The March for Our Lives in Chestertown Report

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The march started at noon on High St at the corner of Mill St. in front of the old elementary school now the Kent County offices building.      Photo by Peter Heck.

Chestertown’s March for Our Lives was held on Saturday, March 24 to coincide with the big national march in Washington, DC. The local event was one of more than 800 nationwide and around the world in response to gun violence in schools, especially the murder of 17 students in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day earlier this year.

Around 500 marchers assembled at noon in front of the Kent County government office on High Street, then proceeded down High Street and Cross Street to Wilmer Park, where they heard speakers and musical selections. Marchers, carrying signs and banners, remained on sidewalks so as not to interfere with traffic. The line of marchers was at least two blocks long as it made its way through town. Along the route, many of them chanted, “Enough is enough,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, school shooting’s got to go,” referring to the epidemic of shootings that have plagued the country in recent years.

At the park, Paul Tue, one of the organizers of the march, greeted the crowd and invited them to move closer to Hynson Pavilion, where a PA system was set up. Tue, who works with local youth as one of the founders of the Bayside HOYAS, said he was “blown away” by the turnout. He told attendees that if anyone was overcome with the emotions of the event, there were several therapists on hand for them to talk to. He asked the therapists to raise their hands so people would know who and where they were in the audience.

Tue said there had been 209 school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999, and gave a list of several of the more notorious, concluding with the Parkland shooting and the murder of a schoolgirl by a classmate just a few days ago in St. Mary’s County here in Maryland. “I believe I live in the greatest country in the world,” Tue said, “but today is a day to put our point across.” He asked how many shootings would have to take place on Capitol Hill itself before lawmakers were willing to change the laws governing weapons. He said there was a booth set up to register voters at the rally and urged attendees to call their representatives in Congress and the Maryland General Assembly.

Barbie Glenn, who acted as master of ceremonies for the event, then took the microphone to introduce the speakers.

First up was Dr. Kathryn Seifert, CEO of Eastern Shore Psychological Services. “We know the way to prevent violence,” she said, It will require identifying young people at risk and providing services to help them. A lot of scientific research has been done, and the causes — though complex – are clear. It’s not just mental illness, but “a perfect storm of multiple problems.” Most school shooters are white males, who find their guns at home – not at gun shows. The majority of shooters were identified as unstable before they picked up a gun, she said. She recommended a mental health program in every school, to allow evaluation and early treatment of the problems that lead to gun violence. The U.S. has the second highest rate of child abuse worldwide, and is in the top five nations for its rate of sexual abuse of children, she said. Both have been shown to cause personality disorders including violent tendencies in later life. The victims need treatment “before something happens,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

A trio consisting of Clark Bjorke on guitar, Phil Dutton on keyboard, and Mary Simmons sang a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” with new lyrics targeting the problem of gun violence. The group later returned for two other numbers, including Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” Many crowd members sang along with the familiar protest songs from the 1960s.

Taking the microphone next was a group of Kent County Middle School students, Alana Fithian Wilson, Riley Glenn, Tilera Wright, and Ty-Juan Billingslea. They are members of Students Talking About Racism, a group formed after a racial incident at the school. Each gave a personal reaction to the issue of gun violence, with an equal helping of emotion and evidence. Wilson said that violence is one of America’s biggest problems, with racism as a leading cause. “We need people like you to get involved,” she told the crowd. “It’s time to take a stand, and it needs to be unified.”

