Students from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute led a large crowd that stretched through blocks of downtown, through the Inner Harbor, for a local version of the national March For Our Lives protest Saturday.
The crowd nearly filled War Memorial Plaza outside City Hall on Saturday morning in a rally supporting stricter gun laws and safer schools — and communities.
“This should have been resolved after Columbine, after Sandy Hook … It is time we say enough is enough,” 15-year-old march organizer Anna Hilger told the crowd, referring to previous mass shootings at schools. Hilger, a freshman at Poly, said she began planning the local march in February, and in that limited time, another school shooting occurred — only two hours away, at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County.
At one point, marchers stretched from Key Highway to Pratt Street downtown. Some chanted, “hey, hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go.” They also tailored their message to Baltimore’s violence, chanting, “not one more in Baltimore.” Along the way, drivers stuck in the traffic backup honked their horns in apparent support of the marchers.
The downtown protest was held in addition to a number of Baltimore high school students who rode buses to the national protest in Washington, D.C., including 17 Excel Academy students who have lost seven classmates to gun violence since last year.
Hilger said in an interview that she originally planned to board a bus to Washington for the national protest, but then she decided that Baltimore should have its own. Last year, the city saw 342 homicides, a new record for killings per capita. Baltimore also earned a grim designation as the nation’s most dangerous city, according to a USA Today ranking.
“We have so much violence in our city. We have to start in our city and expand,” she said. “We need to show support in Baltimore.”
Hilger said she has been motivated by the student survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 17 people last month.
“It inspired me to do something,” she said of hearing about the survivors’ resilience and determination to make their voices heard. Hilger said she was particularly inspired by Parkland student Emma González’s impassioned speeches.
“A month ago I never would have done this,” she said.
Many in the Baltimore crowd were young children with their parents, some from the surrounding counties. They carried handmade signs: One read “Too young to drink? Too young to own a gun! #Enough,” another said, “Since when is protecting our kids a radical agenda?” while other signs protested the National Rifle Association and assault weapons.
During the rally, Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen spoke of how young residents, though often underestimated, have shown a powerful voice. He said youngsters have helped the council pass legislation this year, including a Styrofoam ban.
“Young people are our moral compass. This is their moment,” he told the crowd.
Among those gathered, listening to the speakers, were Megan Lea, 31, a Baltimore County teacher and her friend, Lindsey Corasaniti, 30, whose sister and mother are teachers.
Lea, who works in an elementary school, said she regularly leads her young students in lockdown drills, teaching them to keep quiet, which has become “a sad reality” in her profession.
While Corasaniti said she still thinks of pictures of Carlee Soto when she learned her sister Victoria Leigh Soto, a teacher at Sandy Hook, had died in that shooting. “It still brings me to tears,” she said, thinking of her own family.
Both said they oppose President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers and support stricter gun legislation.
By Corasaniti’s side was her French bulldog Jake, who came along for the protest, wearing a white T-shirt with the words, “I support my human.”
Joy Holly and her 10-year-old son Theo Stuphorn held homemade signs that read, “Action is more important than your thoughts and prayers,” and “No guns at schools.”
Holly said her son started school after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people, including 20 children, were fatally shot. When she was looking at where to send him, she said, she had to consider “what’s best for him educationally and safe enough,” Holly said. Theo attends Wilkes School at Grace and St. Peters, but Holly said she will be looking at potential middle school options where she feels he will be safe.
Sean and Cherie Leary of Perry Hall, who marched to Federal Hill with their son Braxton, 7, and daughter Kendall, 10, expressed similar concerns about the safety of their two children.
“Our parents didn’t have to worry,” he said. But now, he said he fears for his kids’ safety at school.
Sean Leary, a Baltimore County police officer, said he wants to see a ban on high-powered weapons. When Perry Hall High School student Robert Gladden Jr. brought a shotgun to the school and shot and injured a student in 2012, “Thankfully it wasn’t an AR-15. I don’t think any citizen should have access to an AR-15,” Leary said.
Kendall, a student at Perry Hall Elementary, said, “I hope we still don’t have this problem when I’m in high school.”