“Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”
-Marjory Stoneman Douglas
On Wednesday, students across the nation did exactly what Marjory Stoneman Douglas recommended by walking out of class to demand action on gun violence. Good for them. They are fed up with waiting for the adults in the room to take reasonable steps to control guns, especially assault weapons like the one used to mow down students at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
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Tens of thousands of students, including many here in San Luis Obispo County, participated in the walkouts to "inform and stimulate the public," as well as honor the 17 who were murdered last month in Parkland, Florida.
For the most part, protests went smoothly.
However, at some schools, including Atascadero High and Righetti High in Santa Maria, walkouts had to be canceled or delayed on account of ugly threats aimed at the student protesters.
In the Atascadero case, a student posted this on Instagram: "I'm shooting up the school tomorrow during the walkout. Are you?"
We may never know what led the student to make such a statement, but given the tenor of the comments ("I'm going to enjoy every scream and every tear") this can't be passed off as a joke or a prank.
Thankfully, what happened next was exactly what should have occurred: A student or students who spotted the Instragram post reported it, authorities were alerted, and Atascadero police responded to the student's home and took him into custody. No weapons were found.
As disturbing as this is, these aren't isolated incidents. According to USA Today, more than 600 "copycat" threats of mass shootings have been reported since the Florida massacre.
Of course school officials and police must take each and every one seriously; we saw what happened in Florida, when officials failed to followup on reports from citizens concerned about the behavior of the shooter.
But vigilance alone isn't enough.
Neither is arming teachers. (Look at Seaside High School in Monterey County: A teacher licensed and trained to carry a weapon accidentally fired a gun in a classroom, causing minor injuries to three students.)
Students are right. We need stricter gun laws across the nation.
On Wednesday, they wanted to share their message with the rest of us. Unfortunately, not everyone saw that as a good idea. The Lucia Mar Unified School District and the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (which had initially threatened students with being given an unexcused absence if they walked out of class) banned the media from their campuses.
At Lucia Mar, a spokesperson said it was a safety measure, while at Paso Robles, we were simply told that media coverage was "not in the best interests of our students and staff."
How bizarre. The whole idea behind a protest is to get the word out, and that generally happens through the media.
As for credentialed members of the media being a threat to student safety, that's downright insulting. These are the same reporters and photographers who are regularly on campus to cover athletic events, graduations and feature stories. They are part of the community ... not menacing strangers.
What's more, a California attorney general's opinion issued in 1996 states that school administrators may order the media to leave campus "if their presence would interfere with the peaceful conduct of the activities of the school."
How in the world would reporters and photographers "interfere with the peaceful conduct" of a protest, which by its very nature is often loud and spontaneous and intended to draw attention?
And how are students to "stimulate the public to join their action" if that action is kept under wraps?
It is indeed discouraging and depressing and disappointing when authorities stand in the way of students' right to exercise free speech. But don't give up.
We're looking to you to continue to be a nuisance where it counts. Lives may depend on it.