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Philly ‘March for Our Lives’ rallies for new gun measures and ‘to put the guns down’

The demonstration in Philadelphia was one of hundreds of marches that took place in nearly every state across the country Saturday.

Community members and youth chant and hold signs as they march on 52nd Street for the "March for Our Lives" in West Philadelphia on Saturday.
Community members and youth chant and hold signs as they march on 52nd Street for the "March for Our Lives" in West Philadelphia on Saturday.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Mothers pushed strollers, children clutched their parents’ hands while waving homemade poster boards, and teens and adults sported orange “March for Our Lives” T-shirts as they rallied past honking cars on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia on Saturday.

Some came from hours away — as far as Luzerne County and the Jersey Shore. Some came from down the block. Some held photos of loved ones lost to guns. Others wielded posters with messages for the NRA, politicians, or pleas for peace.

In unison at Wyalusing Park, the group of around 150 chanted under gray skies and raindrops to “put the guns down,” joining a renewed nationwide call for stricter gun legislation and more violence prevention. The “March for Our Lives” demonstration in Philadelphia was one of hundreds that took place in nearly every state across the country Saturday — and part of the student-led movement that drew thousands to the National Mall in Washington.

The “March for Our Lives” group last rallied in 2018 in response to a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead. Four years later, the push for action on guns resumed after a shooter opened fire at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two adults, and after a gunman killed 10 people in a Buffalo grocery store.

In Philadelphia, the demonstration also came on the heels of the mass shooting that rattled South Street late last Saturday night, killing three and wounding 11, and as Philadelphia has seen a sustained surge in gunfire over the last two years.

On the eve of the rally, in the Northeast section of the city, 14-year-old Robert Yocum III was killed by gunfire while sitting on a porch, while a 15-year-old girl was wounded.

Late Saturday an 18-year-old was shot and killed in the 5500 block of Devon Street in East Germantown, and a 25-year-old seriously wounded.

More than 1,000 people have been shot in the city so far this year, leaving nearly 200 dead, according to the city controller’s office.

» READ MORE: Survivors of South Street shooting face months of physical and emotional recovery

Holding a sign that said, “No more silence, end gun violence,” Erica Keith, Jermaine Keith, and their 7-year-old daughter, Ziyah, marched together, hand-in-hand, down the corridor.

“The violence is out of control,” said Erica, who was raised in Philadelphia and lives with her family in Mount Airy. “I definitely want my daughter to see examples of how to participate and make a difference.”

Like at the national rally, speakers in Philadelphia pushed for tighter gun control at state and congressional levels — at a time when the House has passed bills that would establish federal “red flag” legislation and raise the age limit to buy semiautomatic weapons — but there was also a distinct focus on local change.

» READ MORE: ‘Enough is enough’ say thousands demanding new gun measures

“Federal and state inaction does not absolve us from the responsibility to dedicate every local resource we have to keeping especially our young people safe,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier as she once again urged the city to declare a state of emergency over gun violence — an initiative she proposed last summer as shootings surged.

“We need to be willing to put every resource, all the city has, into this issue,” Gauthier said, advocating for funding for community-level interventions, mentoring young people, recreation centers with programs and resources, and more job opportunities in neighborhoods. “’Cause if we’re not keeping our residents and our people safe, I don’t know what we’re doing.”

» READ MORE: Intersections of injustice

One of the students leading the march, 15-year-old Damier Holley, a 10th grader at the Workshop School, told the crowd: “We are all the targets.”

“We are prisoners in our houses and we are afraid to walk down the street,” said Holley, who lost a cousin in a shooting and who also works with the antiviolence nonprofit CHARLES Foundation. “We need our leaders now.”

A survey last month in Philadelphia middle and high schools found that more than a third of students have witnessed gun violence, while nearly half say a loved one has been shot.

At the demonstration, people registered to vote, and speakers urged the crowd to voice their opinions to Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) — one of the commonwealth’s few Republican lawmakers willing to tighten some gun laws.

Natalie Pryor and Justin Pryor came to the march from Galloway, N.J. As a teacher and a parent of a 7- and 11-year-old, Justin said he “just wanted to see change.”

» READ MORE: Pat Toomey, again negotiating a gun deal, says senators are ‘closer’ than after Sandy Hook

The pair also marched for gun reform in 2018, but have seen little difference, said Natalie, who held a sign reading, “I don’t want a text from my son [saying] ‘I love you’ from under a desk!”

Meagan Thomas, 23, and Owen Elphick, 24, of Delaware County, held a sign with a knotted gun barrel reading, “Arms are for hugging.” The two grew up in Connecticut and were in middle school when a gunman killed 26 people -- 20 of them young children -- at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

“I don’t think any child should have to grow up knowing their safety is so compromised,” Thomas said.

As the rally came to an end, Marie Conti, of Center City, stood at the back of the crowd, leading the group in a bellowing chant: “Stand up and fight.”

“I’ve been protesting since the ’60s,” Conti said with a shrug. “I was hoping this would be over by now, because my lungs aren’t going to hold out.”