Students tell Congress and NRA: ‘Enough is enough,’ at Morristown March for Our Lives

Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
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By Sarah Yamashita and Kevin Coughlin

Chanting Books, Not Bullets and Save Our Schools, area high school students led thousands of gun-reform activists through downtown Morristown on Saturday as part of the national March for Our Lives.

And from the steps of town hall, in voices tinged with anger and resolve, students gave an honors course in curriculum changes prompted by Columbine, Newtown and Parkland.

“A few weeks ago, in a dark room, as my class cowered in a corner, we were taught how to avoid getting sprayed with bullets if someone was to break a window,” recounted Randolph High School student Caitlyn Dempsey.

Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Facing a brisk breeze, she addressed a sign-waving crowd that packed the municipal lawn and filled South Street, from James Street to well beyond the Kings supermarket.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz estimated attendance at 13,000, nearly matching estimates for January’s Women’s March in Morristown.

A half-million marchers were anticipated in Washington DC on Saturday. Some 800 sister marches were scheduled nationwide.

“If we want change to happen, we have to make it happen ourselves,” declared Mendham High School sophomore Bella Bhimani, lead organizer of the Morristown event.

Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove:

Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Christopher, 4 1/2 of Morristown, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Romie, 11, and Josey, 11 from Lakeview Elementary School, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Tony Zajkowski of Ringwood, Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Mendham H.S. sophomore Bella Bhimani, lead organizer, Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown High's melanin Minds club, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Bloomfield H.S. student Ben Douglas of Team 26, Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Mayor Tim Dougherty and first lady Mary Dougherty, Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Panorama, town hall, Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD, House Minority Whip, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Raniya Mahdi of Ridge H.S., Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Minority Whip, right, with candidate Mikie Sherrill and Morris Democratic Chair Chip Robinson at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff SoveloveMorristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
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“You have woken people up, I can tell you that,” said Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who introduced student speakers from several towns. 

They urged fellow students to register to vote, and to press lawmakers for “sensible” gun laws such as universal background checks, “red flag” rules to strip guns from domestic abusers, and a ban on sales of assault weapons.

Survivors of the Valentines Day massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland FL created the group #NeverAgain, which organized the national March for Our Lives with support from Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety.

Morris County students raised nearly $10,000 online and got local help from NJ 11th for Change, Moms Demand Action, BlueWaveNJ and the Morristown Area League of Women Voters.

Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier

Billed as a nonpartisan demonstration, the Morristown audience included Democratic congressional candidates Mikie Sherrill, Tamara Harris and Mitchell Cobert, all vying for a shot at the seat of retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.). Republican candidate Martin Hewitt also showed up. 

Sherrill was joined by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Minority Whip in Congress. Most Americans favor stricter gun laws, but they have been stymied by the National Rifle Association, Hoyer said.

“But now they’re facing kid power. They’re facing young people who have no political agenda other than making our country safer,” Hoyer said. 

‘WE WILL NOT TAKE THIS ANYMORE’

Security was heavy, with public works trucks and police vehicles blocking side roads along the march route, from town hall to the Morristown Green and back. Only three counter-protesters were identified by police; everyone was peaceful, Demnitz said.

Assisting Morristown police were the Morris County Prosecutor’s and Sheriff’s offices, and police from East Hanover, Florham Park, Hanover, Harding, Madison, Mendham Township, Morris Plains and Morris Township, Demnitz said.

Crowd on South Street for the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Crowd on South Street for the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The need for such measures was viewed by some students as a commentary on 21st century America.

“We need social workers, not police,” said Luna Aguilar, a Morristown High School student who is active with the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center.

“We cannot arm our teachers. We cannot fill the school with police officers that feed the school into the prison pipeline. More guns and more oppression is not the answer,” she said.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin

Students lead the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Police estimated the crowd at 13,000 at the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown March for Our Lives on South Street, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
High school activists lead the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Student organizers of the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Crowd on South Street for the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Police clear the way for Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Crowd listens at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
No elbow room at the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Isabella Bosrock of W. Morris Mendham H.S., and lead organizer Bella Bhimani of Mendham H.S., at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Members of Morristown High School Melanin Minds group, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Caitlyn Dempsey of Randolph H.S. and Nile Birch and Maggie Mustion of Morristown H.S., at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Crowd outside town hall for Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown H.S. sophomore Luna Aguilar speaks at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Denville family at the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Sign at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morris County Sheriff James Gannon at the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mayor Tim Dougherty and town Administrator Jillian Barrick at the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morris freeholder candidates Rupande Mehta and Mary Dougherty at the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown High students Bailey McGuinn and Anna Skelton at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Minority Whip, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Beth from Morris Township at the Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Truck blocks Elm Street as security measure at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Saily Avelenda, executive director of NJ 11th for Change, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Dover H.S. student Danilo Lopez speaks at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
League of Women Voters voter registration table at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown High senior Nile Birch, of Melanin Minds, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Cheyenne Findley and Bianca Shaw of Morristown High's Melanin Minds club, at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown H.S. senior Nile Birch speaks at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Green correspondent Jeff Sovelove covers Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Benjamin Douglas of Team 26 and Bloomfield H.S. speaks at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Passing Notes from Montclair H.S. sing at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Teachers should be remembered as heroic educators, not martyrs, Aguilar said. The nation values gun ownership more than young lives, “and we will not take this anymore,” she said.

