Students galvanized by last month’s deadly school shooting in Florida led tens of thousands of demonstrators Saturday in a march and rally in Boston to push for stronger gun control and draw attention to the stark toll that gun violence takes on communities of color.
Police estimated 50,000 people participated in the march through city streets for Boston’s version of the worldwide rallies called March for Our Lives, a mayoral spokeswoman said. Protest organizers said more than 100,000 took part.
The event culminated in a rally on Boston Common, where students and teachers spoke movingly of the gun violence that has indiscriminately torn apart lives from the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., to the streets of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.
“My school will now always be remembered for what took place on Feb. 14, 2018,” said Leslie Chiu, a graduate of Stoneman Douglas who attends Northeastern University.
Her alma mater will be known, Chiu said, as the place that “started the movement that we are a part of today.”
“Our generation will carry with us the weight and burden of countless lives lost and we will take it upon ourselves to ensure that on their behalf that we are the last ones in this environment of daily shootings,” she said.
Elected officials attended to show their support for the youth-led demonstration, but kept to the sidelines and didn’t speak at the rally. The protest was among more than 800 held Saturday, including the main event in Washington, D.C., which drew hundreds of thousands of people.
In one poignant moment, Leonor Muñoz, a survivor of the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people, was joined on stage by her sister, Beca, a Northeastern student.
Leonor Muñoz recalled hearing the “Code Red” alert and escaping the school. The sound of SWAT officers knocking on doors remains fresh, she said.
“I remember needing to tell my family that I was alive and barely being able to send the text because I was in real danger and they couldn’t stop it or help me,” said Leonor Muñoz, a senior at Stoneman Douglas.
Beca Muñoz said their demand for change is not new.
“The thing that sets the people of Parkland apart is our wealth and the color of our skin,” she said. “We cannot be complacent with a system that designates certain areas as safe while communities of color continue to be neglected, abused, and disproportionately affected by gun violence.”
The demonstration started Saturday morning in Roxbury, where protesters gathered at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School to march to the Common.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and US Representatives Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano greeted marchers as they got into place.
“It feels like a different type of movement here this time,” Walsh said. “All we can do is worry about today and work with our young people today across America and hopefully . . . the people in Congress and the Senate will pay attention to what’s happening outside their windows.”
The rally and walk were peaceful and officers made no arrests, a Boston police spokesman said.
Marchers filled city streets, chanting “Enough is Enough,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Hey, hey NRA, how many kids have you killed today?” Supporters cheered from the sidewalks, some crying as they applauded and photographed the throngs.
Many in the streets held signs that didn’t mince words.
“Am I next?” asked one with an image of bloody handprints. “Arms are for hugging,” read another. “Protect kids, not guns,” read several.
“People are dying,” said Eli Anderson-Song, 18, of Newburyport, who scrawled the words “Protect Me” in black ink on his forehead.
As protesters approached the Common, organizers implored the crowd to give young people the best vantage points.
“Students to the front,” said Monica Cannon-Grant, an activist from Roxbury. “If you are 25 or older, we’re not talking to you.”
People danced to music, including a song by Rihanna and a remix of the theme song from the television show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” They held signs reading, “2020 Voter” and “If I Die In A School Shooting, Lay My Body On The Steps Of Capitol Hill.”
Massachusetts has a reputation for tough gun control laws, but could do more to save lives, demonstrators said.
Harvard University student Reed Shafer-Ray told the crowd about a family friend who committed suicide with a firearm he purchased at a sporting goods store.
After the suicide, Shafer-Ray said he and his friend’s mother approached state Representative Marjorie Decker about gun control legislation.
One proposal would let police officers temporarily remove firearms from people who may be in danger of harming themselves or others, Shafer-Ray said. The other bill would create a “no-sell” list for firearms that people could sign up for voluntarily. The measure is aimed at preventing people from purchasing a firearm when they are feeling desperate, he said.
“Both of these bills have a real chance to pass this year in Massachusetts, but you all understand how politics work,” Shafer-Ray said. “These bills will not pass unless the people of Massachusetts raise their voices so loud that our legislators cannot help but listen.”
As marchers walked toward the Common, several dozen counterprotesters assembled at the State House to speak out against what they see as a push to limit individual freedom and attack the Second Amendment.
“March for Our Lives has a lot of money behind them, they have a lot of politicians behind them,” said Mark Sahady, 42, a demonstration organizer with the group Resist Marxism.
The students involved in the march “are being used as pawns by the media and the political class,” he said.
The group advanced onto Boston Common under a police escort before the largest crowds gathered for the rally.
Mike Moura, 24, a Resist Marxism spokesman from Stoughton, said the group wanted to“mix with the crowd and have a civil debate about gun control.”
“Our plan is to have a dialogue with them,” he said. “We’re not here to insult them.”
Boston police officers formed a human barrier between the counterprotesters and the anti-gun violence demonstrators. Members of Veterans for Peace also tried to separate the opposing groups.
The pro-Second Amendment protesters left the Common at about 2:15 p.m., shortly after the March For Our Lives rally began. They dispersed from the State House about 45 minutes later.
Students invited a few adults — all teachers or antiviolence advocates — to address the rally.
Graciela Mohamedi, a physics teacher at Rockland High School, recounted the first time she handled an assault rifle after joining the US Marine Corps when she was 18 years old.
“We have seen them used to specifically incapacitate not just enemy combatants but innocent children and adults,” she said. “We’ve seen them used in places like Iraq and Sandy Hook Elementary School. Syria and Pulse nightclub. Afghanistan and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
She blasted President Trump’s plan to arm teachers.
“A handgun in the hands of an untrained, overworked teacher will not be an effective measure to prevent these mass shootings.”
Michael Martinez, a Roxbury resident who attends Weston High School, urged the crowd to register to cast ballots in upcoming elections. Organizers said they want to continue to collaborate and host a town hall event next month.
“The most powerful place one can show up is at the polls,” Martinez said.
If elected leaders fight gun control reforms, they must be voted out, he said.
A short time later, the crowd chanted: “Vote them out! Vote them out!”