WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Thousands of people took part in a march in Washington on Friday to denounce racism, on the anniversary of the march in 1963 where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr made his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
“You might have killed the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream,” civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton told Friday’s crowd.
Activists and politicians gave speeches, including Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, who appeared in a recorded video. Many referenced U.S. Representative John Lewis, a civil rights hero who spoke at the 1963 march and died in July.
Speakers stressed the importance of voting in November’s election and links between activism for Black civil rights, disability rights and LGBT rights and against gun violence, among other causes.
“In so many ways, we stand together today in the symbolic shadow of history, but we are making history together right now,” said Martin Luther King III, Martin Luther King Jr’s son.
The half-mile march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Memorial, on a hot, humid day in the U.S. capital, comes amid a summer of racial unrest book-ended by two high-profile incidents in which Black men were shot by police.
Nationwide protests began in May, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
This week, protests broke out in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police officers shot another African-American man, Jacob Blake, multiple times in front of his children. Though Blake survived, lawyers said he has been paralyzed.
“We will not be your docile slave. We will not be a footstool to oppression,” said Letetra Widman, Blake’s sister.
George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, appeared on stage as well. At times, he stopped to collect himself, apparently overcome with emotion.
“I wish George was here to see this,” he said.
Allisa Findley, sister of Botham Jean, an African-American man killed in Dallas by an off-duty police officer who said she mistook his apartment for her own, said: “I am tired of adding new names, adding new hashtags to an already long list of victims of police terror. We cannot allow our brothers and sisters to only be remembered for how they died.”
‘TOO LITTLE TOO LATE’
James Jarell, a business owner from Delaware, said recent demonstrations of support from corporations and professional athletes was not enough. “For people who live with the terror of getting shot by the police every day, this is too little, too late,” he said.
Bella Ridenoure of Arlington, Virginia said President Donald Trump should have acknowledged Black frustrations during his speech on Thursday that closed out the Republican National Convention.
“How much does it hurt President Trump to acknowledge racism?” the 43-year-old government worker said. “Instead, he played politics and is now making it look like we are criminals who want the police defunded.”
Sharpton’s National Action Network, which planned the event, took steps to protect marchers from the coronavirus pandemic, in which Black people have suffered disproportionately. At one point, a speaker directed attendees to stand with their arms out to ensure there was enough distance between them. Staff wiped down the podium and microphones between speakers.
Black people are more likely to be sickened and die from the virus and to lose jobs from the economic fallout, statistics show.
Though many people wore masks, many others did not.
A virtual commemoration is also planned, featuring Reverend William Barber, a prominent civil rights activist and the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. It will also include civil rights activists, politicians, artists and entertainers.
Kerrigan Williams, a founder of Freedom Fighters DC, said the activist group was organizing its own march later on Friday to promote a more radical agenda that includes replacing police departments with other public safety systems.
Separately, a wing of the Movement for Black Lives, a network of Black activists and organizations, has scheduled the “Black National Convention” on Friday night, following national conventions by the Democratic and Republican parties over the past two weeks.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Nandita Bose; Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Heather Timmons, David Gregorio and Rosalba O’Brien)