Oak Park students walk out in support of gun control

The demonstrations were part of nationwide walkouts after Florida shooting

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MICHAEL ROMAIN and TIMOTHY INKLEBARGER

Connor Hartweg, a 17-year-old senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, stood on a bench in the high school's mall area Wednesday afternoon and blared angrily into a bullhorn as if his life depended on it.

"America is one of the only countries in the world with school shootings. Is that fair to us? Is that fair to us?" he said to an assembly of at least 300 of his peers — less than 20 minutes after they walked out in the middle of the school day in solidarity with students throughout the country who were also disrupting their normal schedules to push for stricter gun laws.

The demonstrations took place a week after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 teenagers and staff members, and injured dozens of others, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

According to a group formed on social media after the shooting called Student Walkouts to End Gun Violence, the Feb. 21 walkout is the first in a series of national student-led protests planned to take place in the next few months. Two other national walkouts are planned for March 14 and April 20, both at 10 a.m., the group noted on Twitter.

Max Zadlo, a 17-year-old senior at OPRF, who along with Hartweg helped organize the Feb. 21 walkout, said that he and his peers also plan to demonstrate during those planned walkouts in March and April.

Wednesday's demonstration, he said, started on a group text messaging app called GroupMe, which is used by roughly 300 OPRF seniors.

"Since we're the older people in the school, we figured if anyone was going to be a proper example it's us," Zadlo said. "We've got to connect with the students in Florida, because they are us. If they can't live to see another day when they're just starting their lives, that's not fair."

Zadlo said that he and his co-organizers planned the demonstration roughly two hours after learning about the national walkout campaign. The OPRF students weren't alone.

According to Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 officials, students at both Percy Julian and Gwendolyn Brooks middle schools also planned to walk out of their classrooms at noon on Wednesday and stand in the hallways and other common areas for 17 minutes in honor of the Florida shooting victims.

Administrators at both D97 and OPRF said that they would not actively prevent or penalize students who participate in the day's demonstrations.

"We will have staff members stationed in the hallways and other common areas during this time period to ensure that the students who wish to engage in this activity have the time, space and opportunity to do so, while also making sure that it does not create safety issues or disrupt the learning and instruction for those who choose not to participate," said D97 communication director Chris Jasculca in an email.

Nathaniel Rouse, OPRF's principal, stated in a letter to faculty that "our goal is not to stop students from walking out," rather, he added, the "goal is to ensure that they are kept safe in the process."

In the letter, district officials explained that board policies "preclude all district employees from supporting or promoting the student effort."

As the students at OPRF streamed out of the school's main entrance and onto Scoville Avenue, Steve Krasinsky stood on the corner of Scoville and Ontario with a small group of adult onlookers.

Krasinsky, an Oak Park resident, is one of the founding council members of the progressive activist organization Oak Park Call to Action. He said that, while his group had no role in the student-led demonstration, he nonetheless wanted to show his support.

"The special thing about this is that the kids are leading it," he said, adding that he decided to come out when he got notification of the demonstration on social media. "We're following their lead, which is super powerful. I hope they keep doing this."

After some student organizers chalked messages onto Scoville's asphalt, the crowd of several hundred students streamed eastbound on Ontario Street. Few people in the leaderless crowd seemed to know where they were going.

Carolyn Santos, 18, an OPRF senior, marched with the crowd down Ontario before turning right on Cuyler and toward Lake Street, police vehicles positioned at the end of blocks dictating the students' spirited, subconscious route.

As she walked, Santos held a sign that read, 'We call BS.'

"I watched a video of this really inspirational woman who was a victim in the Florida shooting," Santos said, explaining her sign. "She did a speech, where she had the crowd chant with her, 'We call BS,' and she talked about guns being more important than our own safety."

Santos said that she writes a student-produced show about current events. The next segment, she said, will explore gun control "and what we can do to help."