Photo by Jeff Weber

Glenn said that gun violence has a devastating impact on American youth, backing the assertation with statistics. Particularly telling was the observation that more students have been killed in U.S. schools since Columbine in 1999 than American soldiers killed in combat since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Billingslea said guns are the third leading cause of childhood deaths, with 40 percent the result of suicides. Black children are three times as likely to die from a shooting as their white peers. Exposure to gun violence leads to greater likelihood of drug or alcohol use and criminal activity later in life, he said.
Wright said students at KCMS are being asked to perform “active shooter” drills. She said she would like to see more school resource officers and metal detectors at school. Parents need to take their children’s concerns seriously, she said. “Politicians need to pass stricter gun laws,” she concluded.
Tue praised the students’ passionate advocacy. “Activism has no age limit,” he said.
The concluding speaker was Grenville Whitman of Rock Hall, representing Kent County Citizens to Prevent Gun Violence. Gun violence kills Americans every day, Whitman said. “We’re here to petition our government for redress,” he said, noting that the right to do so is guaranteed by the Consitution. “It’s also our right not to be shot and killed,” he added and went on to say that the same right extends to our families, our children and our neighbors. “It’s everyone’s right.” He noted that some think that gun ownership is equally important, and the issue is being fought out in Congress and 50 state legislatures, with the Maryland General Assembly passing some sensible firearms regulations in the current session, making the state one of the safest in the nation. Whitman noted that the local assembly delegation voted for a ban on “bump stocks,” which transform semi-automatic firearms into fully-automatic weapons.  He said the delegates should be congratulated for their votes, noting that they will undoubtedly be criticized for it by pro-gun constituents.

Photo by Jeff Weber

Relaxing after the march outside of Sam’s coffee shop are Leah Schell, Brook Schumann, Ilex Hoy (on lap) and Japhy Hoy (holding sign).      Photo by Jane Jewell

“Make America Safe Again” made and carried by Penny Block.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Whitman noted that 2018 is an election year and urged participants in the march to register and vote. The crowd responded by chanting, “Vote, vote!” Many local offices are up for election, Whitman said, noting the presence of several elected officials and candidates in the crowd, including County Commissioner Ron Fithian and commission candidate Tom Timberman, as well as Andy Meehan, a candidate for State’s Attorney. Whitman said voters should ask all candidates about gun safety, and cast their votes accordingly. “(Rep.) Andy Harris…” he began — to be interrupted by a loud chorus of “Boos”– “Andy Harris is the only Maryland congressman to accept NRA donations. “Vote him out! Vote him out,” the crowd responded.

A last-moment addition to the list of speakers was Casey McQueen of Dover, Delaware, who said he had come to the march because students in his school had been shot. “Blow guns away,” he said, to applause.

Bishop Charles Tilghman, head of the Kent County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, closed the rally with a prayer. He urged the audience to continue rallying and marching to attain the goals of a country free of gun violence.

There was a multitude of signs in the crowd – both printed and hand-made – with clever and often very pointed slogans.  Some were slogans that are being used nationally while others represented the heartfelt responses of the individual marcher.  Slogans included “Protect Our Kids, Not Guns”, “Bullets Are Not School Supplies”, “Make America Safe Again”, “We Deserve to Live”, “Students Demand Action”, “Moms Demand Action”, “Civilians Don’t Need Assault Weapons”, “Love Not Guns”, and “Fear Has No Place in Schools”.

The Chestertown march was reportedly the only one on the Eastern Shore, though there were a couple in Delaware.The  Chestertown event drew over 500 people, which amounts to approximately 10% of Chestertown’s population.  However, not all participants were from Chestertown or Kent County.  Several marchers, including some from the Unitarian Universalist church, came from Easton to take part.  Marchers were there from other Maryland counties and from Delaware. The event in D.C. was estimated as high as 800,000 strong, making it the largest single-day march in the city’s history. Across the country, in addition to the originating Washington, D.C. march, there were marches and other events in most of the major US cities including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle,  Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis. Every state had at least one “March for Our Lives” event. Around the world, there were many more with most but not all in Europe.   Events in these cities were attended by both local citizens and Americans living or visiting in the various foreign countries.  In Canada, over a dozen cities, including Toronto and Montreal, held rallies. There were rallies in London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, and Paris plus other European cities. In Japan, a large march was held in Tokyo, while in Australia, events were held in Sydney and Brisbane  There were two in Africa, one each in Ghana and Mozambique as well as some in various Asian and South American locales.

On average, more than 90 people are killed by guns in the US every day.

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

Photo by Jeff Weber

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

“March for Our Lives” participants at Wilmer Park — from left, standing, former US Congressional Rep. for the Eastern Shore Wayne Gilchrest, Sherrie Tilghman, Wanda Boyer, Barbie Glenn, (all three of Eastern Shore Psychological Services in Chestertown), Corrine Harvey and Brooke Schultz of the Washington College student newspaper, the Elm; in front, Greg Glenn. Barbi Glenn was the MC for the rally in the park.      Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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