Thousands demand reforms for school safety in ABQ March for Our Lives

Thousands participate in Albuquerque’s March for Our Lives protest Saturday. It was organized by local young people and was one of hundreds of such events nationwide. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Local teachers, parents, students and concerned community members spent their Saturday morning and afternoon demanding a voice in a gun violence conversation that has gripped the country.

Albuquerque’s March for Our Lives, a protest and rally that was part of a nationwide movement calling for school safety reform, started with hundreds of people gathered in Old Town Plaza earlier Saturday morning and quickly grew to thousands as the march began, organizers said.

Marches on Saturday across America came after 17 deaths in Parkland, Fla., in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.

Stoneman Douglas students were among those at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., where the main march took place. Albuquerque students from Aztec High School, charter school Digital Arts and Technology Academy and others were among the D.C. marchers as well.

In Albuquerque, the event was organized in about three weeks by local young people.

“It’s great to see everything we organized come to action,” lead organizer Zoey Craft, 16, of La Cueva High School, told the Journal.

Craft – along with University of New Mexico student Blair Dixon, 19, and Jonathon Alonzo, 15, of Native American Community Academy – planned the event primarily in Starbucks coffee shops and on social media.

They said they were overwhelmed with the outcome and were surprised by how smooth and peaceful the event was.

The rally drew a mass of people from across the city and state and a long list of speakers, including an impassioned Mayor Tim Keller, who held a handgun magazine up to the crowd and emphasized that “magazine size matters.”

“This is the size of how many people die in a school shooting,” he said.

Albuquerque’s march and rally officially kicked off at 10 a.m. but a half-hour earlier the plaza was filling up with protesters holding signs above their heads.

“A school is no place for fear,” one sign read.

“My life or your gun. Why is this even a question?” Gabby Reyes’ sign said.

This wasn’t 10-year-old Reyes’ first protest. She also participated in the Women’s March, a women’s rights awareness effort, in Albuquerque.

“Protests are important because it can change laws and help with the problems,” she said.

From children in strollers and high school students not yet old enough to vote to parents and grandparents, Old Town Plaza was filled with protesters trying to spark long-term gun control change.

The approximately 1.5-mile route from the plaza to Tiguex Park was lined with Albuquerque Police Department officers and volunteers guiding the crowd.

On the route was Manzano High School special education teacher Yvonne Reneau, who said the school had “a different feeling” after the Parkland shooting.

She came to the march because she wants to see more students vote and to push for stricter gun legislation.

Michael Sanchez, a teacher at La Cueva High School, spoke fervently in front of the large crowd.

“Our children are dying,” he said.

Sanchez told of being in high school during the Columbine High School massacre.

“I remember thinking, this will never happen again,” he said.

But he hopes 2018 can bring the change he hoped for then.

Students had a clear message of change, too.

“I want to see Congress passing more gun laws,” said 16-year-old Joy Kang, a La Cueva High School student.

This is the second demonstration against gun violence that local high schoolers have participated in this month. On March 14, students across New Mexico also walked out of class for 17 minutes – — one minute for each victim at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

But it wasn’t just people in the education system who attended.

Taylor Cherry, 26 and 7½ months pregnant, and Calvin Cherry, 29, were there for their unborn daughter.

“We don’t want her to worry about something happening to her,” Calvin Cherry said, pointing to his wife’s belly.

He noted that high school is “hard enough without having to worry about being shot.”

In Rio Rancho a crowd of nearly 500 marchers protested gun violence.

The Sandoval County Federation of Democratic Women and the National Educational Association of New Mexico were among the organizers, to name a few.

Several students spoke.

Lena Brazfield, a junior at Cleveland High School, said she recently put a doorstop in her little brother’s backpack after she heard about a gun threat at Rio Rancho High.

“My parents kept me home from school the day afterwards, and I slipped a doorstop into my little brother’s backpack, because it’s a big concern that a gunman could shoot the lock on a door. I know that there is no way to stop them,” Brazfield said. “If he really wants to get into that classroom, he’ll find a way, but it’s still an extra level of protection for my 12-year-old brother to have, because I am scared for him.”

In Santa Fe, a crowd of a few thousand people, led by a mariachi band, marched through downtown from the Roundhouse to the Plaza. Marchers carried signs that said “Arms are for hugging” and “USA not NRA.”

Stephen Montoya of the Rio Rancho Observer and Mark Oswald of Journal North contributed to this report.