Thousands attend March For Our Lives at California State Capitol
Thousands of marchers massed on the west steps of the state Capitol on Saturday to protest gun violence in a full-throated call for reform under the backdrop of a fatal police shooting that has roiled Sacramento.
Chants of “Enough is enough” thundered from the crowd, a broad generational mix of young parents with their children, to seniors to high school students, much like the ones who gave birth to what has become a national movement following the slaying of 17 people at a Florida high school campus in February.
“This is the real change right here,” Jamie McGill of Sacramento, said, pointing at her 10-year-old son, Christopher. “He’s the reason why we want to see a change that is deeper.”
March for Our Lives Sacramento was one of more than 800 planned sister marches to the main gathering in Washington, D.C., organized by the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.
Sacramento-area high-schoolers offered impassioned messages to the gathered crowd that stretched onto 10th Street and beyond.
Little more than a week ago thousands of students across the region left their classrooms as part of a national student walkout to honor the Stoneman victims and call for action.
On Saturday, the Sacramento speakers were joined by local collegiate leaders and those who traveled to the Capitol from as far as University of California, Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara, a campus whose students had been felled by gun violence in 2014.
The late-morning rally at the foot of the Capitol came after two days of protest of the fatal shooting of an unarmed Stephon Clark late Sunday by Sacramento police officers in the backyard of his home in south Sacramento's Meadowview neighborhood. Clark, 22, was killed after officers, responding to reports of a man breaking car windows, fired at him 20 times.
At Saturday's rally, a number of demonstrators carried signs remembering Clark, and in a stirring moment before noon, hundreds began to spontaneously chant, “Stephon Clark. Stephon Clark. Stephon Clark.”
Others arrived at the Capitol in support of gun rights — a decided minority on Saturday — but ready to debate the issue.
“We are using our First Amendment right to protect our Second Amendment rights,” said Evan Pool of Vacaville. “We feel there are a lot of people who are uneducated about gun control. We believe that guns protect people from being victims.
“If you're not a criminal or have mental health issues, you should be able to own a gun. I think everybody here is thinking about saving lives. There are just different ways to go about it.”
Security was visible on the Capitol grounds. California Highway Patrol and Sacramento police stood nearby. Two officers positioned atop the Capitol building scanned the crowd with binoculars while a patrol helicopter circled overhead.
But the spirited but peaceful group carried on without incident and carried the same message to put an end to gun violence.
Chrissy Jones, 13, of Sacramento, was in the crowd with her mother, Christian Ledet, to lend her voice and support to those fighting for reform.
“I felt like we kids should have a say in this. I feel myself wanting to become more involved. I’m only 13, but I can make a difference. There are a lot of people here and the more kids, the better.“
“You’re our future, Chrissy’s mother, Christian, told her daughter. “We’ve tried as adults. Now it’s up to the children to take up the lead.”
David Joiner stood beside the pair quietly taking in the speakers and the large, chanting crowd. He said he once taught in Sacramento and underwent mass shooting training. He said he's concerned about current gun laws, wants to send a message to lawmakers and said rallies like Saturday’s are important for young people to agitate for change.
"It's important that they get involved with stuff that's political like this. A lot of this is for the students who are coming down the line," Joiner said. "It's really important, but it's a shame that the students have to take the lead when politicians get paid taxpayer dollars to do it."
Earlier Saturday, hundreds of people streamed into Crocker Park in pairs of two or four and in groups much larger for the push to the Capitol.
“I see at least four generations here,” said Karen Wiese, part of the group that gathered at Crocker Park at 10 a.m. “We're concerned about the influence of the NRA on elected officials.”
Also in her group were Sheila and Robert Holley. Sheila is a former vice principal in the Sacramento City Unified School. Robert is a criminal defense attorney for the last 45 years.
“I am a former vice principal. I see the threat. The answer is not a little bit of gun control, it’s full gun control. This is one of the most important issues of our time. I am so proud to be here right now.”
Robert Holley added, “It's got to stop. We’re tired of people being shot and dying.” As the marches headed up Capitol Mall, an unidentified man near the intersection of Third Street offered his own soundtrack blaring from a boombox.
The song “Guerrilla Radio” by the band Rage Against the Machine played as the man danced to the lyrics, “What better place than here?/ What better time than now?”