LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Tens of thousands of people marched in downtown Los Angeles today in solidarity with the Florida high school mass shooting survivors to advocate for stronger gun control laws. Marchers of all ages crowded into the area around City Hall carrying banners and signs, some of which said ``Protect Kids Not Guns'' and ``Arms Are For Hugging.''
Police officers on the scene put the early crowd estimate at least 40,000 and growing. Organizers said they anticipate as many as 200,000 people.The march is one of hundreds taking place around the world in support of the main March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C. Other marches are also taking part around Los Angeles County, including in Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Burbank, Pico Rivera, Long Beach and Santa Clarita.
A 12-year-old Isabelle, who came downtown with her pregnant mother and her sister, stood in the street holding a hand-drawn sign reading ``Am I Next?'' Isabelle told City News Service she wants to go to her school in Woodland Hills and ``not be scared.''
A smaller group of gun rights advocates stood behind seven Los Angeles Police Department officers in front of LAPD Headquarters at the corner of Spring Street and First Avenue with signs defending the Second Amendment and a ``Don't Tread On Me'' flag.
Others held posters festooned with images of guns sprinkled with glitter and labeled Trump .45.The downtown march began east of Pershing Square around 10 a.m. and is scheduled to end with a rally in front of City Hall.Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti began by leading the crowd in a call and response: ``Whose streets?'' he said, and the crowd roared ``Our streets.'' ``Whose Lives?'' ``Our Lives!'' ``Whose nation?'' ``Our nation!''
The mayor welcomed ``our leaders, the students who are here today'' and told them ``today will be written in the history books that your children will read.'' He pointed to California's bans on assault rifles, bump stocks and waiting periods on gun sales as a model for federal legislation and closed with a message for President Donald Trump.``
Get with the program Mr. President, or get the hell out of the way.''Comedian Amy Schumer spoke to the Parkland students, some of whom had taken the stage before her.
``We stand together for your senselessly slain classmates and friends and say this has to stop!'' Schumer railed at politicians for ``taking money from the NRA to uphold these laws outdated by hundreds of years'' and called on them to offer more than thoughts and prayers and ``help us, start today, we will forgive you.''Schumer is a cousin of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.A student named Mia, who said she lost her brother to gun violence in 2016, called on politicians to pass ``common sense gun laws'' and said, ``If they don't, I will vote for someone who will.''
Other students said they were pre-registering to vote when they turn 18, and one organizer drew some of the loudest applause from the stage after leading the crowd in shouting, ``Vote them out! Vote them out!''Zellie Owen, a student in the crowd from Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena and Students for Social Justice, will turn 18 before November's mid-term elections.Owen said she was ``fed up'' and warned politicians that ``thoughts and prayers aren't going to cut it anymore,'' adding that she hoped the nationwide demonstrations would lead to ``actual change.''
Rev. Eddie Anderson, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, stood with other faith leaders on the podium and asked marchers to look beyond school shootings to everyday violence in cities across the country.``Raise your voice ... until children in Watts and Chicago get as much attention as children in Parkland and Columbine,'' Anderson said to loud applause.The reverend told politicians to stop using the words of God in the wake of gun violence when ``your fingers are on the trigger as well.''The Trump Administration issued a statement today about the nationwide demonstrations through Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters.
``We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,'' Walters said. ``Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the president's, which is why he urged Congress to pass the Fix NICS and STOP School Violence Acts, and signed them into law. Additionally, on Friday, the Department of Justice issued the rule to ban bump stocks, following through on the president's commitment to ban devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.''
The March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., and its affiliated marches around the world that now number more than 840, were organized or inspired by some student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 people dead on Feb. 14. The carnage was allegedly carried out by a 19-year-old former student who had legally purchased an assault rifle.Since it was announced, the Washington march and its sister marches have received a significant amount of financial support from celebrities, including actor George Clooney and director Steven Spielberg.
``Amal (Clooney's wife) and I are so inspired by the courage and eloquence of these young men and women from Stoneman Douglas High School,'' Clooney said in February. ``Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country, and in the name of our children Ella and Alexander, we're donating $500,000 to help pay for this groundbreaking event.
Our children's lives depend on it.''Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, later matched that donation, pledging another $500,000. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Walt Disney Co. and DreamWorks Animation chief, also announced a $500,000 donation in conjunction with his wife, Marilyn. Oprah Winfrey also offered up $500,000. ``These inspiring young people remind me of the Freedom Riders of the 60s who also said we've had enough and our voices will be heard,'' Winfrey wrote on her Twitter page.