By Nelson Oliveira New York Daily News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The rally which marked the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington was dubbed the "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks."
Nearly six decades later, the dream is still not a reality.
Thousands of protesters, civil rights advocates and the families of several African Americans killed by law enforcement this year, gathered in the nation's capital Friday to mark the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington while denouncing police brutality and systemic racism in the U.S.
The 1963 march, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech, was a historic turning point in American history, but dozens of speakers who addressed the crowd near the Lincoln Memorial on Friday said racial equality is still a work in progress.
The rally, dubbed "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks," comes less than a week after another Black man was shot by a white police officer in a caught-on-tape incident that has fueled an unprecedented sports boycott and a wave of nightly protests. The 29-year-old father of six, Wisconsin resident Jacob Blake, may never be able to walk again after he was shot in the back seven times Sunday in the city of Kenosha.
"There is a knee upon the neck of democracy and our nation can only live so long without the oxygen of freedom," Martin Luther King III, the late civil rights leader's oldest living child, told march attendees Friday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network organized the march in partnership with the NAACP, announced the event while speaking at George Floyd's funeral in June. Floyd's Memorial Day death while in the custody of Minneapolis cops, including one who knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes, set off a wave of demonstrations against institutional racism that swept the country through the summer.
"We need to have a conversation about racism," Sharpton told the crowd.
"We did not come to start trouble. We came to stop trouble," he said. "You act like it's no trouble to shoot us in the back. You act like it's no trouble to put a chokehold on us while we scream 'I can't breathe.' You act like it's no trouble to hold a man on the ground to squeeze the life out of him. It's time for a new conversation."
The turnout Friday was much smaller than the original March on Washington, which drew more than 200,000 people, because of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing restrictions. Event organizers urged participants to wear masks and spread out as much as possible, but many in the crowd did not cover their faces or keep a safe distance from each other.
Marchers also faced extremely high heat, with temperatures in the low 90s Friday afternoon. Blake's mother, Julia Jackson, had a "little heat exhaustion" during the event, Sharpton announced at one point, though she appeared to be OK.
Blake's father, Jacob Blake Sr., urged Black Americans to "stand up" and fight against institutional racism.
"There are two systems of justice in the United States. There's a white system and there's a black system. The black system ain't doing so well," he said.
"We're tired," he told the crowd. "I'm tired of looking at cameras and seeing these young Black and Brown people suffer."
Many of the speakers used their speeches to urge people to vote in the November elections.
"What we need is change and we're at a point where we can get that change," Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, a woman killed by Louisville police officers executing a "no knock" warrant, told march attendees. "But we have to stand together. We have to vote."
They also called on the Republican-led Senate to take action on a voting rights bill named after Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who died in July, and a police reform proposal that seeks to end the use of chokeholds, no-knock warrants and other controversial police tactics. Both measures have been approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
Also joining the march were family members of Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black men killed by current and former cops in recent years.
"I do believe that if we continue to stand and fight together that we will get change," said Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of 25-year-old Arbery, who was killed by a white ex-cop and his son while jogging in Georgia in February.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts, also struck an optimistic tone in a brief speech Friday morning.
"We are in unprecedented and uncertain times," she said, "but the state of our movement is strong and another world is possible. ... Let me make it plain: Black Lives Matter." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.