'People are angry': Pain turns political in Parkland after school shootings
February 17 at 11:43 AM Email the author
PARKLAND, Fla. â" On a day when Parkland began burying its young dead, a dozen people stood on a street corner holding up âMore Gun Controlâ signs as passing drivers honked and shouted in support.
âLook what we started,â said Carlos Rodriguez, 50, who was on his way to work when he stopped to join the protest. âLook at all these people. One match started a whole forest fire.â
This most peaceful and orderly of places has been devastated by the most violent and chaotic of acts. And amid the horse trails, bike paths and gated communities of a city that prides itself on âcountry elegance,â the response to a shooting Wednesday that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been a raw, growing and furious burst of activism and demand for change.
âWeâre not a politically charged c ommunity â" this is new, because weâve had enough,â said Grace Solomon, a city commissioner who is organizing a large group of parents and students to travel to Tallahassee, the state capital, and then to the District to demand âcommon-sense gun legislation.â
âParkland families have really involved parents; they are not going to take this sitting down,â Solomon said. âWe have an army of moms who are tired of having their kids assaulted. Democrats and Republicans are coming together to find common ground we can bring to Tallahassee.â
City commissioner Grace Solomon attaches ribbons on trees before a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Thursday in Parkland. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Parkland, founded in 1963 on the swampy fringe of the Everglades, has long been a place of gentle ease with great schools, a well-educated and affluent population of about 32,000 people. It had no stores until the 1990s and still has only four stoplights â" including one that just got left-turn arrows in the past couple of months.
Its violent crime rate is a tiny fraction of the rate statewide, and city spokesman Todd DeAngelis said police are more likely to be called for a trespassing alligator than for a murder.
[The FBI said it failed to act on a tip about the suspected Florida school shooterâs potential for violence ]
Even its politics have a scrupulously fair balance: Although officials said the city tends to lean Democratic, like all of Broward County, President Trump won one local precinct by 16 points in the 2016 election and narrowly lost four others.
But one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history has hit this city with a ferocity that has changed the calculation.
Every community responds differently to the mass shootings that have become so frequent in the United States. Dancing showgirls and chapel-wedding newlyweds were back in the streets of Las Vegas soon after a gunman sprayed bullets across a music festival in October, signaling a quick return to normalcy. In small-town Texas, a somber religiosity defined the aftermath of a church massacre that killed 26 in November.
But Parkland has responded with a call to activism â" angry teachers, parents and teenagers demanding stricter guns laws, more government money for school security and better treatment for mental illness.
âThis going to energize a lot of people to vote this year,â said Carl Hiaasen, the best-selling novelist and journalist, who grew up in Plantation, just south of Parkland. âPeople are angry.â
At a vigil Thursday night in the palm-lined heart of Parkland, people broke into a spontaneous and enraged chant of âNo more guns! No more guns!â M any were students, who are organizing on social media and calling for young people to lead the political charge.
Annabel Claprood, 17, was in Spanish class on Wednesday when she looked down at her phone. It was 2:32 p.m. â" the moment, she says, she became a lifelong advocate of gun control and new campus safety laws. At that moment, the shooting started. She took shelter in her room and heard every shot.
Now, the 17-year-old has decided to travel to Tallahassee to begin pushing for new campus safety laws.
âThey said every time something like this happens itâs not going to happen again, but itâs happening again and again, so we obviously are doing something wrong,â Claprood said.
âYou should not have a gun at the age of 18,â said Claprood, who said it makes no sense that at 18 you can buy a gun but not drink alcohol.
[The lives lost in the Parkland school shooting ]
Florida has relatively few restrictions on gun ownership. Unlik e California, for example, Florida does not require background checks for private gun sales. It does not regulate sales of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines (although federal law requires assault-weapon buyers from a licensed dealer to be at least 18). State laws also prohibit cities from passing gun restrictions.
Ashley Kurth, a culinary arts teacher at the high school, said her cooking class had just finished deep-frying shrimp when the gunfire began. She quickly locked the doors to her classroom and huddled with 65 students on the floor for 2Â½ hours until a SWAT team broke a window to rescue them.
Sol Angel and Robert Lopez hold signs calling for greater gun control Friday in Coral Springs, Fla. (Matt McClain)
Less than 24 hours later, Kurth was consoling grieving teachers and students before a vigil at Pine Trails Park, a public recreational facility with turf playing fields, an amphitheater and high-end playground equipment. Many people arrived on bicycles or golf carts, using the communityâs winding network of paved paths.
Kurth, 34, said she woke up the morning after shooting wanting to sever her lifelong ties to the Republican Party.
âYesterdayâs incident opened my eyes and changed my views in a lot of ways,â she said Thursday. âBefore, I used to think, âOkay, letâs be moderate.â But living through that, and experiencing that, and seeing the aftermath of what that was, something has to be done.â
Asked about Trumpâs response to the shooting, Kurth sighed.
âYou know, I know he does his best with what he can, but at the same time, I am disheartened a little bit to hear, once again, we are going to focus on the mental illness and getting these people help,â she said.
[Weâre used to experiencing mass shootings online. But Parkland brought us into the classroom. ]
âWhat are you going to do about the people who are sane and out there with their right to bear arms that decide one day they just had enough?â she added.
Sarah Lerner, 37, an English teacher, said she believed young people were going to force change on the gun issue.
âWhether you are a right-wing Republican or a super-left liberal, we all want the same thing,â she said. âNo one should be afraid to go to school, and we all want to live in a safe community, and I believe this community is going to unite to make that happen.â
Beam Furr, the mayor of Broward County, which includes Parkland, said he was eager to give young people a chance to push for new gun legislation.
âThose students who were at Douglass, theyâre good kids, smart students. They donât want this shooting to be their most enduring memory of high school,â he said. âSeveral of them hav e told me they want the memory to be something that they helped change. To let that be their legacy.â
Since the shooting, many people in Parkland who never expected to be involved in politics are suddenly finding themselves jumping right in.
âI am not a politician. [But] this made me angry. This happened in my back yard. I didnât know how easy it is to get a gun in Florida,â said Caesar Figueroa, 43, who had two children at the school during the shooting. They lost a teacher and two friends.
âI really want to make a difference,â he said, calling for more stringent background checks for gun buyers. âI want to get involved and speak out.â
Jim Weiss, who has written a book about Parklandâs history, said Parklandâs activism comes from anger and confusion about how something so horrible could happen in a place so proud of its gentle nature.
âPeople are outraged that something like this could happen in the safest city in Florida,â said Weiss, 72. âThis puzzle is missing some pieces. You know the way it should look, but you canât find those last pieces. And those pieces are about weapons and dollars for treating mental health.â
Renae Merle in Parkland, Fla., contributed to this report.Source: Google News