Seven weeks after their school was rocked by a massacre that left 17 dead, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High issued a cry for help Tuesday night during a town hall at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts.
The theater was packed for what U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, billed as “Gun Violence Prevention: Next Steps,” a discussion scheduled to last 90 minutes, but extended another 45 minutes to hear from students of the Parkland school and relatives of the deceased. They raised concerns about school safety, gun control and what they view as a vanishing support system for students still wrestling with trauma and depression.
Thank you to everyone from FL22 who joined the town hall. We came together tonight because this isn't over. We all need to rely on one another, support one another, and work together to make our communities safe from gun violence.#EndGunViolence #TownHallForOurLives pic.twitter.com/mwWMf4GBZ1— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) April 4, 2018
Dozens of politicians from throughout Broward County sat on the stage behind Deutch, who hosted the town hall and occasionally fielded questions. One leader from Palm Beach County — Monica Mayotte, a member of the Boca Raton city council — also attended.
Most telling was a plea from one Douglas student.
“It is very, very difficult to deal with the trauma of PTSD, the depression,” said the student. “It seems that every day that I go to school there is less and less help. More teachers expect us to move on. There are less counselors and all of them are in the library. The therapy dogs are gone, basically; there are only a few that follow specific students.
“And it’s right around this time when the shock has worn off and the depression is setting in that a lot of us are not doing well,” she said, emphasizing each final word, then stopping as applause broke out.
She asked what leaders are doing to ensure trauma-trained psychologists are available to every Douglas student.
Deutch said that support should be available to each student and that if anyone thinks students should “just move on” after seven weeks, “it’s not just unrealistic, it’s cruel.”
When Deutch said he planned to follow up on the matter “first thing tomorrow morning,” up jumped a woman from the audience.
It was Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, president and CEO of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, who told students to call 211 to be connected with a trauma-trained therapist.
A freshman at Douglas questioned testing that’s still on the docket for Douglas students at the end of this school year.
“You’re telling us, ‘You don’t have to be over this yet,’ but you’re expecting us to take a test?” she said.
She was told that political leaders were going to ask Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday to waive such testing.
Samantha Fuentes, the gunshot victim who vomited while delivering a speech in Washington, D.C., during the March for Our Lives rally two weeks ago, wanted an explanation regarding funding that’s supposed to help students.
“My peers are being treated like prisoners for a crime they didn’t commit,” she said. “How do we make sure funds are being appropriated to the correct areas instead of things as useless as clear backpacks?”
Several other students ridiculed the instance on clear backpacks. Deutch said law enforcement faces a “balancing act” to keep everyone safe. He speculated that many in the audience probably felt not enough is being done for school security.
He was correct. Late in the program, Greg Pittman, a history teacher at Douglas, said law enforcement is supposed to be on campus from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., but when he arrived at 6:30 a.m. Monday, only crossing guards were present.
“I could have driven a herd of elephants through the gates,” he said.
Multiple students raised concerns that African-Americans could be profiled as law enforcement cracks down, to which Deutch said, “We’ve got to be awfully careful as we go about any change to make sure everyone in the community is safe.”
With guns on the marquee, it came as no surprise that some of the loudest applause came whenever any speaker advocated banning assault weapons, which several described as instruments of war. The National Rifle Association was attacked several times, with one veteran calling the organization “bloodthirsty.”
Deutch blasted anyone who used personal attacks on student activists such as David Hogg, who was in attendance, as a means of keeping gun laws status quo.
“Here’s how we know that this time is different,” Deutch said. “We know because there are gun lobbyists who are attacking the students who are sitting in this hall. There are colleagues of mine in the U.S. House who are attacking students for standing up for themselves to ensure that nothing like this happens ever again. And let me just say that when they do it and when they engage in the kind of outrageous bullying and efforts to silence them, they will fail. It is cowardice.”
The crowd rose to applaud, breaking into a chant of “Vote them out! Vote them out!”
Deutch said he planned to hold a follow-up town hall in another month. In the meantime, he pleaded with attendees to send a tweet to House Speaker Paul Ryan requesting he bring to the floor a vote on universal background checks for gun purchasers.
Deutch pointed out that during recess, about 200 such town halls are being held across the country and that when he reconvenes with colleagues next week, he expects to see two groups of politicians: those “committed to working with me to pass common-sense gun safety” and those who are “very, very nervous” about their political future.