Students protest gun violence with die-in at Gainesville city hall

Sixteen-year-old Feliquan Charlemagne lies down Saturday during a die-in protest in front of Gainesville City Hall. Charlemagne is the co-founder of the Ocala chapter of March for Our Lives. Go to page 8 to read more.

Lauren Cohen remembers seeing police officers stationed outside of her temple since she was young.

In the wake of Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, she now fears her synagogue is no longer safe, Cohen said.

“The fact that people in my community were taken due to gun violence is sickening,” Cohen said. “I’m at a loss of words.”

To protest gun violence, like what occurred at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, the Gainesville chapter of Students Demand Action organized a die-in — a form of protest where participants lie on the ground — Saturday afternoon in front of Gainesville City Hall.

About 20 protestors wore orange tape on their clothes with phrases such as “Enough” and “We are dying” and lay down on the cement ground for 17 minutes. Although it wasn’t meant to honor a specific event, Saturday’s synagogue shooting imparted a somber reminder for everyone impacted by gun violence, said Jovanna Liuzzo, the 17-year-old founder of the Gainesville chapter of Students Demand Action.

The student organization is determined to unite the community against further gun violence and stressed the importance of locals working together, Liuzzo said.

Before the die-in, protesters also heard from guest speakers John Etienne from the UF College Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union; Jyoti Parmar from Indivisible Gainesville; Anton Kernohan from Students Stand Up; Lauren Cohen from Students Demand Action; Cate Allen from Empower the People and Melanie Hagen from Moms Demand Action.

Before Liuzzo founded the local chapter of Students Demand Action, she said there was no Gainesville organization to combat gun violence at a community level.

“The only way we are going to reach a viable, effective conclusion is to make sure that everyone’s voice is being heard,” she said.

As a survivor of a mass shooting that killed her high school peers, 17-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Cate Allen said she continues to suffer from the emotional trauma that came with the tragedy. Educating voters on how to stop future gun violence helps her heal.

“I realized if I would have done something, I would still have the people I care about,” Allen said.

Although young people are leading the charge against gun violence, adults still have a major role to play in reminding the community that everyone’s voice matters, especially moms supporting their kids, said Margaret Hamer, the spokesperson for Alachua County Moms Demand Action for Gun Violence Prevention.

“Young people have an absolute opportunity to make change,” Hamer said.

Contact Aaron Ritter at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @AaronRitter18