Cloquet students walk out to end school gun violence
It began with a list.
Date. School name. City and state.
Repeated 60 times.
Each grouping was a school shooting that resulted in one or more fatalities since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, when a 20-year-old man fatally shot 20 children and six staff members.
Standing in the back of a pickup truck on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting, student speakers Christian Loeb, Franny Slater and Josh South addressed approximately 75 Cloquet High School students during Friday's walkout against gun violence.
Students at schools throughout the Northland left their classrooms for marches, gatherings, rallies and more as part of a National School Walkout Day. Duluth Denfeld students marched 1.5 miles to Laura MacArthur Elementary School and back. Harbor City International School students rallied on the steps of Duluth City Hall for an hour.
In Cloquet, the walkout was timed to last 17 minutes — one minute for each student killed in the most recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Slater stressed that school violence isn't someone else's problem, and the past 19 years have shown that it isn't going to end on its own.
"This isn't an inner city problem, or a non-Cloquet problem," the senior said. "This year alone, we have had a code yellow (indicating a situation such as terroristic threats or a police tip that may be potentially dangerous). And this very week, someone threatened the school. I don't know how much of a threat that was. But imagine if there was a shooting. Would you even be here to participate today?"
There were no cheers or chants from the CHS students, who stood quietly in an open area behind the school shop building.
Loeb said it is up to them, their generation, to change things.
"Our government is too caught up hating one another to realize we need the support of everyone to get (stuff) done; it's time for us to give them a reality check," he said, adding later: "Today, we stand shoulder to shoulder with students across the nation for those who can't anymore. We stand for change."
The speeches finished with a minute of silence. The students stood together, heads down, somber and silent. Juniors Emma Wells and Abby Johnson gripped tightly a sign with "Never Again" written across one side, and the names of the 17 students killed in Parkland scrawled on the other.
Wells said the issue of gun violence hit home when CHS had the code yellow earlier this year.
"At first I didn't think it was real. But then the thoughts come in your head, like, 'Where am I supposed to hide? And where is my little brother?'" she said, her voice tight with emotion.
"Another interesting situation was the fire drill after the Parkland shooting. People were more scared to go outside than be inside (a building that might be on fire)," Wells added, referring to the fact that a fire alarm went off shortly after the shooting commenced in Parkland, which may have exacerbated the death toll because it put students and teachers directly in the path of the shooting.
"And weird moments like when you go home and your mom asks what you would do (if there were a shooting)," Wells said.
Johnson said she's thankful for the many drills at school.
"I know I'm supposed to duck under a desk," she said, without sarcasm.
Phoebe Bieri looked at it another way.
"It's almost been normalized — people planning escape routes — something we should be used to," Bieri said. "We shouldn't have to be used to this."
When asked why he thought it was important to have a walkout, sophomore Josh South spoke from the heart.
"Because I don't want to be afraid to go to school," he said. "It's sad. There have already been so many shootings and the fact is, not much action has been taken to stop that from happening."
Senior Riley Johnson saw the walkout as a way to make people aware of what's going on and, he added, to "recognize those who lost their lives for no good reason at all."
Other students talked about what they could do do next, who they should write or talk to, how they could pressure the U.S. government to change things.
"We can't vote, but we still have a voice when we do things like this or march together," Johnson said.
At the end of the walkout, the students filed back into doors 15 and 17, held open by school officials ... because in a post-Columbine world, all school doors must be locked during school except for the main secure entrance.