Representatives, students commemorate March for Our Lives protest
Detroit — High school students gathered Sunday in Midtown in Detroit to remember protests a year ago to support safer schools, including making clean water available and stopping gun violence.
About 100 people, including students who helped organize the March for Our Lives protest and school walkouts and Democratic U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Andy Levin, gathered in Cass Corridor Commons, many sharing stories about issues affecting students and the pushback from adults and their peers who disagreed with holding walkouts.
"A conversation can start a movement, and the movement already has begun," said Brooke Solomon, a 16-year-old junior at Cass Tech High School who is the chairwoman of Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan. "We are here to continue that conversation."
Similar gatherings in other cities were expected to take place over the weekend. The March For Our Lives protest a year ago attracted thousands of students, teachers and other supporters on the Riverwalk along the Detroit River to support the end of school shootings. The Detroit march last year joined more than 844 sister marches worldwide following the shooting in a Parkland, Florida, high school that killed 17 students and staff members.
Levin and Tlaib on Sunday encouraged the students to share their stories, stand up for what they believe and one day even run for Congress.
"I hear students say, 'Believe in us more. You don’t believe in us when we tell you what's happening; we’re not believed,'" Tlaib said. "We believe you. I don’t think you’re making this up when you say there's not clean water."
Ashley Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Renaissance High School, testified before the audience that hydration stations in the school were out of operation after students were told they could use the fountains.
"Some of the little kids don't know how to read," Johnson said. "We have to tell them to bring their own water bottles."
The event also honored the work that had been done to elect gun-sensitive representatives at the federal, state and local levels.
"Rashida Tlaib and I would not be sitting in Congress, we would not be sitting in the majority in the House of Representatives ... without your organizing," Levin told the students, noting bills to ban assault weapons; fund gun violence research; protect domestic abuse and stalking victims; and stop online ammunition sales have been introduced.
"How come in New Zealand, when some horrifying thing happens, their government says immediately, 'We're banning assault weapons. We're taking action.' Why can’t that happen here? It's because Congress is in the pocket of the NRA."
The students called for stricter gun laws but the event also took aim at Detroit's proposal to expand a city security system. Project Green Light, a private-public partnership to install 24/7 security cameras at businesses, was touted by Mayor Mike Duggan at his State of the City address last month.
Amanda Hill, archivist for black liberation group Black Youth Project 100 in Detroit, said the group has teamed with Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan on a "Green Light, Black Futures" campaign to prevent Project Green Light from expanding into schools.
"After shootings, there are calls to put more cops in schools and guns in the hands of teachers," Hill said. "Increased police presence is not what keeps us safe. Investing in resources in our neighborhoods is what keeps us safe. Kids need counselors, not cops. ... Our youth don’t need to be criminalized. They need to be invested in. Putting a bunch of (cameras) in schools to criminalize youth for standard infractions is not going to help them succeed."
John Roach, spokesman for the city of Detroit, said installing Project Green Light in schools is a decision made by the school district, not the city.
"Greenlight does not expand into a school unless the school asks for it," Roach said. "And all of those other resources would be school district resources, which is completely separate from the city of Detroit government budget."
Brooke said increased police presence makes many students feel less safe.
"Black and brown kids' schools, they are over-policed as is," Solomon said. "There is too much already. It's excessive. It's a waste of money that could be used for counselors and books."
Students said the walkouts and marches have inspired them to continue their work. Mia Moberly, a 16-year-old junior at Trenton High School, helped organize a protest at her school last year in which students walked a mile to City Hall carrying signs, wearing T-shirts and wrote the names of shooting victims in chalk on the sidewalk.
"Some people said we created unnecessary chaos," Moberly said. "I think we created a political conversation. ... Some people said we were disrespectful, but I think the most disrespectful thing you can do is to remain silent."