SC high school students faced bureaucratic, violent threats for gun protests

 South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster claimed that the students who stood up against gun violence were being manipulated by “left-wing group that is coordinating this around the country to further their own agenda.”

Across the country, high school students walked out of their classroom at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning in solidarity with the survivors-turned-activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, after 17 of their peers were killed by a mass shooter on Feb. 14.

Students in South Carolina joined in these protests and had varying experiences: from support by their communities, to receiving punishments from high school administrators, to lockdowns and threats of violence.

THE PROTESTS

High school students in South Carolina left their classrooms at the same time to protest in various ways. Students at Cardinal Newman High School, a Catholic private school in Columbia, held a prayer service. Students at Wando Public High School in Mount Pleasant locked arms in the hallways, and students in Dutch Fork High School in Lexington protested loudly in hallways of school buildings.

Others wrote to Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham who recently teamed up with Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal to propose a bill that would allow federal courts to confiscate guns from people who are deemed to pose an imminent danger to themselves or others.  

Other students opted out of the protests because they did not feel comfortable protesting and stayed in their classroom instead.

SILENCING SPEECH

While many students across the country felt proud of their movement and for exercising their First Amendment rights to protest an issue they believe to affect the safety of their schools, students in New Jersey, Missouri, and Oklahoma faced significant opposition from their schools.

In South Carolina, some students faced similar threats if they chose to join a protest. For their actions, Greenville County School District, the largest district in the state, said that it would reprimand more than 500 students that participated in protests across the district’s 18 schools. A representative from the district told the Associated Press that they would be “cited for cutting class.”

Other schools in the Palmetto State went to greater lengths to limit protesters. The Charleston School District prevented reporters from the Charleston Post and Courier from accessing Burke High School, Academic Magnet High, School of the Arts, and North Charleston High School.

“The team that developed the plans for the event decided to have closed campuses for the event so that we could ensure that students could participate without concerns for safety,” Charleston District spokeswoman Erica Taylor told The Post and Courier. “Each school worked with student leadership to develop a plan for activities of remembrance based on the interest of their student body.”

Kate Darby, the chair of the Charleston County School Board, reportedly said that the schools were closed out of safety concerns. When the school is on lockdown, journalists were prevented from the school, like all others.

“These kids are trying to support 17 children who were killed, and we are trying to do it in the safest way we possibly could,” Darby told the Post and Courier. “I think parents would understand that’s what we were trying to do.”

To ensure that the school was safe during a lockdown, three police officers blocked Post and Courier reporters from demonstrations that were happening at a flagpole outside, in front of their school buildings. Reporters were able to talk to students through fences, but school officials ushered them away from interviews.

“It was an easy way for the administration to appear to give us a voice, while simultaneously silencing us,” Caelan Bailey, a sophomore at Academic Magnet High, told the Post and Courier.

THE THREATS

But in the face of dubious claims of the safety of the school protesters, there were credible threats to students.

Morgan Roof, an 18-year-old student at AC Flora Public High school in Columbia, was arrested for carrying weapons after posting an alarming message on Snapchat.

“Your (sic) walking out for the allowed time of 17min. They [the school’s administration] are letting you do this, nothing is going to change,” she wrote. “What tf you think it’s going to do?”

Her brother, Dylann Roof was the self-avowed white supremacist who murdered nine African-American churchgoers in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection in January 2017. 

Morgan’s message on Snapchat became even more troubling as it continued.

“I hope it’s a trap and y’all get shot,” her caption said. “We know it’s fixing to be nothing but black people walkin out anyway.”

After someone took a screenshot of her Snapchat, it was relayed to a school administrator who informed a school resource officer. She was arrested at the scene. Officers found her carrying pepper spray and a knife and was taken to a detention center across town, where she was also charged with simple marijuana possession.

It is not clear whether she brought the weapons to school because of the protest or whether she had always carried them to school.

Lt. Curtis Wilson told The State that she took the weapons to school “for protection.” Wilson revealed that the sheriff’s department had no record of any incidents she was involved with. It is unknown what kind of threats she perceived at the school.

“This is not the Morgan I knew. She didn’t hate people. She didn’t have prejudices like this — in fact, I witnessed the opposite,” a neighbor of the Roof family told the Post and Courier. “I hope that one day, one day she finds peace and seeks forgiveness for what she did today. I cannot say I wish the same for her brother.”

Gov. Henry McMaster was glad the younger Roof was apprehended by police. McMaster has earlier suggested that police officers may act as a deterrent to school shootings and pushed for $5 million to train and station police officers at every school in South Carolina.

“We don’t need any more legislative study committees, debates, or deliberation, we know what we need to do and we need action now,” he said to the Post and Courier. “Today was proof positive.”

Although McMaster may be clear of his convictions, research into the subject is not as certain. A 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service found that research into the effectiveness of school resource officers was inconclusive. From 19 studies, it was unclear whether officers were able to effectively deter or adequately respond to school shooters.

On Thursday afternoon, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released surveillance video of Scot Peterson, the school resource officer who was stationed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month during the school shooting. Peterson did not enter the building while the active shooter was on his killing spree, leading him to later resign.

STUDENTS ‘MANIPULATED’

In just over a month, the shooting has remained a national talking point. Several young survivors of the shooting have become among the fiercest advocates for gun control to reduce gun violence in America. Because of their actions, protests were inspired around the country in high schools, largely coordinated by March For Our Lives and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.

McMaster spoke to WLTX 19 about the protests across the country and across the state. He said young protesters may be manipulated by a “left-wing group that is coordinating this around the country to further their own agenda.”

“It is not about the tragedy; it is not about the school children,” he said. “What we should do and what these students should do is to pray, to hope for the families of those who were slain.”

“This is a tricky move by a left-wing group, from the information I’ve seen, to use these children as a tool to further their own means,” he said. “It sounds like a protest, to me. It’s not a memorial. It’s certainly not a press service. It’s a political statement made by a left-wing group. It’s shameful.”

The high school survivors-turned-activists heard McMaster’s comments and responded on Twitter. Lauren Hogg, a member of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Class of 2021, addressed McMaster after seeing the video on CNN.

David Hogg, who quickly became one of the most visible members of the Stoneman survivors, similarly caught wind of the Governor’s remarks. He is a key member of the #NeverAgain movement that orchestrated the student walkouts. He also has said that his activism should inspire nonpartisan dialogue.

The Charleston Post and Courier spoke to students in South Carolina who similarly took offense to McMaster’s remarks. Elise Blackburn, a student at Academic Magnet High class of 2018, defended the student protests.

“Our walkout was organized and executed by us, politically diverse high schoolers,” she said Elise Blackburn. “The real shame is his misconception about the power of the student voice and how he fails to recognize that preventing innocent slaughter is a bipartisan issue. It is dehumanizing to call us tools when we are people with minds of our own. And we are determined to create a safer future.

“McMaster might stand to lose his job over this issue. But we stand to lose our lives,” she mentioned. “Our walkout began in silence. I believe he is scared our actions will speak louder than his words.”

 

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