Hours after students across Chicago and the nation held a walkout to protest gun violence, officials at Northwestern University in Evanston advised students to stay away from campus after a report of a person with a gun.
While authorities said the report ended up being a "hoax" and they did not find any "evidence of a victim, scene or gunman" on campus, the chilling incident was evidence of the heightened fear surrounding guns at schools even as students demonstrated against the problem.
CPS students across the city also participated in the 17-minute walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday in solidarity with the 17 victims of a Parkland, Florida gun violence victims, and gave a list of demands including a reform of the nation's gun laws.
The walkout here was organized by the coalition GoodKidsMadCity, a partnership between inner-city students in Chicago and Baltimore.
At William J. Bogan High School on the southwest side, students held signs and chanted, “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.” Students faced the road screaming, “We are not animals,” while holding up signs that read, “Honk if you’re against gun violence.”
The scene at Chicago High School for Arts in Humboldt Park was similar. Students crowded the sidewalks and passing cars honked in support. Students chanted, “No justice, no peace, no guns in the street” and “16 shots and a coverup,” in reference to the 16 gunshots fired by a Chicago officer that killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Students also held up handmade signs with sayings like “#NeverAgain” and “Disarm Hate.”
GoodKidsMadCity wanted to also emphasize the toll of gun violence in Chicago that specifically affects CPS students. During the walkout, student leaders read the names of lost loved ones, honored McDonald and reserved the last minute as a moment of silence for the Parkland victims.
“We live in a neighborhood that has been affected by gun violence,” said organizer Liza Booker, a sophomore at Bogan High School. “It could be anyone of us at any given day. You could be at the wrong place at the wrong time and a stray bullet can hit you, or someone you know, or someone you love.”
Students demanded gun control reforms, as well as community revitalization through help for small businesses and youth job creation. They also called attention to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision to close CPS schools and his plan to open a $95 million police training academy on the west side, which students think is unnecessary.
During the walkout, one of the student organizers at Chicago High School for Arts, senior Henry Schellinger, 18, said gun violence disproportionately affects children of color.
“We can’t continue to criminalize black and brown youth,” Schellinger said. “These children were killed, and we cannot keep letting this happen.”
“Chicago has a lot of stuff going on, and we need to zero in on that,” added Damayanti Wallace, 17. “Like with Rahm doing a $95 million cop academy, with our inner city gun violence, with schools closing, with us not having enough trauma centers. This is what the walkout was for.”
At Kenwood Academy, one student was taken into custody by police during the walkout after she went into the street, according to media accounts from the scene. Another student was also handcuffed, but released.
On Tuesday, one of the adult organizers for GoodKidsMadCity, Kofi Ademola, said he confronted Emanuel about the gun violence in the city at a press conference the mayor held ripping Governor Bruce Rauner for vetoing a bill that would require licenses for gun dealers.
Ademola said he asked Emanuel “how do you feel about students walking out because you closed five of their schools (in Englewood) and we know that actually contributes to increasing gun violence” and “how do you feel about students walking out because you’re building a $95 million cop academy instead of their communities?”
The mayor, Ademola said, did not respond. “He said nothing,” he said.
The Northwestern protest featured many students from Florida. Speakers included University President Morton Schapiro, Evanston mayor Steve Hagerty and a resident of Parkland whose friend survived the shooting.
The Northwestern students who launched the walkout say that even though the university is far from Florida and not directly affected by gun violence to the extent Chicago is, the university community still needs to take a stand and do their part.
“We are a well-known institution with a lot of power and influence on the communities around us and I think as a student body and as a administration, we need to stand up and support—if there’s one student from South Florida or if there’s 600,” said senior Stephanie Bernstein, who is from the county home to Parkland.
“I hope the Northwestern community realizes you don’t want it to eventually hit close to home or wait for it to hit close to home for you to care about it,” adds freshman Valen-Marie Santos, another Florida native who helped initiate the event. ”I don’t think the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas ever expected to be so close to that situation, and they were.”
One expert hopes all the effort put out Wednesday does not go to waste.
Anti-violence activist Camiella Williams, a behavioral specialist at an alternative school in the south suburbs, worries that CPS students will be once again be forgotten.
“My issue is what’s the follow up? What’s the action? What will be given to Chicago?” she said. “I would like to see that the young people of Chicago actually get some investment, resource investment, not just conversation. Their trauma needs to be dealt with.” v