Newark, NJ—Thousands of protesters converged on Newark's Military Park today as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives demonstrations calling for an end to gun violence.
Led by students from around New Jersey, the Newark rally was just one of nearly two dozen marches taking place across the state, and one of hundreds of protests across the United States, pushing for stricter gun control laws following last month's shooting in a Parkland, Florida high school that resulted in 17 deaths.
The rally kicked off at 10 a.m. with speakers that included student leaders from around the state, as well as local activists like Amina Baraka, the mother of Newark mayor Ras J. Baraka, who told the crowd that schools should not turn teachers into "armed security guards," but instead they should hire more social workers and support staff.
The students then led a procession from Military Park through downtown Newark carrying signs. Some locked arms as the peaceful march was largely a mix of students and young families.
"Today we welcome all of you to join us in solidarity with students across the country against gun violence," said Princess Sabaroche, a senior at North Star Academy in Newark who helped organize the event.
"We ask that you listen to the voices of the people of Newark and cities like ours," Sabaroche said. "For years we have been crying out for people to hear us as we fight to confront the violence in this city. We also aim to raise awareness of the gun violence in Newark—a violence that has tried to destroy our wonderful city brick by brick. Today is the day we continue our work to build it back up, and we invite you all to join us in the work. Gun violence has no color."
Ridgewood High School sophomore Mary McDade, 16, led the marchers in chants such as "enough is enough," and "books not bullets." McDade said she and the other student organizers had been planning today's event for nearly five weeks, with the help of organizations like Women for Progress, which she and her mother are members.
"We are rallying to get our voices heard," McDade said after the march. "[There can't be] such easy access to guns that's killing students just like us. I shouldn't have to practice lock down drills two to three times a month to insure my safety, I should be able to just go to school."
McDade acknowledged that New Jersey already had some of the strictest gun laws in country, but said there are still loopholes.
"We need stricter gun laws," McDade said. "We need to make it so we don't have to go to school in fear, and with more focus on mental health. We need the current administration to take a look at what we're saying and listen to our message."
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy joined the marchers, carrying a "Never Again" banner with a group of students leading the procession. He then spoke to the crowd of roughly 2,500 about the need for young people to get out and vote on Election Day.
"It's important that we are here today," Murphy said. "We must bottle this energy to win elections to change both the House and the Senate, and ultimately the White House, to get then change we need."
Many of the protesters carried banners and hoisted posters in the crowd, many of the messages called for tighter gun laws as well as the need to make schools safer.
"It's of the utmost important that we allow children to go to school to learn," said retired Bloomfield and Paterson public school teacher Beverly Bednarczyk, who carried a sign calling for the protection of kids and not guns. "They need not worry about being traumatized by guns."
"We need to change the gun laws to get some common sense going," said parent Stacy Casella of Denville, marching with a no assault rifle sign. "I'm pissed that all these kids are dying. I'm pissed that you can't go to a concert, or church. We need common sense gun reform. Or we're gonna vote [them] out."
Thomas E. Franklin is an assistant professor in multiplatform journalism at the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. He wrote this article exclusively for TAPinto Newark.