Highland Park resident Nicole Polarek helped her children, Drew, 9, and Will, 7, affix pieces of orange fabric to the #Enough Mobile Gun Violence Community Project on Saturday afternoon.
Political activism followed the family’s terrifying experience five days earlier, when they took refuge in their favorite breakfast spot, Walker Bros. Original Pancake House on Central Avenue as gunfire rang out during the community’s Independence Day parade.
“I think we were out for the whole first round and then there was a break, thank goodness,” she said. “And we met Walker Bros. just halfway through round two,” Polarek said. “It was a lot.”
Looking back, however, she focuses on the friends the family made that day.
“We’re learning that there are a lot more good people in the world, a lot more helpers in this world, than bad ones,” Polarek said. “And that’s what we talked about today.”
Polarek was among the crowd that gathered at Sunset Woods Park in Highland Park on Saturday to demand new gun laws at the Highland Park community rally in response to the July 4 shooting that left seven dead and dozens of injured.
Rally event sponsors included Moms Demand Action, March For Our Lives, Gun Violence Prevention PAC, Illinois Tenth Congressional District Democrats, and Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Rachel Jacoby of Highland Park, co-organizer of the rally and a 2014 Vernon Hills High School graduate, said one of the goals was to “make space for the community to come together, mourn and heal after the 4th of July tragedy.
But loudspeakers and signs carried by attendees ensured the message was clear.
“What we’re also trying to do is send the message that enough is enough and it’s time for a change,” Jacoby said. “We want to rally the community to demand a future without gun violence.”
Rally co-organizer Caryn Fliegler of Northbrook, a graduate of Highland Park High School in 1993, is co-convener of the Illinois chapter of Moms Demand Action.
“I’ve worked on gun violence prevention for about seven years and I’ve always known that when people say, ‘I never thought this could happen here’, I can’t tell you how many people I ‘ve talked to who say that,” Fliegler said.
“It’s my hometown,” Fliegler said. “We need to be part of a movement to end this because it (mass shootings) continues to happen in places where people are saying, ‘I never thought this could happen here.
“Everyone I know who has survived gun violence said I never thought this would happen to me,” Fliegler said. “We have to change that.”
The rally included approximately one hour of speeches and a musical performance.
Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, a Democrat, addressed the crowd and called for an assault weapons ban. He said guns are too accessible.
“We have to think about the loss of freedom of these seven people and their families,” Rinehart said. “Their freedom matters.”
U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-10th) said the Fourth of July parade is normally a tradition that brings together generations of families, “side by side, united as one.”
But at Highland Park on July 4, “In an instant, everything changed,” Schneider said. “An evil monster has acquired a weapon of war and destroyed lives, shattered families and devastated our community.
“Enough is enough. We need to ban assault weapons,” Schneider said.
Karie Angell Luc is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.