The OPRF demonstration ended with a short moment of silence for the Florida victims and an impromptu 5-minute pep rally. A group of students stood on a table with a sign and mused aloud about Hartweg's whereabouts ("where's the kid with the bullhorn?") before the 17-year-old appeared and started leading the crowd into chants of, "No justice, no peace!" and, "We want change!"

Jaylen Daniels, 16, was among the crowd. What, he was asked, did he hope to get out of walking out? Would the demonstration make a difference?

"I think this is better than nothing," he said. "There will always be people who have guns and you can't just take them away from people who have them, but I hope that gun laws get stricter and background checks get enhanced." 

Reader Comments

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Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 26th, 2018 12:36 PM

Oh, OK, Ray. Now Robert Mueller is dirty too. You have something negative to say about John McCain too? Have a nice rest of your life, sport. You're a waste of energy.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 26th, 2018 10:08 AM

@Dwyer - It is easy to count the number of indictments that are related to Trump/Russia - exactly zero! Meuller is dirty, he was the head of the FBI when Uranium1 took over 20% of our resources and Obama let it be known that he wanted the corruption investigation stopped (Obstruction?) so Putin would not stand in the way of the Iran deal. Other names in this cabal, Rosenstein, Comey, McCabe as well as others. Where have we seen those names before? Your beloved dossier is coming under intense scrutiny and the financing of it is now known to be Clinton campaign and DNC. The loony left is not even denying that! Comeys sworn testimony directly contradicts the minority report from the house intelligent committee - no matter which is false perjury has been committed. Your clock may just prove to be the lefts worse enemy!

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 25th, 2018 5:00 PM

The camp was run by the Illinois Chief of Police Association, so I didn't question what they called it, especially since I was firing what's commonly called a rifle. As for that dossier, Ray Ray, it's proving out. Btw, how many indictments and guilty pleas from Trump campaign officials is that now? I lose count. Tick... tick.. tick. ti

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 25th, 2018 8:01 AM

@ bruce - and burn a couple grand worth of ammo per hour of range time. @Dwyer - "RIFLERY?" I have not seen that term used in 60+ years. Boy Scout marksmanship merit badge. You seem to be blowing less smoke lately. Could your smokestack have a Dossier caught crosswise? Just wondering.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 25th, 2018 3:37 AM

Yes Jason, for about $20K you can buy a "full auto machine gun" (as you put it). Of course you - as a private citizen - have to meet the stringent licensing requirements of the ATF (registration, fee, finger prints, back ground checks, and god knows what else). In addition since machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986 are illegal for private ownership, that makes for a limited legal supply of guns for potential sale (around 180K in fact) - hence the sky high prices. But hey, if you got the cash, and the patience to wait a year for approval, go to it.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 24th, 2018 3:39 PM

Robert, last I checked people can and do sue news and media companies for slander. Can I sue the NRA for pushing a pro gun agenda? I sure wish I could. Can you buy a full auto machine gun or a bazooka today? Why not? The reason is they are beyond what anyone could reasonably need for self protection and are much too easy to kill large numbers with. There's nothing in the second amendment that speaks to the type of weapons or what checks we should use to be sure someone doesn't pose a reasonable risk. Let's simply limit weapons like AR-15's and make the background check process tough but fair. What reasonable argument can be made against this? If you are a responsible person then you can still get a hunting rifle or a handgun. What more do you need?

Robert Zeh  

Posted: February 24th, 2018 10:50 AM

Last I checked TV and radio were not mentioned in the constitution. Perhaps they shouldn't be covered by the 1st amendment.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 24th, 2018 4:53 AM

Jimster, last I checked AR-15's aren't mentioned in the constitution. You can have as many guns as you want that load as fast as the guns available when the constitution was written.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 7:11 PM

@Mike - I entered this conversation asking why we are so all engrossed by guns. My question is why we are not exploring the "WHY" and if we seriously address that problem the "HOW" will just go away. The core of the gun violence problem is that small percentage of anti social thugs who don't give a rats patoot about civil society or the rules that govern that society. That being said all of the rest of us desire the same end result. Gun ownership and use is one of the most closely regulated activity's and we accept those rules. The claims we hear from the left is that we need to be more responsible. We are not the problem!

