Recent acts of police brutality sparks another March on Washington 57 years later
Following protests across the country against police brutality, families of Black Americans killed by police officers speak at Lincoln Memorial.
For Americans, 2020 has been marked by two things — the COVID-19 pandemic and protests across the country for criminal justice reform after several notable acts of police brutality against people of color.
The killing of George Floyd in May is what propelled Black Americans and liberal activists to take to the streets in numbers that have not been seen since the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s.
While delivering a eulogy for Floyd on June 5, Reverend Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, announced his intentions to organize a second March on Washington to address policing in America.
He emphasized that he wanted the event to be led by the Floyd family and other families of color that have lost a loved one to police brutality like those of Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner.
The original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that took place on Aug. 28, 1963 drew a quarter million to march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial to demand that Congress pass sweeping legislation that provides Black Americans civil and economic rights.
On that day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech and it later motivated many to pressure their representatives in Congress to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which were signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The response from President Donald Trump to the pleas from activists and more unjustified deaths of Black Americans only strengthened the case for another mass demonstration in Washington D.C. like the one led by Dr. King.
Trump repeatedly downplayed the violence Black Americans were facing and when asked why they were still dying at the hands of law enforcement he said: “So are White people. What a terrible question to ask. So are White people, more White people by the way,”
More White people are killed by police officers because they are a larger portion of the U.S. population, but a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found that Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely to die from a police encounter.
The president had peaceful protesters near St. John’s Church in D.C. tear gassed so the path was cleared for him to conduct a photo-op in front of the historical church while holding a copy of the Bible.
In July, he sent federal agents, mainly comprised of U.S. Marshalls and ICE officers, to Portland, OR in an attempt to squash demonstrations that had been going on for weeks in the city.
The agents were not trained in riot control and they aggressively confronted protestors. Some agents were unidentifiable and they would take people into unmarked vans without reason.
On July 17, the nation mourned the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights activist who spoke with Dr. King at the first March on Washington.
When Trump was asked by Johnathan Swan of Axios how Lewis would be remembered, he made the question about himself.
“I don’t know John Lewis. He chose not to come to my inauguration. I never met John Lewis actually I don’t believe… and again no one has done more for Black Americans than I have,” he said.
Lewis made it his life’s work to fight for the protection of voting rights but policy changes made by the new postmaster general and Trump trying to discredit mail-in voting has raised concerns of disenfranchisement.
The shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday in Kenosha, WI only added salt to the wounds of a community that was already hurting.
Blake’s family was invited to the march and his father spoke with Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden, but says he has not yet heard from Trump.
The Friday protest lasted over four and half hours and thousands came to witness the event despite the heat and the risks of the ongoing pandemic.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat from New York, the first formerly undocumented immigrant to serve in Congress, was one the first keynote speakers to address the march. He spoke on how the issues of voting and policing also affect the Latino and immigrant communities.
“We come here today, burying the scars and the wound of 400 years of struggle to say that whether your ancestors picked cotton or whether they cut sugar cane, we’re all in the same boat right now,” he said.
Multiple speakers called upon the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancements Act.
Kentucky State Representative Charles Booker ran a progressive campaign for the U.S. earlier this year. He narrowly lost his primary although he was severely outraised by eventual winner, Amy McGrath.
Booker rose to prominence after participating in a protest that formed in response to the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY.
“Breonna, I’m representing you right now,” he said at the end of his address to the crowd.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas asked the House to pass her bill that would allow for the federal government to study options for reparations to the desecdents of slavery.
Before Martin Luther King III spoke, he let his 12-year-old daughter Yolanda Renee King talk about the impact the youth has on this moment.
“We are going to be the generation that dismantles systemic racism once and for all, now and forever,” she said.
Letetra Widman, Blake’s sister, was among the last speakers and she talked about the importance for the Black community to rise up.
“We will not be a footstool to oppression … We will only pledge allegiance to the truth” she said.