Volunteers clad in purple T-shirts handed out backpacks and gun locks at the 22nd annual Stop the Violence Back to School rally held Saturday at Citizens Track in Gainesville.
A triple line cars stretched across the open field and back onto the street, and the rally had 3,000 backpacks to give away as the school year arrives in 10 days for Alachua County.
This years’ theme is W.R.A.P: “We R Applying Pressure, with an emphasis on wrapping our arms around our youth.”
People Against Violence Enterprises (PAVE) hosted the rally, and Karl Anderson, who started PAVE, told the crowd to look for more events from PAVE, including parent symposiums.
“I want you to have a blessed and safe school year,” Anderson said. “Parents, we’re rallying behind you, with you, praying with you.”
Just over a week ago, Anderson told Mainstreet Daily News, that he thinks the pandemic has added fuel to the violence by giving young people too much idle time. At the rally he said people must be mindful of locking their cars, using gun locks and limiting easy access to firearms.
The rally’s keynote speaker was actor Todd Bridges, who played on "Diff’rent Strokes" and "Everybody Hates Chris." He said that he became who he is, avoiding a wrong life, thanks to his mother and God.
He also encouraged parents to involve themselves in their children’s lives.
“For us as parents, we should always know where our kids are at and what they’re doing,” Bridges said. “We need to be more involved in their lives.”
He said if kids continued down a wrong path, they would eventually get caught and have to obey someone.
“You’re either going to mind your parents or you’re going to mind the police, one or the other,” Bridges said. “You’re not just going to be able to get away with things.”
This year’s rally arrives during a time of heightened juvenile violence that has shook the community. Since late June, at least 13 people have suffered gunshot wounds and two have died.
State Attorney Brian Kramer spoke at the rally, saying he didn’t want to prosecute any more children.
“Since I took office six months ago, we’ve had more gun violence by juveniles than we've ever seen, and I’ve met more parents of victims than I’ll ever care to,” Kramer said.
The rally also included free COVID-19 tests and vaccinations by UF Health.