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 3:53 PM

So many old men. So much yelling. So many clouds. The Millennials (along with POC, women and LGBT) will bury the Republican Party and the American Right Wing - politically speaking, of course.

James Hall  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 3:23 PM

Thanks for the article Jason! Although, the puppy is more likely to attack you than the inanimate object. Not to mention dogs aren't really spelled out in the constitution. Keep up the good work!

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 2:50 PM

" Gun grabbers (who) want to impose restrictions without any experience in the activity." Again, lies from the NRA fringe crowd. No one is trying to "grab your guns." Most of those concerned with gun violence don't care if you keep your hunting rifles, shotguns and hand guns, me included. What we DO care about is the availability of weapons like the AR 15 that have no hunting use and present a clear, ongoing danger to the public. That's the issue, not the blather you keep spewing. I taught riflery for two summers at a police association camp and fired weapons in boot camp, and many other people who are concerned with gun violence have far more extensive experience than me, so your contention that those of us who want certain types of weapons banned from civilian possession are somehow looking to confiscate ALL weapons is just nonsense. Try making an honest argument for once.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 2:27 PM

Thanks, Ray. I was curious as to where the line is/was drawn since the Second Amendment is so vaguely worded. So would it be safe to say that the line in the sand is "weapons of war?" And would you say that is just your personal stance, or one widely echoed by the NRA crowd?

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 2:10 PM

@ Mike NO! there is reason and then there is foolishness. A fully automatic firearm is a weapon of war, nothing else. I was assigned an M2 carbine in the service. At 25 yards I could hold a 2" group on semi-auto - flip the selector switch and on full auto, the safest place to be was directly in front of the target. I have never disputed the National Firearms act (1934) as it has reasonable restrictions that give legal sanity to the activity. Serious sport shooters in the U S are as concerned about gun violence, but we are upset that the gun grabbers want to impose restrictions without any experience in the activity. or any real contributions. Notice that they always use words like "comprehensive" and "Reasonable" as their rational without any substantive details.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 12:52 PM

Question for Ray: Do you think fully automatic rifles should be legal under the Second Amendment?

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 9:02 AM

@ Dwyer - you might find it interesting that Oak Park still has an Assault Weapons Ban on the books, They know that they cannot enforce it but stand breathless for the day they will! FYI there are high capacity magazines - no "CLIPS". Velocity is totally unrelated to single-fire, semi-auto or machine guns. I assume you would like to revert back to the technology pre WW2 - oops semi auto predates WW2. You will see some negotiating on Bump Stocks. The NRA opposes vague bans that can be redefined to define what ever pantywaists like you fear and dread. We all recognize your self assigned authority of all things "smart" but recognize you mostly blow smoke!

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 8:43 AM

@ Dwyer FYI I was a combat medic with the 25th Division for 2 1/2 years and yes I know what havoc looks like. As for Civics 101 - Our own community and Chicago have claimed Sanctuary city status which you argue is not possible, yet Oak Park's progressives are proud of the outlaw status.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 7:49 AM

You're really tiresome Ray. Go back to your civics lessons: the state can't override the federal government and municipalities can't override state government. If Chicago had it's way, assault weapons would be illegal, and for that matter, handguns. But the federal government won't act on freakin' bump stocks, let alone high capacity clips and semi-automatic rifles that fire bullets at three times the velocity of a normal gun. As for the Florida shooter, I didn't say he was able to buy a gun, despite what you may have erroneously read into the post. I said it's absurdly easy to buy deadly weapons. Just wondering, Ray, those kids who died had horrendous wounds usually seen only on battle fields, their internal organs totally destroyed by a weapon created for war. Are you OK with that? Or might you and your ilk finally be willing to accept some change?

