A group of nineteen teens traveling on a March For Our Lives bus tour across the southern U.S. stopped Friday night at a Baton Rouge memorial for Alton Sterling, a man fatally shot by a Baton Rouge police officer, as part of their movement against gun violence.
The summer-long Road to Change tour, launched in response to the Valentine's Day mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, made stops across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in an effort to discuss gun violence and the people it effects.
Seventeen people were killed and another 17 were injured when former student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, opened fire at the school, investigators have said. Cruz was arrested after the shooting. A group of survivors have since stepped up as activists, holding massive March For Our Lives rallies around the country and hosting town halls and voter registration drives, including a drive Friday afternoon at a Baton Rouge library.
Delaney Tarr, 18, a 2018 Stoneman Douglas graduate, joined the other youth on the tour in order to connect with others affected by gun violence on a greater level. She said the majority of the other 18 teens either went to her high school or are graduates.
"It's given us the ability to have conversations with people that we likely would have never met if we hadn't been out here going to every district in Florida and going to other states as well," Tarr said. "It's more about conversation and understanding and listening and learning this time around because we realize that the best way to mobilize people is to really truly have them care. People care a lot more when you're right there with them."
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Tarr and the group met with Sterling's aunt, Sandra Sterling, before visiting the Sterling mural at the Triple S food mart where he was fatally shot by a Baton Rouge police officer on July 5, 2016. Officers responded to the store where Sterling was selling CDs after a man reported that Sterling threatened him with a gun. Baton Rouge police officer Blane Salamoni, who fatally shot Sterling after a scuffle, was fired this year.
Adam Alhanti, 17, said they wanted to stop at the Sterling memorial because it's part of their greater mission to lift up silenced voices.
"Alton Sterling's voice in particular is a voice that was silenced, literally," said Alhanti, one of the founders of the movement. "Our movement is about uplifting voices and allowing people to be heard. So this is something that was powerful for us to see that even if you go down, you're not going down without a fight. Even though he's no longer with us, we're still fighting for us. We're still fighting for those like him who have been silenced."
As the teens have met people like Sandra Sterling, Tarr said they feel connected to then because they're part of a greater network. They specifically wanted to focus their Baton Rouge stop around Alton Sterling because they consider him a victim of gun violence, too, Tarr said.
"We often say that all forms of gun violence are just that, gun violence," Tarr said. "We can't discriminate against police brutality and say that it's not a form of gun violence because it's something that police are doing to citizens because it's just as bad. It's harming just as many people and it's just as much a systemic issue in our society that we need to fix."
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Though the southern tour will wrap up Saturday in New Orleans, both Alhanti and Tarr said the movement will continue.
"I think we're saving lives," Alhanti said. "That's what we're doing."