On February 14, 2018, a 19-year-old former student named Nikolas Cruz, entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and proceeded to shoot 34 people with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, killing fourteen students and three staff members, while wounding another 17 individuals.
By David Todd McCarty, The Standard
Immediately after the shooting, many of the students from Parkland spoke out, asking state lawmakers to do something; anything. To change the laws. To fight back against the power of the NRA. To ban military-style assault weapons. To make them safe.
They were met with silence.
Today, one month later, at 10am in their own time zone, students from schools all over the world walked out of class and held peaceful protests for at least 17 minutes. This included students and schools in Cape May County.
This morning, in Ocean City, the students attempted to be heard, and they too were met with silence.
Behind the fence of the football field at the Ocean City High School, a small contingent of media, which included reporters, photographers and one videographer from half a dozen media outlets were quarantined about 100 yards away from where the school had set up a small PA system. Parents and other onlookers were required to stay even further back on the street, watching a largely silent protest through a chain link fence.
The students filed out of school quietly, walked onto the football field flanked by teachers, police, and administrators, and formed a crowd around the makeshift stage, turning their backs to the press and parents, and began listening to a speaker none of the rest of us could here.
Police from the OCPD were stationed at gates, doors and around the field. Teachers and administrators stood around the field like security at a concert. The press had been warned not to try to talk to the students. It appeared that the students might have been told the same thing, as they seemed oblivious to our presence.
What witnesses there were, a few parents and a handful of media, could not read their handmade signs, we couldn’t hear their speeches. We watched as they stood on the edge of a football field, many dressed in shorts and tee shirts despite the cold temperatures, and listened in silence as the wind carried their voices to the ocean.
The only real visible protest was a male, blond student who enthusiastically waved a large flag that had the American flag on one side and the Trump logo and the slogan “Make America Great Again” on the other. A voice called out that “The NRA is OK!” Then the young man with the flag attempted to start a cheer of “Build the wall.” A handful of students half heartedly joined in, then fell silent.
The student with the flag, and his friends, stood on the edge of the crowd in silence and when the 17 minutes of silence was over, returned to the school. A slow but steady trickle of students followed, until maybe a third of the original crowd remained, listening to the silent voices of their classmates.
Eventually, they finished what they’d come to do, and the rest of the students and teachers filed back inside.
Aimee Schultz of JASM Consulting in Ocean City, said she handled public relations for the high school, and was assigned media relations. She handed us prepared statements minutes before the scheduled protest; one from the school administration and one that the student leaders had supposedly prepared collectively.
“The Ocean City School District prides itself in giving our students a safe venue to be able to have their voices heard and their opinions explored,” said Dr. Kathleen Taylor, Superintendent. “We look forward to hearing what our students have to say and will support our students in their journey in solidarity along with ensuring their safety.”
Exactly who was meant to hear her student’s voices was unclear, because outside of their fellow students, it’s unclear that anyone heard anything they had to say.
Principal Dr. Matthew Jamison continued, “In conjunction with the national movement, students who choose to walk out will be provided an opportunity to gather in a designated area, so that any walkouts will take place in an organized and safe manner. Please be assured that the school administration has partnered with the Ocean City Police Department in the development of our plan.”
We were repeatedly told that this was a student event, the inference being that the school administration and police department had no influence on the protest. “This is their thing,” we were told. But by the Principal’s own statement, the administration had clearly developed a plan, along with the OCPD, to corral the students into a place where they could control the event.
They even went so far as to set up barricades to keep the students from going anywhere but the section of the football field where they wanted them to go. Facing away from cameras and onlookers, the sound of their voices blocked by distance, wind and the fear of the administration, the students huddled in the shadow of the trappings of a resort town, the reputation of which seemed far more important than anything they had to say.
“Sure you can protest,” they seemed to say. “As long as you don’t rock the boat, go where we tell you go, and do what we tell you to do.”
From what we could see, this was a school-sponsored, police-coordinated, school assembly on the school’s football field. It wasn’t really a protest, so much as a field trip.
It’s not the student’s fault. They are at the mercy of the adults. You can’t blame them.
But if they really want to have their voices heard, they’re going to have to move beyond the very establishment which aims to keep them silent.
The restriction on media access was explained as necessary for student safety. This just doesn’t ring true. There were six people from the media there. There were another six parents. There were three dozen school administrators and teachers, as well as half a dozen cops. Who were the students in danger from exactly?
Students in Washington, D.C. walked to Capitol Hill and met with Congressmen. This was Ocean City in the winter with a dozen witnesses.
The fact is, the administration had told the student organizers that they were “concerned that parents might become angry if the students spoke to the media.”
The school administration might have felt their hand was forced in bending to the will of the student’s desire to join the nationwide walkout, but it was clear they had no intention of giving up any sort of control.
The statement that the school’s PR firm released to the media, from the students, reads in part, “…we are both raising awareness of gun violence in schools and taking action to combat it.”
Not today they didn’t.
There was no discussion of taking action to combat gun violence. Nothing to raise awareness of violence in schools. Not that anyone from the media or the general public could ascertain. All we know for certain is that a few hundred students left class today for a little under an hour.
Unfortunately, the kid with the Trump flag who wants so desperately to build the wall? He’ll be the story. Why? Because even if he doesn’t understand it, his hero Trump understands symbolism. Conservatives understand the power of a simple message. This student made a statement everyone could see from across the street. He did it with a symbol.
The rest remained silent, whether that was their intention or not.