Indian-American teens and tweens join national protest against gun violence in schools

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Kids in the community are becoming rapidly politicized amidst the nationwide student protests against gun violence in schools

Students participate in a march in support of the National School Walkout in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“Gun Use Should Cease, Promote Peace” was the rhyming slogan on the poster that Krishna Shah, 13, and her 5 classmates thought up to display in the halls of Walter H. Crowley Middle School in Elmhurst, Queens, N.Y., on March 14 morning. At 10 a.m. that day, teens and tweens around the country who should have been at their desks studying, walked out or in other ways, observed the one-month anniversary of the mass killing of 17 people at a Parkdale, Florida high school, and called on adults to do something to make schools safe.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, tweeted, “All 3 of my kids chose for themselves to participate in #NationalStudentWalkout today. Very proud of them. This was a part of their education, not a break from it.” Bharara was among several Indian-American leaders in the country to come out in support of the students.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, Ramis Hashmi, 16, holds a sign after marching with other students to a nearby park in Parkland, Florida. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Krishna’s classmates lined up in the hall at school for 17 minutes of silence in memory of those killed in Florida. “I’ve never seen it like this before. Usually, it’s noisy and busy in the halls,” she told News India Times.

The reality outside book-learning and having fun, has engaged Krishna in a serious way with the political process. “I think it’s very important because its (gun violence) happening around the country and could happen to us. We should be educated about it. Even me, I don’t really know about gun laws and things. We need to think about it and learn about the laws,” Krishna said, adding, “I would like to know my classmates’ opinions on it- it’s about time we started talking about it.”

Snehi Shah, 19, Krishna’s older sister at St. Johns University in Jamaica, Queens, says many walked out of class there as well. Taking a stand on gun ownership was important, she said, but “The talk of arming teachers is not a good move, You never know when a teacher may be having a bad day,” she said, However, more background and mental health checks were necessary

For 15-year old Nimai Shukla, a sophomore at Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, the concern over gun violence is “very real and entirely possible in any school.” He was among all the students who walked out to the football field to register that concern but “I did not feel empowered in the way I had expected to feel being in a protest,” largely because the walkout was organized by school authorities, he told News India Times. Attending the walkout, he said was a good way to hear classmates’ opinions “Because it’s not a good idea to discuss it in school – you could be misheard or misunderstood.” Nimai says banning guns is “unrealistic,” and he speaks with details.

“Assault rifles should be banned and bump stocks should also be banned. Attachments like suppressers that reduce the sound of gun shots, should be made illegal,” Nimai told News India Times. A bump stock is an attachment that speeds up the firepower of a semi-automatic rifle. Nimai supports  deeper background checks and a federal registry of gun owners, and more funding for research on gun ownership, gun use, and regulations in other countries.

Students from the Millennium High School release balloons to honor the Parkland victims in Manhattan. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Across the country, Indian-American lawmakers and those running for election, as well as those heading important organizations, expressed solidarity with the students.

California Congressman Ami Bera, a Democrat, tweeted, on March 14 night, “We need commonsense measures to prevent gun violence because kids   deserve to be safe at school. I’m inspired by students across the country and hopeful their actions will spark the overdue change we need.  #NationalWalkoutDay #NeverAgain.”

Senator Kamala Harris, D-California, noted youth was no bar to protesting. “Martin Luther King was only 26 when he helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott. John Lewis was 21 when he went down to Mississippi as one of the original Freedom Riders. Diane Nash was 22 when she started leading sit-ins in Nashville,” Harris tweeted.

“Enough is enough as the 14,000 kids who have died, shows,” said Puneet Ahluwalia, Republican political and business strategist from Virginia. He was referring to one of the student protests which put a number on gun violence deaths. Ahluwalia, who is the parent of a high-school going daughter and one who is in first year in university, told News India Times, “We need to come out with common-sense reforms to curtail these threats, We cannot afford to lose another life. So just as we have regulations for other industries, we need them for the guns.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, gave a shout out to local students “Ballard High School student organizers are gathering to make their voices heard – we must step up and listen.#NationalWalkoutDay #EndGunViolence.”

Student protesting gun violence on March 14. (Photo: Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Hiral Tipirneni, candidate for Congress from Arizona tweeted, “The young folks have it right – gun violence is a public health issue & must be treated as such. …” and called for ‘commonsense” solutions.

Former Justice Department Civil Rights Division Chief Vanita Gupta, currently president of the largest civil rights organization in the country, called on Congress to “go back to the drawing board and pass the gun safety legislation that people in America actually want.”

The nationwide political expression by students, including Indian-Americans, is not going to be a one-day affair, leaders have indicated. Ashwani Jain, running for the At-large seat on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, is holding a “#Neveragain Student Organizing Workshop,” March 18, for middle and high school students. “Want to learn how to make your voice heard in government?” Jain, a 15-year cancer survivor and Obama White House alum, is asking these youth.

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