WASHINGTON – Groups were converging on the nation’s capital Friday to march for law enforcement reform and voting rights as America reels from police killings of Black people this year that fueled protests across the country.
The Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, or NAN, is marking the 57th anniversary of the historic March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his « I Have A Dream » speech.
Sharpton first announced the march at the funeral of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died on Memorial Day when a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The march, Sharpton said, will lobby for lawmakers to pass federal legislation that he believes will help Black Americans gain equality.
He wants the U.S. Senate to take up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would end certain police practices such as the use of no-knock warrants and chokeholds, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which targets racial discrimination of voters. The U.S. House has passed both bills, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to bring them up for a vote.
“The reason why George Floyd laying there with that knee on his neck resonated with so many African-Americans is because we have all had a knee on our neck,” Sharpton told USA TODAY. “What we are saying is that these two laws represent taking some of the knee off but the systemic racism is going to take more than two laws.”
The march comes as protests erupted across the country this week after graphic video surfaced on social media showing a police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back several times as he was walking to a car in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The shooting left Blake, 29, paralyzed from the waist down, and it will be a « miracle » if he can ever walk again, Blake’s family attorney Ben Crump said Tuesday.
Two people were shot and killed and a third person was injured Tuesday night when protests in Kenosha turned violent.
About 50,000 people are expected to attend the March on Washington on Friday, according to a public gathering permit issued to NAN by the National Park Service.
Kendra Butler, 49, of Arlington, Texas, was among those gathering Friday morning. She said she was in Washington visiting her cousin, Narvin Gray, and they decided to come March. Butler has two sons and said she’s here for them and their future.
« I have two Black sons and seeing their parent out here trying to make a difference… to see them growing up asking why this is happening and I have to explain all the way back to when we were kidnapped. It’s a horrible situation to have to explain to a 15-year-old who did not learn (Black history) in high school.
« As a Black parent, I want to show them that they not only have to learn, but have to practice what they preach. »
‘People are not going to stop’: 57 years later, thousands to gather for another March on Washington on Friday
Butler and Gray said they’re organizing their family to vote early together, to show the younger family members it’s important.
Gray, 56, of Washington, D.C., said he wasn’t alive for march 57 years ago so he wanted to come out today. « I just figured it was time to do something, time to stop being a spectator, » he said.
NAN leaders say they will enforce strict rules during the march including requiring participants to wear masks, checking in at thermometer stations, providing hand sanitizer, restricting access to buses from states or cities that are COVID-19 hot spots and social distancing. There will be a livestream of the march on NAN’s website.
Programming for the march will feature speeches by Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, Crump and the families of Blake, Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and Eric Garner. At about 1 p.m., participants will march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
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