GREAT BARRINGTON — Hundreds of people, including many students from Bard College at Simon's Rock, rallied on Main Street on Friday afternoon to promote the voices of people of color and LGBTQ in the national gun violence debate — two groups, organizers said, that have been largely left out of the conversation.
Simon's Rock student organizers said they wanted to make more people aware of the violence that people of color and LGBTQ people regularly experience — not just during tragic, but rare, mass school shootings.
Too much of the country's gun-control and anti-violence attention has been focused on stopping violence at schools instead of everywhere, demonstrators point out.
People of color and LGBTQ people face an increased risk of violent crimes and hate crimes than white, straight people. In 2015, the most recent year for which information is available, for every 1,000 Americans who were victims of violent crimes, 17 were white, 23 were black and another 17 were Hispanic, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Paired with the fact that black people make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population and that there are about 160 million more white people than black people here, proportionally, the numbers show disparity.
LGBTQ people are more likely to be the targets of hate crimes than any other marginalized group in the country, according to FBI data.
"There's a lot of gun violence in my neighborhood," said Fanta Ballo, a 16-year-old Simon's Rock student from Harlem. "We need more books and education instead of guns."
Simon's Rock students Ankur Chakrabarti Roybarman, Stone Mins and Moamer Alsaedi spent two months organizing the two-hour protest and working with the school to take students from campus to downtown. The rally included speeches, as well as a march from Mason Library to Town Hall. Speakers addressed the relationship between mental health and violence, police enforcement, racism, guns and suicide.
In front of the Mason Library on Friday at 11 a.m., about 200 Bard College at Simon's Rock students, as well as area residents, held signs with varied messages as motorists drove past, often honking in support.
Ellie Locascio, 17, held up a drawing of an AR-15 rifle in a parental advisory box with the tagline "AR. Rated E for Everyone."
"We're all just angry," the 17-year-old Simon's Rock student said, before joining in on an "All guns kill" chant.
Student Ebony Martin, 16, carried a standard paper-size white sign riddled with holes, each one representing a bullet from the rapid spray of an automatic rifle, she said.
"We're fighting for our lives," Martin said. "If we're not safe on campus, the government should do that for us — that's their job."
Other signs read "Black Lives Matter," "Books not bullets," "White silence = violence," "Protect kids not guns," and "Why are your guns more important than my life?"
The protest was peaceful, and a Great Barrington police cruiser was parked near the demonstrations. An officer in a cruiser approached a young man in a black hooded sweatshirt with wing patches sewn to the back, to get him to stop walking in traffic during the march. He complied, and the police car drove away.
"It will be impossible to change the world if we forget the victims don't look or talk like [policymakers] do," Mins said through a bullhorn. "Remember the victims, remember me, remember Black Lives Matter, remember Queer Lives Matter!" he shouted to a roar of applause and hollers of support.
Simon's Rock was the scene of a shooting in December 1992, during which a student and professor were slain and four others were wounded. At the rally, a woman carried a small green sign with the names of the victims of the Simon's Rock massacre: student Galen Gibson, 18, a budding poet and theater tech wiz; and Nacunan Saez, 37, a beloved Argentinian language professor.
Kristin Palpini can be reached at email@example.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, and 413-629-4621.