Marty Bernstein  

Posted: February 23rd, 2018 12:01 AM

Congress can start by eliminating the law passed by congress in 1996 forbidding the federal government from keeping statistics on gun violence. Sponsored by a congressman supported by the NRA. You need facts to make policy and the NRA doesn't want to see that. Contact your senators and congressman to insist that the federal government begin tracking this information as a public health crisis.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 10:53 PM

@ Dwyer - If the will to enforce gun laws was there Chicago would be the safest place on earth. The FBI had 2 credible reports on the Florida shooter and ignored both. There was an armed guard who cowered in the bushes for the majority of the event. The local police had reports of this sick kid shooting at their pets. And you believe that he was able to buy a machine gun?

Jason Cohen  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 7:21 PM

Jimmy, enjoy some factual reading. I am guessing facts are a struggle for you but give it a try. You might find they are a nice change of pace. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2016/06/16/health/getting-gun-ease-trnd/index.html

Mike Hanline  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 6:31 PM

How's the view from your high horse, James? An AR-15 is basically idiot-proof, light, accurate, fast-loading with high-capacity magazines, and has little recoil. In short, it's optimized for killing multiple people as efficiently as possible. And yes, I've fired one. So please enlighten us as to why any civilian needs a gun like this?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 5:06 PM

I don't know... Jimmy. Why don't you tell us all how many militaries use the AR-15 and how it's just a civilian version of the M-16. Maybe that will be a comfort to the parents of all those dead kids in Florida.

James Hall  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 3:31 PM

This a completely false statement "it is demonstrably easier and quicker to purchase a gun capable of killing a dozen people in just seconds than it is to buy a car." Billy you failed again. I'm guessing you've never purchased a firearm.

James Hall  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 3:28 PM

Once again Billy, how many militaries use the AR-15?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 3:07 PM

"The laws are there the will to enforce them is not"? That statement is just total b.s. This wasn't a law enforcement failing. This was a law making failing. High powered, high round military assault weapons can be purchased legally in most states by anyone 18 years old with the money. In most states, it is demonstrably easier and quicker to purchase a gun capable of killing a dozen people in just seconds than it is to buy a car.

James Hall  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 3:03 PM

Ah yes "assult-weapons". Basically any semi-automatic firearm that is painted black. Please tell me how many militaries in the world use the AR-15.

Michael O'Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 2:53 PM

You're absolutely right, Ray: "Most all of the recent school disasters can be blamed upon government failure." That would be the failure of legislators to recognize the idiocy of allowing assault-type weapons on the streets. We, the country, owe the victims and survivors of these slaughters a promise that we will do all we can to make sure it never happens again. We can start with a total ban on assault weapons and a mandatory buy-back of those already on the streets.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 12:20 PM

We know how bad people hurt one another! We are afraid to explore why they do it. To study the WHY honestly would require some real negative conclusions about out progressive hand wringing society. Welfare, family disintegration, church declining influence, single parent homes all contribute to the problem. Most all of the recent school disasters can be blamed upon government failure. The evil people who create havoc were or should have been on the law enforcement radar and never allowed close to a firearm. The laws are there the will to enforce them is not. That being the case what "NEW LAW" will make a difference? I understand that the armed teachers in Israel are better trained than most SWAT team members and take the responsibility just as seriously. Once again we are doing something so we really don't have to do anything meaningful .

David Yamashita from Oak Park  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 11:33 AM

If you have 20 minutes, please watch the attached video from MSNBC Morning Joe. Fred Guttenberg give a face to his "hunted" and slaughtered daughter, Jaime. http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/fred-guttenberg-father-of-parkland-victim-my-house-is-forever-changed-1167403075665?playlist=associated

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 9:51 AM

David....Please reread the article. In the first 2 pages I could poke quite a few holes in it. Obviously, outlawing guns won't solve the problem. Criminals are criminals because they are not law abiding. I don't know the answer, but I think any reasonable and prudent person would start with banning any weapon that can wipe out hoards of people in minutes. If that can't be "common ground" then we are all spinning our wheels. I fully support the rights of our students to peacefully organize and stand up for what they believe in.

