Hundreds of students from around the metro Milwaukee area organized a school walkout on December 13 to bring public attention to their daily fears, concern for safety, and need for mental health resources, following a rash of gun related incidents in classrooms across Wisconsin.

The goal of the mass demonstration was to demand that state lawmakers take significant action to make schools safer by passing universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, and reinstate the 48 hour waiting period for gun purchases.

Students also wanted funding to ensure access to the mental health care that their schools need, instead of fortifying them like prisons with countless resource officers and metal detectors.

“Violence has no place in our schools. I commend the Milwaukee area students who staged a walkout today to demand action from leaders. There are commonsense steps we can take to save lives and reduce violence. I am committed to working on those solutions. Period.” – Governor Tony Evers

The latest poll from Marquette University showed that 80% of Wisconsin voters supported expanding background checks. However, state Republican lawmakers ignored the needs of constituents by snubbing Governor Tony Evers and the special session called to discuss gun safety measures.

I’m so disappointed to say that we’re fearful to go to school. We are tired of hearing a door close loudly or someone dropping a book and thinking it’s a gunshot, and tired of walking through hallways and being worried which hallways to avoid because they’re long and narrow. And what will you do if there was a traitor in every classroom. We’re sick and tired of it, and we all know we deserve better. We all realize that the people in power they aren’t making the right decisions to help us. This task has been dropped into our hands. We need to take some action to solve this issue.” – Esther Carriere, Whitefish Bay High School

At a news conference held at the Milwaukee County Courthouse on the afternoon of December 13, students from a number of local schools talked about why they were fearful to go to class. They also used the platform to urging state lawmakers to pass gun control measures that make schools safer.

“The United States of America is averaging over four school shootings a month. And yet we fail to act. So that’s why I wanted to come out and commend these courageous students and to say enough is enough. If the adults can’t get the job done, who can? This is about the lives of students who sit behind a desk every day, and in the cafeteria. It’s about them going through these lockdown drills month after month. We can no longer tolerate the inaction in Madison. The question has been asked and answered overwhelmingly in poll after poll. Republican and Democrat voters alike want this legislation for background checks for extreme risk protection orders. Now it’s upon leadership to get it done.” – Darryl Morin, President of Forward Latino and founding member of 80% Coalition

When asked why the students felt they needed to walk out of school instead of speaking with State Legislators, the event organizer and Chapter Lead of March For Our Lives Milwaukee responded by saying that Republicans in Madison had shown they cared more about NRA contributions than the lives of children.

“They’re not even respecting the voice of the our Governor Tony Evers. They made a joke out of the special session, by not even saying word on the gun issue. We’ve attempted to call our legislators and that’s obviously not doing anything,” said Tyler Kelly. “So a bigger effort had to be taken, which is why we organized the walkout. We marched, and we brought 14 schools together to show the Wisconsin State Legislature that something needs to be done.”

Wauwatosa West High School, Wauwatosa East High School, Shorewood High School, Whitefish Bay High School, Milwaukee High School Of The Arts, Milwaukee School Of Languages, St. Anthony High School, Pius XI High School, Cudahy High School, Rufus King High School, Harold S. Vincent High School, Ronald Reagan High School, Carmen High School South, and Escuela Verde participated in the walkout to demand safe schools.

“I want to emphasize the importance of students coming together, and showing our legislators that what they are doing is not sufficient. We fear for our lives in school every day. The behavior of our elected officials during the special session was completely disgusting and a disgrace to all the people of Wisconsin. Not a single word was even spoken or debated about the proposed gun laws in Wisconsin. These are our lives at stake every day that we’re in fear of, and we don’t want to increase the amount of guns. We don’t want to put guns in the hands of teachers. We don’t want to continue to militarize our schools. People ask us why are we marching? What is a walkout going to do? We’ve seen throughout history that student movements make a difference that created legislation. The 2020 election is coming up, and I will be able to vote, along with many of my friends. I will take my voice to the ballot and show them that I’m not happy with what they’re doing. We will take them out of office and replace their seats if they’re not doing their job to protect our lives.” – Riley McAdams, Wauwatosa West

At least 8 Wisconsin high schools had credible threats of violence in the previous week, including 2 schools with a gun discharge incident. On December 2, a Waukesha South High School resource officer shot a 17-year-old student after he pointed what later turned out to be a pellet gun at him and refused to put it down. The next day, an Oshkosh West High School resource officer shot a 16-year-old student after the boy stabbed him in the school office.

“Regardless of where we live, regardless of our zip code, regardless of our race, gender, sexuality, or religion, we are fed up and we are tired of these legislators making a complete mockery of what we’re fighting for. Why are our legislators not listening to us, and following special interests like the NRA? Is their money more important to the GOP than our lives? They’re trying to tell us that we’re small. They’re trying to tell us that our voices don’t matter. They’re trying to tell us that we should go back to school. But how can we go back to school when that environment embodies so many daily symbols of fear?” – Michael Orlowski, a senior at Wauwatosa West High School.

According to Everytown For Gun Safety, the 2 Wisconsin shootings were among the 99 incidents of gunfire in schools throughout America this year. The issue of gun violence in classrooms is causing students to feel continuously scared in the school environment. Gun related violence has been a problem in nearly every major city for decades, and students are demanding action to feel safer in their schools, places of worship, and communities at large.

Many protests were held earlier in the day at schools that participated in the walkout. Students at Wauwatosa West High School assembled in the football field to rally, and then marched through the streets. They chanted “no more silence, no more violence” and held signs that read “books not bullets.”

“At my school rejected the walkout. We went to administration, talking about how we were concerned that our school hadn’t taken adequate action to keep students safe and provide mental health care. When we came in, we had a nice conversation with the administration regarding things that could happen, but they decided that our voices were not worth sharing. It wasn’t worth giving up the class time. It’s almost ironic that we are taught how to hide in the situation of an active shooter, and yet not allowed to walkout to demand policy that makes us safer. That is why our demands are not for more police in our schools, but for social workers and counselors to make our schools united communities.” – Tyler Kelly, Franklin High School

Lee Matz and Joe Brusky

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