Civil Rights

Pawtucket High School students walk out to protest legislative inaction on guns and abortion rights

“We’re here in response to the failures of our government – how they failed those babies in Texas and how they failed to protect abortion rights, and how they failed to protect all of our peers,” said walkout organizer Zachary Pinto.

June 1, 2022, 2:44 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

“Why are we walking in this weather when we could be indoors, in our classes, where it’s ‘safe?'” asked Zachary Pinto, addressing a large crowd of students in Veterans Memorial Park just outside Pawtucket City Hall. “We’re here because it’s not. Because we are tired. Because we are broken, and because we are scared.” Pinto is a Junior at Shea High School in Pawtucket.

At around 11am dozens of students left Shea High School on East Avenue and marched to city hall in “protest against the unjust laws that endanger us in our schools.” Students from two other high schools in Pawtucket, Tolman and Blackstone Academy Charter School, joined the protest. In all, over 125 students are estimated to have participated in the march.

Pinto organized the event over three days in response to the pain students were expressing to him over the murders in Uvalde, Texas. He dismissed conspiracy theories that claimed he was not acting on his own accord and said that the walkout was, “100% student organized.”

The march paused briefly outside Blackstone Academy where Pinto read the names of the 19 children murdered by a gunman in Uvalde. The students called on the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass legislation that would strengthen gun safety, ban large capacity magazines and ban assault weapons, such as AR-15s.

“I don’t feel safe walking in my city,” said Pinto to reporters. “I look to the news and I see nothing but pain. I see nothing but people attacking people that look like me, hurting kids that look like me.”

Also of concern to students is the presence of SROs (School Resource Officers) in schools. “There’s not much that the SRO provides,” said Pinto. “What we really need in mental health resources and counselors. My school has just under 900 students, and there’s two counselors.”

In the park near city hall, Pinto addressed the crowd:

We’re here in response to the failures of our government – how they failed those babies in Texas and how they failed to protect abortion rights, and how they failed to protect all of our peers.

“Instead of addressing the causes of our problems, they criminalize drug use, making it hard to do safely.

“They put police in our schools, expecting us to feel safer? Do you know what the school resource officer in Uvalde did? Absolutely nothing for almost an hour as those babies were being murdered.

“We need counselors, not cops! We need testing strips, not handcuffs!

“In ruth, I doubt the people in positions of power will do much meaningful to help us. And that is why we must help ourselves and we must help each other. True power comes from the people. Look around you, all of you. Look around you and see who’s standing next to you. Fight for each other. Pick each other up when you can.

“And lastly, if anyone needs Narcan or fentanyl testing strips to make sure that you are safe, please come and talk to me. I will get you what you need, no questions asked.

“I love and I care for you all. Now all I ask is a moment of silence for all the young lives lost in this past week.”

Other students also had messages for elected leaders:

“Why do our lives matter, only when it’s time to strip the rights of women? Why are our lives less than when it comes to keeping your guns? How many times will we have to die for you to consider guns the problem?”

“Every time youth makes a change, we can scaffold off of that and make such a great impact for history. We can all be in history books and be known as one of the greatest generations to make an impact on this country.”

“You’re here because you believe in something. You believe in the rights of all humans. Those little kids in Texas, barely starting out, killed by the guns that this country allows because they profit off. They’s rather profit off guns than keep our kids alive.”

Senator Cynthia Mendes (Democrat, District 18, East Providence):

Dr. Daniel Luis Muñoz:

Zachary Pinto wraps things up.

After the event Uprise RI learned that students were not allowed to re-enter Shea High School to pick up their belongings. One student died access to his stuff could not get his phone charger, so he was unable to call home for a ride. He was forced to walk for an hour to get home.