Thousands Gather For March On Washington To Demand Police Reform And Racial Equality
Updated 1:33 p.m. ET
Thousands of demonstrators descend on the nation's capital on Friday to demand an overhaul to the nation's criminal justice system and push for racial equality at the same site Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for those same reforms decades ago in his iconic "I Have A Dream Speech."
Like the 1963 March on Washington, organizers opened with a series of speeches before attendees plan to march through the streets of the city, this time ending at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
This march – dubbed "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" — comes at a particularly tense time as frustration over police brutality and use of force have sparked national outrage following the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Watch the livestream below.
A common theme throughout the march was a call to action for attendees to register and to vote in the fall elections.
Several of the speakers led the crowds in chants of "No Justice! No Peace!" And repeated the refrain that "Black Lives Matter." At one point some in the crowd could be overheard saying "hands up, don't shoot."
Addressing the crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, just as his father did on this day 57 years ago, Martin Luther King III said the civil rights struggle his father helped lead in the 1950s and 1960s is far from over.
"We're taking a step forward on America's rocky, but righteous journey towards justice," King said.
He also touched on the killing of Emmett Till, the Black teenager who was killed on this day in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.
"Sixty-five years later we still struggle for justice, demilitarizing the police, dismantling mass incarceration and declaring and determining indeterminately as we can that Black lives matter."
King also encouraged the crowd to become the change they want and not wait on another icon, like his father, to help champion present-day challenges.
"If you're looking for a savior, get up and find the mirror," King said. "We must become the heroes of the history we're making."
Several Democratic members of Congress also spoke at the event, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who told the crowd, "We are in unprecedented, uncertain times."
She also painted a picture of America that she said is possible, but alludes many Americans of color.
"Yes, it is possible to legislate justice and accountability, people over profits, joy over trauma, freedom over fear. Yes, it is possible to write budgets that actually value black lives," she said.
Gun control activist and 2018 Parkland, Fla., high school shooting survivor Aalayah Eastmond said gun violence is a scourge on black communities.
"Police violence is gun violence," Eastmond said. "And gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black youth. We demand to live in peace. We demand to live in spaces where the best of Black culture can thrive."
The event also featured family members of Black Americans who have been killed by police or in other racially-charged incidents, including Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and others whose names have become rallying cries during recent national protests demanding their killers be held accountable.
Civil Rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents many of the victims' families, said "the problem isn't de-escalation, the problem is racism."
"Certainly as with all these tragedies you want accountability because we can't get justice," Crump said Friday on NPR's Morning Edition.
"Justice would be George Floyd being able to take another breath today. Justice would be Breonna Taylor still being here. Justice would be Ahmaud Arbery still being here. So the only thing we can hope for right now is accountability."
Racial justice and police reform is a hot-button political issue as election day draws near.
On Thursday as Donald Trump accepted the Republican Party's nomination for president, he underscored his self-proclaimed moniker as the "law and order president," while accusing Democratic challenger Joe Biden as someone who repeatedly tears down America. Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators gathered just outside on the White House's South Lawn to decry racism and demand police accountability.
The march also comes on the heels of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday. Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back at close range. He is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to his family's lawyers.
That shooting was captured on video and went viral on social media, sparking days of demonstrations that turned deadly this week.
A 17-year-old from Illinois allegedly opened fired on protesters in Kenosha, killing two and injuring a third. The shooter, a white male, reportedly has ties to a militia and is a staunch supporter of law enforcement.
He is facing six criminal charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, in connection to the shooting.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic also looms over the event.
Due to a requirement imposed by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser that visitors to the district from high-risk states self-quarantine for 14 days, turnout for the march is expected to be lighter than organizers had originally anticipated.
Event organizers had planned for 100,000 attendees, but a permit issued by the National Park Service indicates about half that are expected, according to The Washington Post.
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