Wilson Criscione photo
Shaundra Russell speaks at a rally to protest gun violence in Spokane Valley
In Spokane Valley's Terrace View Park, Shaundra Russell faced a crowd of more than 100 students who had walked out of class in protest of gun violence, ready to cheer her on.
To her right, a group of more than a dozen counter protesters
stood with a Trump flag, ready to shout her down.
Russell grabbed the megaphone.
"We are the students of Spokane Valley," began Russell, a junior at Central Valley High School. "And we demand change."
So began the rally organized by University and Central Valley high school students on Friday morning, part of a National School Walkout to call for gun reform. Elsewhere in the Spokane area, Lewis and Clark, North Central and Ferris high school students led a rally at Riverfront Park. Students at Freeman High School, where a school shooting took place in the fall, walked out and gathered on their football field.
At the Spokane Valley walkout, more than a dozen counter protesters
attempted to disrupt the rally. Marissa Kenney, a CV student who helped organize the walkout, says in the days leading up to the rally, students who called themselves the "Central Valley Alt-Right" told her they planned to counter protest
. Two of them bumped into her in the hallway and harassed the rally organizers online, she says.
"We've been called some things on social media I will not repeat out loud," Kenney says.
Marissa Kenney (left) Shaundra Russell and Dharma Hoy (right) helped organize the walkout
During the event, several student speakers spoke in favor of gun control. They handed out packets with ideas to reduce gun violence. The ideas included passing gun laws like gun-violence restraining orders to temporarily bar a person from buying firearms, making buying a gun more like buying a car, investing in smart-gun technology, eliminating funding restrictions for research and ending legal immunity for gun manufacturers.
Russell says there needs
to be more mental health counselors in schools to focus on the behavioral and social needs of students. She says a "village of support" should be created for students. If they're at risk of harming themselves or others, then firearms should be immediately removed from the household.
"How many people will die?" Russell asks. "How many more school shootings and suicides will it take before we are going to change?"
Izabella Roullier, a senior at CV, says she doesn't feel safe when she leaves her house to go to school. She said more guns leads to more crime and more deaths.
"Here in our tiny corner of America," Roullier says, "we will not be silenced."
But during each speech, the counter protesters
tried to make their own voice heard. They yelled "America first!" and "Keep our guns!" The rally-goers responded with their own chant, "Kids not guns!" drowning out the counter protesters
CV senior Izabella Roullier speaks during the rally
The counter protesters
were led by Trent Carlton, a junior at CV. He wrote in black marker "MAKE WHITE MEN GREAT AGAIN!" on the front of his white T-shirt. The back read "ALT RIGHT" and "HAIL VICTORY" above the symbol for Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group. He shouted the loudest in protest during the speeches and each time the crowd cheered even louder so his voice wasn't heard.
Carlton calls himself a "strong white nationalist." He tells the Inlander
that the best way to prevent school shootings is to arm every teacher who wants to volunteer and go through training. He says there should be more armed veterans in schools, yet he also agrees with the idea to put more mental health counselors in schools.
Wilson Criscione photo
Trent Carlton, a CV student who describes himself as a white nationalist
Sierra Stinson, a University student, says she was upset when she first saw Carlton and his shirt.
"It breaks my heart to see there's
still people like him," Stinson says.
But when she and her friend went over and talked to him, they were able to find some common ground, she says.
"He actually agrees with us for most of it," Stinson says. "He believes that we're banning guns, but that isn't what we want. So in the end
we're arguing the same thing."
Wilson Criscione photo
University High School student Sierra Stinson
Spokane Valley City Council member Linda Thompson, who attended the rally, says the best way to enact change to prevent gun violence is to empower the youth to speak out. She was encouraged by the way rallygoers handled the counter protesters
"It has to start person-to-person," Thompson says. "Nobody is trying to take anybody's guns away. We're trying to protect students and stop the violence in the community."
She urges for the community, and the country, to come together.
"That's the hardest thing: to come together and work together," Thompson says.