Hundreds of school students in Denver, Colorado, have rallied for gun legislation and organized school walkouts in the metro area this month as legislators consider five bills this session that address this issue.
Over the past few months, students have demanded stricter gun laws following the death of a 16-year-old East High School student who was shot in his car near the school, as well as a shooting at East High School by a student that left two staff members wounded. CNN reported the East High School shooting was at least the 18th U.S. school shooting at K-12 schools, colleges, and universities this year.
On April 5, students across the Denver metro area joined the nationwide action organized by Students Demand Action Walkout to demand an end to gun violence. Ten schools in Denver and overall, 30 schools in Colorado held walkouts.
Clara Taub, a sophomore at East High School co-founded the school’s chapter of Students Demand Action with her twin sister, Gracie, last year. The club currently has more than 90 members.
“I think it’s really important to organize that student voice because it is such a unique perspective and something that lawmakers really listen to,” Taub said. “Seeing a 16-year-old coming out of a meeting with a senator that just slammed the door in their face saying, ‘Give me a few years and I’ll be in your seat,’ that’s like the coolest thing ever.”
More than 200 students gathered in the state capitol, but were cautioned that if they disrupted the legislators, they would be forcibly removed. During this action, a 14-year old student was thrown to the ground by capitol police and escorted out of the state capitol after a separate student violated “decorum” by yelling from the gallery.
“The most we can do is talk,” said one student. “[We] will talk to the people in power — the people who refuse to listen to us.”
Students also staged a die-in outside Governor Jared Polis’s office, demanding he pass all gun violence prevention legislation being considered this session.
Polis spoke with seven students from seven schools for a minute each before cutting off the last student and returning to his office. “That was just, the tiniest conversation,” said one student, after Polis abruptly ended the meeting with concerned students at the 10-minute mark.
Reportedly, only one member of the state legislature, Rep. Javier Mabrey (D), took the time to speak to the students about gun legislation during this action.
“We agree that violence is wrong, and while that seems like a very low bar, some of these senators are not willing to find common ground,” Taub said. “These representatives and senators that we’re talking to do not have the maturity or the responsibility that these 16 year olds are capable of. … It’s really empowering to see that we’re raising this generation that is mature and responsible and can see the other side but also fight for what they believe in.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC), the state’s intelligence command center issued a bulletin in advance of the student walkout, notifying authorities that students had “a planned nationwide school walkout … in protest of gun violence.” The facility is one of the many “fusion centers” nationwide overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, where federal officials work with state and local authorities.
Ken Klippenstein, of the Intercept, reported that the CIAC’s mission is “preventing acts of terrorism, taking an all-crimes/all-threats approach,” adding, “It’s not clear how the student walkouts relate to this mission.”
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero has responded to the recent attacks at East High School by vowing to partner with local law enforcement to staff schools with armed resource officers, despite acknowledging that this decision likely violates school board policy. The board had discontinued the practice of placing armed officers in schools in 2020 over concerns about the school-to-prison pipeline and possible criminalization of students by school police.
Madeleine St. Marie, a social studies teacher at West High School who participated in a protest against gun violence in March, believes that reinstating this program would be a mistake. “We know school resource officers tend to criminalize students of color and my high school is predominately students of color,” said St. Marie. “They can’t be kids or all a sudden they’re going to worry about how it’s going to appear to this officer who’s standing in the building.”
Despite these considerations, the Denver Board of Education and Mayor Michael Hancock, have come out in support of Marrero’s vow to reinstate school resource officers.
Denver student Solana Blakely, a senior at George Washington High School, told Colorado Newsline that she feels like she’s living in “‘a dystopian world’ amid the continuous stream of gun violence disrupting the school system.”
“It’s an everyday struggle to fight for education and to go to school so that you can grow up and get a job and help protect the kids of the future when you’re not even sure that you’ll make it,” said Blakely.
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