country that had, to some observers, become anesthetized to gun violence. El-Barbarawi, however, wanted to address what she described as the tragically routine murders of young people in her own community.
“Millions of hearts ache for those 17 children murdered from gun violence, but why don’t we have those same million hearts aching for those who are also murdered from [gun violence] in our own community,” she said as First Avenue traffic whizzed by.
El-Barbarawi referenced the murder of a 17-year-old student a week earlier, as well as the March 4 killing of Mikhail Evans, 20, a former Proviso East student who was gunned down on the 1100 block of South 6th Ave. in Maywood around 2:30 p.m.
“We must pay respects for those two students killed in our own community,” she said. “A community is slowly tearing apart because of murders.
“Gun violence needs to stop now. Enough is enough! At the end of the day, a gun is a gun,” El-Barbarawi added. “I’m sick and tired of not knowing who I might never see again. Put the guns down!”
Meanwhile, less than a mile south on First Avenue — part of which had been blocked off by police to accommodate the East students — a crowd of students at Proviso Math and Science Academy spilled out onto the school’s Roosevelt Road-facing property and chanted, “Enough is Enough. We call B.S. No more guns!”
Maddy Norton, a PMSA student who helped organize that school’s walkout, said she hoped the demonstration sent a signal to elected officials indicating that “they know we won’t forget about these events and we will hold them accountable in the future.
“Many of us will be able to vote soon,” she said, “and we have the opportunity to make the changes we need in our government. We are the future and we will change it for the greater good.”
The student protests garnered a significant number of responses on Facebook, with most commenters voicing support for the students. Some people, however, said the school day was not the time or place for a political protest.
“Love you all for standing up to support the demand for common-sense gun control,” wrote one person underneath a video published to the social media site last Wednesday. “You are the future and you make us proud and give us all hope. Stay strong.”
Another respondent, however, suspected that “half of” the students demonstrating were “just walking out ’cause of not wanting to be in class, not because of the cause.”
Whatever the students’ motivation, law enforcement officials both locally and nationally expressed support for the walkouts.
“These students are carrying the weight of America on their shoulders as they advocate for smart gun control measures that ensure that school shootings, like the one that shook Parkland, Florida are no longer a part of their lives,” read a statement issued by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement executives.
The organization, NOBLE for short, includes among its members Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley.
Clarence E. Cox III, NOBLE’s president, added that “it’s obvious that the educational process has been severely hampered by the fear on these very campuses.”
In the weeks leading to the walkouts, D209 officials notified families that students would not be suspended for walking out, with Supt. Jesse Rodriguez stating in a letter that students “have a right to demonstrate for a cause. … If parents wish to excuse their children from school to attend such an event or demonstration, that is their right.”
The superintendent added that “the school or district will not excuse any student to leave school without parents’ permission” and that the district will address unexcused absences from school by following existing attendance procedures. School districts are prohibited from supporting or getting involved in any political issue.