“We, the youth, the future of our country, are deciding right here, and right now, that we are worth more than the right to own an assault weapon.” 

Raniyah Mahdi of Ridge High School questioned the logic of laws that ban 19-year-olds from buying alcohol — yet allow them to purchase AR-15 assault rifles.

Since the Parkland shooting in February, Mahdi said, there have been another 18 school shootings, and 73 teen deaths from gun violence. Citing a Newsweek report, she said child deaths by guns since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have surpassed combat deaths by U.S. soldiers since 9/11. 

Australia banned rapid-fire guns after a 1996 mass murder and has not had a mass shooting since.

“This shows that gun control can work. For us the time is now. Enough is enough,” Mahdi said.

Slideshow photos by Sarah Yamashita:

Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Cathy Malanga, left, and Melissa Faitoute at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Sarah Yamashita
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Students also spoke of gun violence against immigrants and minorities. Morristown High School senior Nile Birch, a member of the school’s activism club, Melanin Minds, shared his unease, as an African American male, about interactions with law enforcement.

“We must stand together so that every single one of us can feel safe,” Birch said.

Dempsey, wearing the bright orange hunting safety colors of the Wear Orange and Everytown for Gun Safety movements, said her recent lockdown drill at Randolph High included “tips on throwing projectiles at the perpetrator.

“I was in calculus. I should have been learning derivatives or integrals.”

At lunch, on school buses, and in hallways,  Dempsey said, “kids debate if they should jump out of a window and risk death or broken bones or stay in the room if there was a shooter.

“Teachers have to decide if they would throw themselves in front of students.  Teachers have to decide what would happen if they had to learn how to use a gun.

“This is what it’s like to be educated in America,” Dempsey said. “Our youth is being prepared for war.”

An a cappella group from Montclair High School, The Passing Notes, sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to close the event.

‘WE NEED TO BE RELENTLESS’

Throngs of supporters lined South Street to cheer the marchers.

Morristown High School Freshman Euwen Brennan with his homemade sign, March 24, 2018. Photo by Nicholas Voltaggio
Morristown High School Freshman Euwen Brennan with his homemade sign, March 24, 2018. Photo by Nicholas Voltaggio

Morristown High School freshman Euwen Brennan was among a handful of students who defied administrators by leaving the building during the National Student Walkout earlier this month.

On Saturday, he sported a homemade sign that read: “The only thing easier to buy than a gun is the GOP,” a reference to Republican legislators’ acceptance of NRA  money, and the lack of comprehensive background checks for gun buyers.

Friends Cathy Malanga and Melissa Faitoute, both from Berkeley Heights, said they wanted to show solidarity with the students. They are “the only hope we have,” said Malanga, a teacher.

“I’m a mother of a young child who goes to school, and I am concerned about the use of guns in this country and the fact that we’re being dictated by a lobby group that does not have our best interest at heart,” said Faitoute.

Hackettstown High School student Caitlyn Spuckes participated in last year’s Women’s March in Washington DC, and at this month’s optional National Student Walkout. About half of her school chose to take part in that demonstration for gun reforms, she said.

Saturday’s march was “sending a message that people aren’t going toi put up with things that put us in harm’s way anymore. Like, this is everyone taking a stand,” Spuckes said.

High school students lead Morristown March for Our Lives on South Street, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
High school students lead Morristown March for Our Lives on South Street, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
 Warren Hills High School student Ian Hale said he expects America’s next few graduating classes to become a political force.
 

“We demand change, and if our representatives are not willing to listen to us we are going to vote them out of office and make the change that we want to see in the world….we need to be relentless,” he said.

Students at the Morristown-Beard School are organizing to participate in a national walkout on April 20, said student Perri Easley of Denville.

“I know there’s been a lot of backlash at other private schools specifically pertaining to suspension. We’re definitely ready to deal with any backlash,” Easley said.” I believe that because we’ve seen so many students who are passionate about this issue, we really see that it matters.”

Slideshow photos by Bill Lescohier:

Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
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For Jesse Hermit, 56, of Summit, Saturday was his first protest march. The nation must find a middle ground on gun laws, he said.

“I’m marching because I think we need to get some sense into the gun laws…This one just has to be taken care of, it’s way out of control and it just has to be taken care of,” he said. With enough pressure, he hopes, lawmakers will “be swayed to come to some common sense in the middle.”

A veteran named Jeff said he traveled from West Milford for the march. His girlfriend is an educator and he does not want guns in schools.

“I’m a combat veteran, I know what these weapons are used for and there’s just really no reason to have more guns in schools,” he said.

“We should not have this problem, they don’t have it anywhere else in the world and we shouldn’t have it here.”

Nicholas Voltaggio contributed to this report. He is a freshman at Morristown High School. Sarah Yamashita is a senior at the Morristown-Beard School.

MORE ABOUT THE 2018 MORRISTOWN MARCH FOR OUR LIVES

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Trump and his cohorts just woke up a sleeping giant.

    The nation’s youth are demanding their basic human right to go to school without dying in the name of greed. It’s time for us to elect people to Congress who will act like adults worthy of their office.

    PASS TOUGHER GUN LAWS! BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS! STOP TAKING NRA BLOOD MONEY! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

  2. Every generation needs to have their protest and a means to express their outrage – real and imagined.

    If I had a kid who was heading to a protest/march/protest I’d giver them this advice: “Don’t forget to use sunscreen!”

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