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Thousands fill downtown streets in march against guns

LOS ANGELES — Tens of thousands of people marched in downtown Los Angeles March 24 in solidarity with the Florida high school mass shooting survivors to advocate for stronger gun control laws.

Marchers of all ages crowded into the area around City Hall carrying banners and signs, some of which said “Protect Kids Not Guns” and “Arms Are For Hugging.”

Police officers on the scene put the crowd estimate at least 40,000 and growing before the march began at 10 a.m., though a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman declined to give an estimate as the event was coming to a close. Organizers said they had anticipated as many as 200,000 people.

A densely packed crowd filled Spring Street in front of City Hall and strained the boundaries of Grand Park at least as far back as Broadway.

There were no arrests, police said. There were three medical-related calls and one suspicious package was reported that was later deemed personal property.

Other marches also took part around Los Angeles County, including in Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Burbank, Pico Rivera, Long Beach and Santa Clarita. The events were organized or inspired by some student survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 people dead. The carnage was allegedly carried out by a 19-year-old former student who had legally purchased an assault rifle.

A 12-year-old girl named Isabelle, who came downtown with her pregnant mother and her sister, stood in the street holding a hand-drawn sign reading “Am I Next?” Isabelle told City News Service she wants to go to her school in Woodland Hills and “not be scared.”

One young woman wrote “Enough” across her face to draw attention to the movement, while others held up signs or banners in solidarity with victims of other mass shootings in Orlando, Las Vegas and elsewhere across the country.

A small group of gun rights advocates stood behind a line of police officers in front of LAPD Headquarters at the intersection of First and Spring streets with signs defending the Second Amendment and a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. Some held posters festooned with images of guns sprinkled with glitter and labeled Trump .45.

The group of counter-demonstrators remained small throughout the day and at one point included about a dozen people carrying American flags, well outnumbered by the LAPD officers separating them from the larger group marching against gun violence.

A gun rights advocate with a megaphone said he represented the United States of America and identified himself as Bassad Pesci. He kept up a constant stream of argument, calling the marchers “a bunch of crybabies” and telling them, “you are the cowards.”

Those against gun violence countered with a chant of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has got to go.”

The downtown march began east of Pershing Square around 10 a.m. and then led into a rally in front of City Hall that continued through midafternoon.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was one of the first speakers and began by leading the crowd in a call and response: “Whose streets?” he said, and the crowd roared “Our streets!” “Whose lives?” “Our lives!” “Whose nation?” “Our nation!”

The mayor welcomed “our leaders, the students who are here today” and told them “today will be written in the history books that your children will read.”

He pointed to California’s bans on assault rifles, bump stocks and waiting periods on gun sales as a model for federal legislation and closed with a message for President Donald Trump.

“Get with the program Mr. President, or get the hell out of the way.”

Two students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Mia Freeman and Hayley Licata, also took the stage.

“This should never, ever happen again,” Freeman said. “We have sacrificed enough lives. This world needs to see a change.”

Licata told the crowd, “Any is too many,” when it comes to gun violence and urged everyone to vote on the issue.

Comedian Amy Schumer spoke to the Parkland students.

“We stand together for your senselessly slain classmates and friends and say this has to stop!”

Schumer railed at politicians for “taking money from the NRA to uphold these laws outdated by hundreds of years” and called on them to offer more than thoughts and prayers and “help us, start today, we will forgive you.”

Schumer is a cousin of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

A 10th-grade student activist named Maya, who said she lost her brother to gun violence in 2016, called on politicians to pass “common-sense gun laws” and said, “If they don’t, I will vote for someone who will.”

Maya and other students said they were pre-registering to vote when they turn 18, and one organizer drew some of the loudest applause from the stage after leading the crowd in shouting, “Vote them out! Vote them out!”

Zellie Owen, a student in the crowd from Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena and Students for Social Justice, will turn 18 before November’s mid-term elections.

Owen said she was “fed up” and warned politicians that “thoughts and prayers aren’t going to cut it anymore,” adding that she hoped the nationwide demonstrations would lead to “actual change.”

Rev. Eddie Anderson, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, stood with other faith leaders on the podium and asked marchers to look beyond school shootings to everyday violence in cities across the country.

“Raise your voice … until children in Watts and Chicago get as much attention as children in Parkland and Columbine,” Anderson said to loud applause.

The reverend told politicians to stop using the words of God in the wake of gun violence when “your fingers are on the trigger as well.”

The Trump Administration issued a statement about the nationwide demonstrations through Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters.

“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” Walters said. “Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the president’s, which is why he urged Congress to pass the Fix NICS and STOP School Violence Acts, and signed them into law.

Additionally, on March 23, the Department of Justice issued the rule to ban bump stocks, following through on the president’s commitment to ban devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.

One of Trump’s suggestions has been to arm teachers, an idea that garnered scorn from protesters, including 2012 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki.

“I will never carry a weapon to work,” said Mieliwocki, who teaches seventh-grade English at Luther Burbank Middle School. She urged her fellow teachers to take the same stand.

Performers at the Los Angeles rally included Charlie Puth and Rita Ora. Ora led the crowd in a sing-along of the 1960s-era protest song penned by Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth,” and a youth choir sang “Stand Up for Something.”

The crowd was orderly and well-behaved, according to LAPD spokesman Mike Lopez, who said there had been no reported arrests as of 2 p.m.

Since it was announced, the Washington march and its sister marches have received a significant amount of financial support from celebrities, including actor George Clooney and director Steven Spielberg.

“Amal [Clooney's wife] and I are so inspired by the courage and eloquence of these young men and women from Stoneman Douglas High School,” Clooney said in February. “Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country, and in the name of our children Ella and Alexander, we’re donating $500,000 to help pay for this groundbreaking event. Our children’s lives depend on it.”

Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, later matched that donation, pledging another $500,000. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Walt Disney Co. and DreamWorks Animation chief, also announced a $500,000 donation in conjunction with his wife, Marilyn. Oprah Winfrey also offered up $500,000.

“These inspiring young people remind me of the Freedom Riders of the 60s who also said we’ve had enough and our voices will be heard,” Winfrey wrote on her Twitter page.

Actress Olivia Wilde echoed that sentiment from the Los Angeles stage.

“The heroism of this youth-led movement is inspiring,” Wilde said, warning legislators to “underestimate them at your own risk.”

 

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