Youth-organized activists take to Oakland streets to protest gun violence
Emiliano Siegert-Wilkinson balked at the notion that he’s too young to protest in the name of social justice.
“If we are young enough to experience our peers getting shot in their schools,” said Siegert-Wilkinson, 14, a 10th-grader at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, “we’re young enough to protest that.”
The high schooler took to the streets of Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon marching alongside fellow youths and adults who say they’re concerned about gun violence and demand urgent solutions from policymakers.
More than 150 people participated in the youth-organized rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and advancing gun control. The crowd spanned young children and parents, high school and college students, working professionals and retirees.
“I’ve been active in these struggles for 50 years, in the struggles for justice,” said Mel Packer, 73, a retired truck driver and physician’s assistant from Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood. “And I think we’re seeing a new wave of young people really getting active who will fuel the existing movements. They cannot do it alone. No generation can do it alone. It takes all of us — black, brown, white, you name it, we all have to work together.”
The event comes a week after millions of youths around the country turned out for March for Our Lives rallies on the streets of Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
“I am hopeful, and I think there is a lot of momentum,” said rally organizer Nia Arrington, 18, who also helped organize a 200-student contingent of Pittsburgh-area students who marched together as the Youth Power Collective at the national march in Washington.
The Parkland students at the helm of the national March for Our Lives movement are now calling on peers across the country to organize town halls with state and federal lawmakers in their communities.
In addition to planning such local events, the Youth Power Collective intends to hold more rallies, host video discussions on social media and promote voter registration and civic engagement across Western Pennsylvania.
“A lot of us are old enough to vote,” Arrington said. “I think we are going to turn out in full force at the polls.”
Protesters met at Schenley Plaza next to the University of Pittsburgh and began with a brief rally before marching in the street. They walked around the block chanting mantras such as, “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” and “We must love and support each other!”
At one point, they formed a circle and sat quietly on the asphalt of an intersection to take a moment of silence in honor of the victims of gun violence, temporarily halting and backing up traffic along Fifth Avenue.
“We also need to understand that it’s a race and a class problem,” said Packer, who is white. “It is poor and working people who are disproportionately African-American who are being damaged in our society, who are being told that they are expendable, and we cannot allow that to happen.”
Organizers carrying loudspeakers condemned police violence against unarmed blacks as well as proposed legislation that seeks to arm teachers — a controversial idea touted by President Donald Trump.
“Hey, hey, PA Senate, we want school without guns in it!” protesters called out.
Organizers encouraged activists to write to lawmakers in opposition to Senate Bill 383, which would give Pennsylvania school districts the option to allow teachers to carry guns. The bill was introduced in early 2017 by Sen. Don White, R-Indiana and advanced in the GOP-controlled state Senate in June. The bill has not moved from the House Education Committee since.
Siegert-Wilkinson said that he has been deeply troubled not only by mass school shootings, but also by gun violence near his home in Pittsburgh’s Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood — where at least three fatal shootings have been reported since June. He recalled one particularly frightening afternoon when he got off his school bus to learn someone had just been shot at his stop and the shooter had taken off running near his house.
“I got off (the bus) and I was being ushered by my crossing guard and by a worker at the gas station there, and there were not any police there until hours later,” he said. “It was very scary.
“I really love my neighborhood, and parts of it are quiet,” Siegert-Wilkinson continued. “But I know there are issues and they’re not really being worked on, at least it doesn’t look like that as someone who lives there. Sometimes you see my street on the news and they demonize the people in the neighborhood, and then they don’t do anything to fix it.”
Pittsburgh police patrol cars, vans and motorcycles helped control traffic and escorted the protesters, who dispersed peacefully about 45 minutes after the march began.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, email@example.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.