Topics Of Race, Inequality Play Leading Roles At Boston Gun Control Rally

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BOSTON — More than 50,000 rallied on the Common Saturday to push for more gun control as part of the national “March For Our Lives” movement, with thousands of Hub students who began the march in Roxbury taking center stage.

The tone of the event was set early on, and it was apparent that the topic of race and inequality would be standing at the forefront alongside gun control.

“We’d like to preface this by acknowledging that we currently are on stolen land,” one of the student organizers, 16-year-old Boston Latin student Vikiana Petit-Homme, said from the stage at the start of the program. “The land of colonized Massachusetts belongs to the Massachus—Wampag-a-nog? Wampanoag, and the Narragansett.

“We ask that everyone be respectful and cognizant of the space they are taking up, and encourage people who identify with these marginalized identities to claim their space.”

The brief flub — the Narragansett tribe hails from Rhode Island — did not affect the crowd’s enthusiasm. Beca Muñoz, a Northeastern University student who graduated from Marjory Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, helped kick off the program with a classmate, fellow Parkland native Leslie Chiu.

Muñoz, like Chiu, spoke about the horror she experienced when texts started filling up her cell phone on February 14 as a gunman shot up her high school.

“What a beautiful day for a protest,” Chiu said, before leading the crowd in chants of “enough is enough.”

In an emotional moment, Chiu recalled how she initially balked at telling her Northeastern University classmates, who were aware she grew up in Florida, that she is a native of Parkland.

“It was so strange and I froze and I didn’t know how to answer,” Chiu said. “My little town was no longer what it had always been, and accepting that reality became impossible in those moments.”

“I just didn’t want to deal with that, I did not want that to become my new reality,” Chiu added, referring to the uneasiness she felt when considering if she answered “Parkland,” she’d likely be subject to condolences and questions like, “Did you go to that high school?”

“It will always be known across the nation that it is where 17 high school students were robbed of their lives,” she said.

Muñoz later spoke about her younger sister, Leonor, a current high school student in Parkland and a survivor of the massacre. She recalled the horrific experience of receiving texts from her while the shooter was still roaming the hallways of her school. Beca Muñoz then returned to the themes of race and inequality.

“The things that set Parkland apart is our wealth and the color of our skin,” she said, referring to the racial makeup of the suburb, which according to the 2010 census is 84 percent white. “We cannot be complacent with a system that designates certain areas as safe while communities of color continue to be neglected, abused, and disproportionately affected by gun violence.”

“In Roxbury,” the sisters said, referring to Boston’s largest African-American community, “not one more.”

“This shouldn’t be unacceptable just when it happens in Parkland and in other affluent white communities,” Beca Muñoz added.

Others who spoke included Graciela Mohamedi, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who now teaches at Rockland High School.

“The opposition is going to call you snowflakes, but do you know what we in Massachusetts call this many snowflakes that are all riding on a wind of change? We call you a blizzard,” Mohamedi said, drawing cheers.

Mohamedi talked about the “mixed feelings” she felt when she first handled a military-grade assault rifle. Later, she criticized proposals to arm teachers and questioned how “schools throughout the United States dealing with unprecedented budget cuts due to austerity measures enacted by the current administration” can be expected to fund a guns-for-teachers program.

“If you want to arm teachers, arm us with equitable funding throughout all school districts,” she said.

A co-sponsor of the student-led rally happened to be the Boston Teachers Union.

Monica Cannon-Grant, a founder of the activist group Violence in Boston, who helped lead a counterprotest and march aimed at disrupting last August’s controversial Free Speech rally, said “communities of color know about this all too well,” referring to gun-related deaths.

“For years our young people have marched, screamed and protested ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the response was silence,” she said. “Well I’m here today to tell you silence is violence.”

Cannon-Grant, a Roxbury resident, pointed out that Boston in 2017 has seen at least 30 shootings and nine homicides.

“When we have this conversation, we stand in solidarity with communities like Parkland,” she said. “But more specifically, I’m a black woman before I’m anything, and so I stand with communities of color.

“So today I demand that Governor [Charlie] Baker, Mayor Marty Walsh, and all the legislators not only focus on all the gun laws but also on the infamous question — where did all the guns come from?”

Earlier, Walsh and other prominent Democrats — such as Massachusetts U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey — helped send off marchers from Roxbury:

Warren told the Boston Globe that “military weapons should not be on our streets and in our schools.”

“Those are just common sense changes that the majority of Americans want to see.”

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