A month to the day that 17 students and teachers will killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students at Southern Lee and Lee County high schools and Lee Early College in Sanford joined tens of thousands of students across the country in a national walkout this morning.
The protest — which began at 10 a.m. and lasted 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims — was planned nationally to highlight what little has been done “against the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
Ari Wright-Thompson, a junior at Southern Lee, was one of the student organizers at his school’s demonstration, which drew, he says about 300 students. Wright-Thompson spoke to the crowd by offering statistics on the number of mass shootings over the past year and the number of people killed in Parkland and in the recent Las Vegas concert shooting. He said he told his classmates that “nothing has been done to fix this problem” and maybe demonstrations like this can change that.
“This has been on my mind for a long time, but the shooting in Parkland is what really made me want to speak up,” Wright-Thompson told The Rant after the walkout. “I think about those 17 lives — what if that happened in my school? What if I couldn’t get a hold of my sister, or what if it happened in the school where my mom works? If a life is taken from you, you don’t get that back. I think about those victims and their families a lot.”
Despite helping to lead his school’s walkout, Wright-Thompson said he feels safe at Southern Lee High School because of the school district’s efforts to increase security and have more armed resource officers. Still, he said, there’s a paranoia that keeps growing with each shooting.
“A chip bag pops in the lunchroom, and everybody looks around. Everybody is on edge,” he said. “Anything can happen at anytime.”
He said he hopes Wednesday’s demonstration raises awareness nationally. Personally, Wright-Thompson would like to see the age limit for purchasing rifles raised to 21, and he would like to see laws passed to keep people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns.
“I feel like arming our teachers isn’t the answer,” he said. “We need to look at the people causing the problems and the laws that allow them to carry guns.”
Wright-Thompson said teachers and administration at Southern Lee were understanding of Wednesday’s event and said no students involved would be penalized for missing 17 minutes of class time.
Update (2:45 p.m.): An earlier version of this story inadvertently omitted Lee Early College, which also had students demonstrate in a walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.