David Gullo from Oak Park  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 9:18 AM

I've posted this article/graphic on social media and it speaks directly and forcefully to the false national narrative of "more guns/safer communities" -- https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html

Nick Polido  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 8:26 AM

George- Interjecting Russian's and Mueller in this debate is pathetic.....Proud of these kids as well as mine who marched on Sunday downtown.

Kathleen Harrison from Berwyn  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 7:34 AM

Background checks are not enough! Arming teachers? Crazy. Hey --all you h.s. juniore & seniors planning school trips: HOW ABOUT DIVERTING TO WASHINGTON INSTEAD & SHOWING YOUR STRENGTH AND RESOLVE! SHOW YOUR COLORS & POWER! We are with you & will donate to help. You're our only hope! Don't let our country, our future, be bought by the NRA.

Mary Kay O'Grady  

Posted: February 22nd, 2018 7:18 AM

So proud.

George Ryan Hairston from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 8:35 PM

Large scale gun violence is the most horrific thing you can imagine. Legislative inertia here is another indication of a failing state. Gun violence currently is a sure sign of societal breakdown. We must encourage and support our children in changing this. And hopefully Mueller finds the NRA's Russian ruble connection.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 7:36 PM

It was wonderful to see OPRF students join their counterparts across the country today and exercise their rights under the First Amendment. May their actions pressure our lawmakers to finally take meaningful action to address the mass shootings in our country. Perhaps they could learn something from Australia where no mass shootings have occurred in 22 years since its lawmakers passed the National Firearms Agreement that dramatically strengthened the country's gun laws.

Carol Ann from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 7:25 PM

These kids give me great hope for the future. Way to go!! I am behind you 100%

David Yamashita from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 4:50 PM

My daughter joined the concerned group of students at OPRFHS today. I support her and fellow students voice and activism. These new voices, coupled with social media can make a difference. I hope that this generation of young Americans helps create a culture and political environment that can enact rational limitations on this unique distinction that the US holds in the civilized world: an epidemic of gun violence outside of a declared warzone. The sad truth is that younger Americans need to have the phrase "going postal" explained to them as a quaint part of our history when specific workplace murders were the rare shocking events that grabbed headlines. I respect reasonable gun ownership, but military assault weapons are made to efficiently hunt ONE prey only, Humans. Yes "guns don't kill people, people kill people", but people can change this horrific direction that America finds itself in. We all need to speak out!

Andy Moss  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 4:47 PM

There is really nothing like a keyboard commando newspaper commentor when it comes to kids getting shot to death while in school. These kids are doing what so many adults are afraid or unwilling to do: stand up to power and question why this has to be. They are doing it because they are being asked to bear all of society's costs for its folly (i.e., take a bullet and possibly die for no good reason at all, while those who make, sell, and own guns bear no costs whatsoever--apart from hurt feelings). So snark all you want. Hope you feel like a tough guy, at least for a little while.

James Hall  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 4:15 PM

They should pass a law that makes it illegal to shoot people.

Bob Burke from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 4:08 PM

So proud of our OPRF students. May their witness bear much fruit.

Libbey Paul  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 3:58 PM

This is what democracy looks like. Glad to live in this community. Good job, kids!

Janet Haisman from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 3:52 PM

As a retired teacher, I completely agree with the support given by OPRFHS students to those in Parkland, Florida. Those young people are demanding sensible gun laws and more funding for treatment for the mentally ill. Kids today are living with the threat of violence almost everywhere - especially place that should be safe - homes, neighborhoods and schools among them. Let's support their passionate insistence on change. And to the politicians out there - many will be able to vote in the next election.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 3:31 PM

Now, vote young folks. Vote.

Lucy Fox  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 3:29 PM

I am so proud of our children. May this day of protest mark a change in our national consciousness.

Frank Patterson from Oak park  

Posted: February 21st, 2018 2:43 PM

Kudos to the faculty who understood that this was a teachable moment-and supported the students!

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