Photo by Greg Fox
Reprinted from the March 25, 2018 edition of the Dunkirk Observer
Jared DeJesus asked one of his friends a few days ago if she had heard about a recent school shooting, referring to one in Maryland last week.
His friend replied, “Which one?”
“Which shooting was it?” DeJesus slowly emphasized on Saturday to a crowd of roughly 300 people. “If you have to ask what shooting you’re talking about, that should be the first sign that there is a problem that desperately needs to be solved, and it’s really heartbreaking to hear those two specific words: ‘Which shooting?’”
DeJesus, a senior at Dunkirk High School, helped organize a student walkout for the city school district on March 14. He then played a crucial role in organizing Saturday’s March For Our Lives in Washington Park, joining over 800 other cities across the nation in calling on Congress to pass common-sense gun legislation to prevent that question from being asked again: “Which shooting?”
Many students, parents, teachers and community members who participated in Dunkirk’s version of March For Our Lives waved signs demanding reform as they walked from Dunkirk Middle School to Washington Park. Chants of, “Enough is enough,” and, “Not one more,” rose out from the crowd, as well.
The March For Our Lives rally and the March 14 student walkout were in response to the Feb. 14 school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a shooter gunned down 17 people. DeJesus read aloud the names of those victims after a singalong to “We Shall Overcome” and a moment of silence, before the march began.
“It’s not really us against everyone who loves guns,” DeJesus remarked. “We are fighting the same cause. We are trying to fight against the people who don’t deserve to have guns.”
The Chautauqua County Women’s Action Group joined DeJesus in organizing Dunkirk’s March For Our Lives rally. Committee members included Sara Dorogi, Marie Tomlinson, Julie Hutchinson and Janey Wagner.
“Today, we join … a collective movement to ask ourselves, ‘When will kids’ lives be more important than the guns that keep killing them?’” Dorogi told the crowd, inciting cheers. “We owe our children a life free of fear and violence. There are no easy solutions, but Washington needs to know that doing nothing is not an option anymore.”
Solutions touched upon during the rally included closing background check loopholes, banning assault-style weapons, fixing links between mental illness and law enforcement, looking for ways to increase school safety and improving hate speech legislation.
Pam Peterson, United Church of Christ pastor and Mayville native, served in a church in Connecticut, just 30 miles down the road from Newtown, the site of another nightmare.
“In December 2012, as I sat at my desk, the phone started ringing and we discovered that there had been a massacre,” she recalled. “I also discovered within a couple of hours that one of the victims, a little 6 year old, was the niece of one of my parishioners. You don’t live through something like that and not come away with a certain take on what it is that our children face every single day, when they go off to school and are worried about how safe they’re going to be.”
Peterson noted people must enter into difficult conversations and listen to each other to find answers on this issue and ensure children are safe in their schools.
Dunkirk City Attorney Richard Morrisroe told the crowd solutions can be achieved if people on both sides of an issue are willing to compromise.
“What you’re fighting is a cultural battle,” he pointed out to the audience. “It’s the culture of gun ownership, the culture of Second Amendment rights. If you don’t address that issue, this conversation goes nowhere … but these marches, they’re just the beginning. This isn’t the goal, this is the starting line. That First Amendment is just as powerful as the Second Amendment, but you’ve got to use it.”
Students who wished to be heard were invited to step up to an open microphone to share their thoughts on gun violence in schools. Around a dozen youths spoke.
“As a high school senior, I can guarantee you that I want my safety assured, I want my friends’ safety assured,” Julia Bennett of Dunkirk stressed. “Why is it that students can make a bigger change than the federal government? Our school resource officer was revoked two years ago in Dunkirk. Bring him or her back.”
“We all are here for the same reason, and that’s to protect children and the future of our country,” State University of New York at Fredonia senior Aterahme Lawrence declared. “This country is corrupt and … if you are not going to protect our lives and our rights, then we will vote you out.”
“I don’t think it’s fair at all that there’s shootings happening everywhere,” Fredonia School fifth-grader Emily Benton stated. “Sometimes I wonder if my school will be next and I’m just so scared it will happen.”
The rally ended with a singalong to “This Land is Your Land.”