With Fresh Eyes: This Time, Something Different


by Rich Nelson

Manuel Oliver carries a small rock in his pocket everywhere he goes. Mr. Oliver is the father of Joaquin, one of the 17 killed at Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day. Joaquin was a popular 17-year-old senior, who moved to this country with his family from Venezuela at the age of 3 and became a U.S. citizen in 2017. As reported in Rolling Stone magazine, the father found the rock left at a memorial set up by students for Joaquin. Painted on the rock - the words “We will change the world for you.” 

The students of Parkland initiated a movement resulting in promising change and hope for more lasting impact, in the span of just weeks. The students lobbied the Florida legislature, resulting in new gun restrictions, signed into law by a governor who has an “A” rating from the NRA. Several large stores, including Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, raised the minimum age to 21 to purchase a gun. The student walkouts on March 14 across the country brought about thoughtful and important discussion. The recent day of marches, involving hundreds of thousands of people in over 800 cities on six continents, sprung from the living rooms of Parkland students. They made it THEIR cause.

They have been mentored, not indoctrinated, by supportive parents and teachers. They’ve learned their Civics lessons well.  “We’re calling the shots,” one student proclaimed. Along the way, they have not endorsed any politician nor did they accept “strings attached” contributions for “March For Our Lives.”  They are poised and articulate beyond their age. 

It is disheartening, then, to witness the push back. Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum stated in a March 24 interview, “How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about it, maybe taking CPR classes.”  A Republican candidate for a State House seat in Maine referred to Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez as a “skinhead lesbian.” A fake, photoshopped picture of Gonzalez ripping up the Constitution has circulated throughout right wing social media outlets.  Donald Trump, initially voicing support for such gun control measures as universal background checks and raising the age for gun purchases, and declaring he was not afraid to stand up to the NRA, backed away from these proposals after an Oval Office meeting with NRA officials. His inability to provide consistent and lucid counsel on this and other issues is troubling. Here is the president at a gun safety conference on February 28: “If we can come up with something that’s very strong, very heavy with mental illness, very heavy, and everything.” 

To their crdit, the student organizers did not overlook other victims of gun violence.  Represented during the marches and programs of March 24 were the voices of inner city youth who have experienced loss. Keshon Newman, a high school sophomore from Chicago, lost a brother to gun violence.  In a pre-march press conference in Washington, D.C., Keshon said, “In Chicago, it’s important for you to know that gun violence has become a tragic way of life, which shouldn’t be the normal way of life.  This is why I’m here, because we must stop letting this become the normal.”

Across the nation, 19 children are killed or injured by guns every day, according to a 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  This study also found that African-American children are 10 times more likely to be shot than white children.  Detroit pastor Barry Randolph said, “Where is the national outrage over our inner-city kids being killed?  We need our voices to be heard, too.”

Yes, the students at Parkland have ignited a national conversation.  And, this conversation needs input from everyone impacted by gun violence. The example shown by these students should be honored and nourished by all of us. 

P.S.  Tracy Lorenz’s March 28 column in this newspaper, in which he expressed his thoughts on the Parkland students, is an affront to decency and civility.  Here are two of his outrageous and revealing comments: “I’ve been looking at the clock and those little twerps in Florida are WAY past their fifteen minutes.”  “And isn’t it convenient that that group of frightened students just happen to be out of central casting?  You’ve got your articulate skinny white kid and your radical Cuban shaved-headed lesbian leading the charge with the barefoot blonde hippie chick and a couple ethnically ambiguous extras tagging along.”  Name-calling, bullying, racially-tainted language – straight out of the Trump playbook.  Is this the model you’ve chosen to showcase your values?  Your character?  Shame, Tracy.

Contact Rich at richmskgn@gmail.com