Overview:Students Walk Out to Protest Death Sentence

Public pleas for clemency for Julius Jones intensified this week, driving Oklahoma students to action.

For many students in November, civic engagement wasn’t just something to learn about in class. It was something to practice.

Public pleas for clemency for Julius Jones intensified this week, driving students to action: staging walkouts from high schools, leading public protests and visiting the state Capitol. Jones was scheduled for execution Thursday afternoon, but Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted his death sentence to life without parole.

“He’s not free,” said Darriona Young, a sophomore at Norman High School, who was chanting with a group of students following the governor’s announcement. Young said it was important to show support for the Jones family.

Earlier that day, about 200 students walked out of the school and held a moment of silence.

“We’re really tired of Black people getting mistreated by the justice system,” another protesting student, Zauhdreona Lewis, said.

Abigail Parker, a sophomore at Norman High School, said she felt it was important to stand up for her beliefs. “Kids are always told that we’re too young for our opinions to matter, but we are taking a stance and changing that cliche,” she said.

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Jaden Walters, 16, was among the students who joined protests at the Capitol. The John Marshall Enterprise High School junior said someone took a quick poll to see how many were under 30 years old, and nearly all raised their hands.

“When we grow up, we’ll be in those positions (of power), like the governor,” Walters said. “The younger generation is the future.

“I’m going to turn 18 and vote soon,” she added.

About 200 Edmond Memorial High School students staged a peaceful protest by walking out of their classrooms at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, gathering at the entrance to the football stadium. The student-led protest was planned with school officials’ input and consent.

“While the Edmond Public School district respects our students’ rights to free speech and assembly, we are also committed to maintaining a safe learning environment during events such as this,” Principal Anthony Rose wrote in an email to parents. “Specifically, we must safeguard the rights of both those who choose to remain in their classrooms for instruction and those who might choose to leave class to participate in peaceful demonstrations.”

Students who participated in the protest were charged with an absence for the missed class.

Some school leaders expressed support for students’ civic action.

“OKCPS supports our students’ rights to peaceful assembly and their freedom of expression. We have worked closely with students and student groups who wished to assemble today so we could provide them with a safe space to express themselves regarding an issue they are passionate about. Our top priority is always to support the academic and social emotional needs of our students while maintaining a safe and orderly learning environment for all,” Superintendent Sean McDaniel said in a written statement.

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, praised the students.

“So proud,” she wrote on Twitter. “These kids are our future!”

Students this week staged similar walkouts at high schools including Northwest Classen, Putnam City North, Putnam City West, Classen School of Advanced Studies, Star Spencer, Harding Charter Preparatory, and Jones’ alma mater, John Marshall Enterprise High School, according to news reports.

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or jpalmer@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC


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