The square

_MG_2352.JPGThe Columbine High School shooting happened when I was 8 years old. I heard somehow that 12 students and one teacher were killed and remember immediately going to my bunk bed and crying for a while. The event was such a horrifying shock for the country that years later we watched a documentary about it in history class during my freshman year of high school. It’s not the same now. The country has experienced several mass shootings in schools and other places during the past few years with more victims than Columbine, sometimes several times more.

One of those shootings killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month. Several of the school’s surviving students have since become a political force, pushing Florida to tighten some laws for purchasing guns and calling for marches around the country and beyond. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in them yesterday, including several hundred in a couple parts of northwest Arkansas.

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_MG_2332.JPGMy coworker Ashton Eley reports in today’s paper that more than 400 people gathered for the demonstration in Bentonville’s square, where I took these photos. (And if you want to see more photos, our photographers have a gallery of great stuff.)

Teachers, students, parents, grandparents and others together demanded such policies as providing more complete mental health services in schools, supporting research into gun violence, banning assault-style rifle sales and confiscating guns from domestic abusers (which has some conservative support and happens in several states). Volunteers helped people register to vote, and teenagers coming of voting age swore they would soon wield their votes for the gun-control cause.

Police and sheriff’s deputies meanwhile paced around the square and watched from the surrounding buildings. A few counter-protesters came out, too, including black-clad members of a white nationalist group started by an Arkansas neo-Nazi. Other counter-protesters, including a group in blue called the Freedom Crew, vehemently distanced themselves from such racism and said they were there simply in support of the Second Amendment. Folks on this side of the debate generally see tightening gun laws as burdening a constitutional right or a dangerous limit to personal liberties.

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_MG_2505.JPGThe debate’s an old one, but it does seem different after the Parkland shooting. I’ve seen veterans and doctors speak out about the unique devastation assault-style rifles can inflict on a human body, which I don’t remember before. Others rightly point out complications: School shootings are still rare, and most firearm deaths in this country happen because people turn their firearms on themselves. Many of the youngest among us say they won’t just go to their rooms to cry, that their voices will be part of the debate. We’ll see what happens next.

Dan

The week of protest

_C1_9503.JPGHave you kept up this week?

Millions of marchers took to the streets in all 50 states and around the world the weekend of President Donald Trump’s inauguration to protest sexism and sexual assault and shout a full-throated message of inclusion and diversity. A week later, thousands more have protested against the president’s plan to build a wall on our southern border and his Friday executive order that sharply curtails the acceptance of refugees and other immigrants, particularly from horror-filled Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, more people are fleeing war and persecution than at any time in recorded history.

The Trump administration said the order would help protect against terrorists who could be among refugees’ ranks, though this hasn’t happened under the current refugee application system, according to the libertarian Cato Institute. The order certainly made a splash, slamming the door on students, families, allies of U.S. armed forces and others on their way to the U.S., earning bipartisan criticism and sparking worries over whether the executive branch would obey court orders against it.

_C1_9430.JPGOne of the protesters was this woman above, Simone, whose mother escaped the Cambodian killing fields, where more than 1 million people lost their lives at the hands of a dictatorship a few decades ago. She and a couple hundred others turned out in downtown Fayetteville with signs quoting the Statue of Liberty’s plaque and Biblical passages. They urged the White House to keep the door open for refugees and other immigrants no matter their religion or homeland.

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_C1_9488.JPGI’ll add one more thought: Support a newspaper, even if it isn’t the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I’ve written about the effects of refugee, health care, climate change and immigration policy and will do everything I can to keep doing so — and I’m just one reporter at one paper. This is shaping up to be a defining year of my lifetime and in the country’s history, and even if it’s a lot to keep up with for all of us, we absolutely must keep trying to learn about what’s going on and what it means.

Thanks for looking, and keep your eyes open.

Dan

Living the Dream

_C1_6474Martin Luther King, Jr. was 26 years old when he helped organize and lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott and brought nonviolence and civil disobedience to the nightly news. He was 34 when he described a dream of racial equality to 250,000 people. He was 35 when the Civil Rights Act outlawed segregation and he marched from Selma. He was 39 when he was shot down.

In other words, he was young. He wasn’t even middle-aged when he built those bridges to a better country.

Yesterday’s march, vigil and banquet in downtown Fayetteville focused on today’s 20- and 30-somethings. The push for social and political equality isn’t over, marchers said again and again, and it’s going to need new Kings. Hundreds of people came out. I wrote about it all for today’s paper.

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_C1_6471I was thrilled for the chance to cover this day — the timing was perfect.

Nationwide protests against the deaths of people of color at the hands of police continue. This year is the 50th anniversary of the push for voting rights in Selma. A movie dramatizing the marches from that Alabama town — and the sometimes deadly police and civilian brutality that met them — is out this month. Marchers of every age and color Monday chatted and laughed together, then joined in hymns and chants that rang out during demonstrations decades ago.

Our history and present feel particularly connected these days. It’s an amazing time for a journalist to dive into these complex, immensely important issues. I was glad to be there, and I hope my story did the day justice.

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_C1_6555The University of Arkansas hosted the post-march vigil, and in a speech there, Arkansas State Rep. Eddie Armstrong of North Little Rock addressed the students directly. He called on them to use their education to keep building those bridges to a better country, as a 26-year-old did a generation ago.

“The leaders of tomorrow are sitting here in this room,” he said. “You have to take charge of the life that’s in front of you, because if you don’t, the bridges stop getting built.”

Thanks for looking,

Dan