Stony Brook student activists and political leaders from various groups joined together to demand gun control reform in a march on campus on Wednesday, March 28.
This march was the latest in the worldwide series of March for Our Lives protests that erupted around the globe following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people lost their lives.
The Stony Brook Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter hosted the event along with the Stony Brook College Democrats, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Speakers from each organization gave speeches to the crowd in front of the Academic Fountain, outlining their views on gun violence in America and making their demands for reform.
Following the speeches, students stepped in procession and chanted a series of slogans through campus, heading from the fountain to the Student Activities Center before turning right and looping back around up through the Staller Center for the Arts and the Charles B. Wang Center.
“Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today,” the crowd chanted. “Thoughts are prayers: not enough.”
At the onset of the event, YDSA co-chair and senior biochemistry major Vasilije Durić emphasized that Stony Brook’s march was also protesting police violence against African Americans, particularly the March 18 death of Stephon Clark. Clark was shot several times in his grandparents’ backyard in Sacramento after police mistook the iPhone in his hand for a gun.
“This march is to protest all forms of gun violence,” Durić said. “We’re here in solidarity with the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, as well as the hundreds of black people who have been shot for crimes such as holding a cell phone or crossing the street.”
YDSA called for Stony Brook’s University Police Department to disarm, pointing out that far more people have been killed due to police-related gun violence than mass shootings in the United States this year.
“America has a huge gun problem, and any gun control measures must include the demilitarization and disarming of law enforcement agencies,” YDSA founder Thomas Sheroff, a senior philosophy and psychology double major, said. “The Young Democratic Socialists of Stony Brook University call upon President Stanley to truly take the lead in transforming and leading the way the correct future of gun control and disarm the Stony Brook UPD.”
Sheroff’s demand for UPD disarmament was echoed by SJP founder Shehran Uddin, a senior political science major, who also claimed the March for Our Lives movement was gaining media attention because the Parkland Shooting’s victims were mostly white.
“It is remarkable that a country can rally to national marches when white children are dying, but where was this when police were shooting in Standing Rock,” Uddin said. “Where’s the national march for Stephon Clark after he was shot 20 times in his own backyard? Where’s the national protest for all the Palestinian kids that have died due to American-manufactured arms?”
The College Democrats broke with other organizations’ demands for a disarmed UPD, instead asking for mandatory active shooter training for both Stony Brook police and students.
Peter Henninger, College Democrats underclassman representative and a sophomore political science major, also advocated for reforms to student counseling at the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
“The maximum of 10 free sessions is not enough for students facing mental illness here on campus,” Henninger said. “We demand that this change.”
Henninger finished with a call for Stony Brook students to voice their political views through voting during the upcoming Congressional Midterm Elections in November.
“This is a national movement supported by students everywhere, and the most important thing in all of this is to get out and vote in November,” Henninger said. “If you don’t like the way we’re being represented, go out, vote and kick them out.”
Graduate history student Caroline Propersi noted the March 20 Great Mills High School shooting, in which an armed student shot his ex-girlfriend and another student, as an example of the prevalence of sexually-motivated male violence against women. Propersi said the attack only caught media attention because it occurred on school grounds.
“Had this shooting happened off of school property, it would not have received the attention that it did,” Propersi said. “It would have been a blip on the radar, a mundane act of violence. Just another woman killed because she said no to a man.”
Around 30 people attended Wednesday’s march. Organizers attributed the low turnout to the march’s rescheduling after last week’s snowstorm hit campus during its previously scheduled March 21 date. A separate march was also held on campus on Saturday, March 24, one of 800 companion marches to the March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C.
Nevertheless, Sheroff said he was happy with the student body’s response to the event after its conclusion.
“It was really good, everyone was very energized to be here,” Sheroff said. “I was very pleased with the reaction by the crowd.”
Correction: March 31, 2018
A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Peter Henninger as the president of Stony Brook College Democrats. Henninger is the organization’s underclassman representative.