Six minutes of silence
It was the silence “heard” around the world.
After reciting the names of her friends and schoolmates who died in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Emma González then lapsed into silence, a silence that lasted for about six minutes, the time it took a lone gunman to shoot dead 17 and injure 16 in one of the world’s deadliest school massacres.
Standing in the chilly air in Washington during the “March for Our Lives,” González faced the cameras stoically, although at times wiping tears off her face. Cameras panned to other faces, many sharing her sorrow at the loss of young people who would, as González put it, “never.” A few broke the silence with chants and cheers, but most honored the dead and the wounded with silence. It was a silence that would be heard from those unable to speak of the tragedy they had endured. But it was also a silence that spoke eloquently of the official silence that American officials had adopted on gun violence and the need for gun control, especially given the power of the NRA (National Rifle Association) lobby.
It was a day for silence and for noise, for raising voices calling for tougher laws against gun violence, in a country where almost anyone walking into a gun store could pay for an assault weapon.
Reports say the “March for Our Lives” on Saturday “drew massive crowds in cities” across the United States, “making the largest youth-led protests since the Vietnam War era.” Though no official estimates were released, reports said the March for Our Lives in the capitol rivaled the 300,000 conservative estimates of the numbers in last year’s Women’s March. This doesn’t count the number of young people and their supporters who marched in New York City, Denver, Los Angeles and other locales, including Parkland, Florida, where the shooting occurred.
Many years younger than González, Yolanda Renee King, 9, lent a special touch to the day’s massive protest in Washington. She is the granddaughter of civil rights leader and martyr Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who is best remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech that highlighted the historic march for civil rights decades ago.
Standing in for her grandfather, Yolanda Renee echoed her grandfather’s words: “I have a dream that enough is enough. That this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
Around the capitol grounds, reports said, tables were set up to help 18-year-olds register to vote in the next elections, sending a message to incumbents that they better respond with more support for tougher gun control laws if they want to be reelected.
Nothing was heard from President Donald Trump, who has taken to “tweeting” his reactions to even the most minor upsets, and the NRA, which has held a tight grip on legislators and elected officials with the threat of voter retaliation for any sign of wavering support, kept radio silence in turn.
Perhaps Trump, who comes off as sympathetic to gun rights, and the NRA are just waiting for sentiments to blow over before sounding out to counter the young outraged voices. But their silence sends out an equally loud message.
In the Philippines, efforts to curb the proliferation of guns have met with frustration, if not indifference.
If anything, gun ownership and use have grown by leaps and bounds. And these are not just illegal guns in the hands of criminals. We’re also talking of indiscriminate gun use by persons in authority, who wield their weapons with seeming impunity in the name of the war on drugs.
Certainly telling is that hardly anyone seems outraged or shocked, or even mildly disturbed, by videos of people being gunned down in the open by murderers riding tandem on motorcycles or simply walking by or casing the victim’s location.
Gunmen may not be breaking into classrooms and opening fire, but our young as just at risk. How many have been shot — either as police targets or collateral damage — in the mean streets of our cities? And how many have died as a result of gang wars and altercations? We need, indeed, to “march for our lives,” especially our young people.
Your daily dose of fearless views
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.