Students at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids protest gun violence
Students at Cedar Rapids Washington High School walked out of their classrooms Monday to protest gun violence. Some of them said they were friends of the two teenagers someone shot and killed last weekend.
Police said someone shot four people at around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday outside the Iowa Smoke Shop on Kirkwood Court Southwest in Cedar Rapids. Matrell Johnson and Royal Abram died. A 19-year-old man, and a 19-year-old woman are hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
This is not the first time for students of Washington High School to deal with gun violence. The class of 2019 will graduate Saturday. When they were freshmen, they lost Senquez Jackson in a shooting and now they are mourning the loss of two more young people with ties to the school.
In response, they gathered on school grounds on Monday. And, between the moments of silence, students climbed ladders to share memories of the two 18-year-olds killed over the weekend.
Senior Class President Darshaun Smith knew Royal Abram well.
“I remember looking on Instagram the other day walking down this hall and he said 'new cut look at this,'” Smith said.
Abram had plans for life after high school.
"He wanted change," Smith said. "He was actively trying to change his life around. He was going to graduate in a week, and that was stolen away from him."
Students are advocating for chang at the city level to address the problem.
"I know, personally, I was fortunate enough to be on the youth city council this year,” Smith said. "Our ending of the year project was to create a space for people our age."
Programs for teens are expanding in the city.
Recently, the Safe Equitable Thriving Communities Task Force dispersed its first round of grants to various organizations. Its goal is to decrease gun violence in the city. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cedar Rapids received about $5,000, which will go to teaching middle school students about different careers.
"Get those kids to see what exists in Cedar Rapids so that they understand they don't have to stay in the neighborhood they're at,” Executive Director John Tursi said.
Most of the middle school students the organization serves will feed into Washington High School. Program directors say it is important that teens are prepared for high school and the tough choices that come with growing up. Improving communication skills could help prevent conflict.
"I feel like that's a skill our generation lacks is that in person communication,” Smith said.
Smith thinks that words, not weapons, could be the answer.
"I think this is the seventh person in my class to fall victim to gun violence which is terrible,” Smith said.
A few other high school students tell TV9 they plan to attend a city council meeting in Cedar Rapids in the near future. They plan to tell council members about how gun violence has impacted their own lives.