Dozens of Penn students gathered in the rain outside the LOVE Statue on Thursday to protest gun violence. Even before the protest was scheduled to start at noon, students with umbrellas were already lined up on Locust Walk holding up white paper signs, each with the date, location, and number of deaths of one of the 371 mass shootings that have occurred in the US since Jan. 1, 2017.
“We thought that [a symbolic protest] would be the most immediate way to have an impact locally,” said College junior Elise Reynolds, one of the organizers for the event.
The protest organizers stood at either side of the growing line, handing out posters and asking passersby to join in the demonstration.
By 12:02 p.m., there were students and faculty lined up on both sides of Locust Walk, starting at 36th and ending at the intersection in front of the Love Statue. As the rush of students getting to class subsided, Locust Walk grew quieter. College senior and demonstration organizer Jana Korn continued passing out posters and asking onlookers if they would “take ten minutes to protest gun violence.”
By 12:10 p.m., Korn’s box of posters was empty and minutes later, the line of protesters had grown further down Locust Walk to the area outside Van Pelt Library.
At 12:15 p.m., Korn announced that the eight-minute, 17-second moment of silence would begin. The time – 497 seconds – was chosen in order to represent the number of people who had died from mass shootings since Jan. 1, 2017. The protesters, who had already been quiet, grew completely silent. At 12:20 p.m., the rain had subsided and the only sound on Locust Walk was the footsteps of passersby on the wet pavement.
“We’re asking for very little, but we’re hoping it will send a very strong message to the Penn and Philadelphia communities,” Korn said.
Reynolds agreed, adding that she and other organizers of the event not only wanted to bring attention to incidents of gun violence such as the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., but also wanted to raise awareness that these shootings occur “much more often than the national news picks up.”
Korn, Reynolds, and College senior Sarah Hinstorff, another organizer, wrote a guest column in The Daily Pennsylvanian on Feb. 20, addressing the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and the need for the Penn community to play a role in the expanding conversation around gun violence.
After the tragic shooting, many high school survivors from Parkland sparked activism in their communities — with about 100 students taking buses to the state capitol to protest gun violence on Wednesday — and across the country at various schools and communities.
College senior Maya Kassutto, who participated in the protest after seeing the Facebook event, said she was glad the demonstration was being led by students.
“People are dying, and I think it’s about time somebody called BS,” Kassutto said.
College senior Corey Loftus, another demonstrator, said she thought it was “important to show solidarity” with victims of gun violence and mass shootings.
“It just keeps happening so repeatedly, and there’s never a lesson learned,” Loftus said. “I think it’s important that we do something about it.”
In Philadelphia, approximately 82 percent of all homicides involve firearms, according to a report published by the City of Philadelphia in September 2017. There were also 247 firearm homicides in 2016, which is a 17 percent increase from 2013.