WASHINGTON – Led by mothers, fathers, and widows of African American men killed by white police officers, thousands of protesters marched up Pennsylvania Avenue Dec. 13 chanting “I Can’t Breathe” and “No Justice No Peace.”
The demonstration, called by the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, was mobilized in about one week yet drew an enormous crowd from as far away as California, Washington State and Arizona. The people, of all races, women and men, young and old, packed the capital’s widest avenue and reached for many blocks. A demonstration twice or even three times larger filled the streets of New York City and similar protests were organized in Boston, San Francisco and over 100 other cities and towns across the nation.
“This is not a black march or a white march but an American march for the rights of American people,” Sharpton told the crowd.
Rogue cops shoot to death about one person per day, he said, calculating that these atrocities “would be kept quiet….swept under the rug. But we’re going to keep the light on Michael Brown, on Eric Garner, on Tamir Rice, on all of these victims because….the only way you make the roaches run is you got to cut the light on.”
The father of John Crawford, 22, shot dead by Ohio police in a Walmart for picking up a pellet gun said Walmart has not even sent the family a message of condolence and the company has refused to release footage of his shooting.
Michael Brown Sr., father of young Michael Brown, shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri said, “This means the world to me to see everyone coming together for a common cause.”
The widow of Eric Garner, strangled to death by a policeman, said, “My husband was a quiet man but he’s making a lot of noise right now. His voice will be heard.”
Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo, held up a copy of Time Magazine with the image of her son, shot to death in a hail of 41 bullets 16 years ago. “Sixteen years later, we are standing here and debating the same thing,” she lamented.
Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who represents Houston told the crowd, “We will take up legislation to bring about change in the way policing is done in this country.” He pointed out that a bill requiring an annual report on every case of people dying in the police custody has been approved by the House and is pending before the Senate.
CBC members, led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., have called for Congressional hearings on the issue of police violence. His comments made clear that the Republican leadership of the House and Senate will face pressure to enact laws to end these police killings when Congress reconvenes in January.
Hazel Dukes, president of the New York NAACP, was marching in the vanguard of hundreds of members of her organization who traveled here on 15 buses. “I came here to stand for equality and justice for all,” Dukes told the People’s World. “We’ve seen over the past several years a rash of killings, of police misconduct with no punishment for this misconduct.”
She added, “Whenever a uniformed officer is involved in misconduct there should be a special prosecutor” assigned to prosecute the offender. She also called for federal laws requiring the Justice Department to “monitor” police misconduct. “We need laws on the books that encompass every state, not separate laws for Alabama and New York.”
The AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed the march and sponsored buses from several cities including Baltimore. AFT president Randi Weingarten spoke at a pre-march rally at Freedom Plaza. “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” she said, urging unity in the struggle for human rights including the right of workers to join unions.
Jeffrey Johnson, an organizer for the AFT Maryland State Federation, told the World, “I have four kids including two boys. How do you protect them?” He pointed out that Washington is the nation’s capital. “Our Congress is here. They need to hear from us.”
Adam Lange, 29, a white man from Phoenix, Arizona, said Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed black man was killed by Phoenix police on his own door step on Dec. 2.
“I joined a march in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago to protest Brisbon’s killing and when I heard about this action, I felt I had to be here. This is an issue that touches every state. It affects all of us. The critical point is that this is such a clear manifestation of racism in America.”
Wendy Jackson of Barstow, California, held a handlettered sign, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot.” She accused rightwing elements of launching an offensive that has drastically escalated the racist violence. “People came together and elected the Obama administration,” she said. “They voted for an African American president because it was time for a change.” Then has come repeated refusals by grand juries to indict white police officers when they shoot or strangle, innocent, unarmed African Americans. “People are saying. This isn’t what we voted for! People are saying, We can’t breathe. It’s time for America to say NO to racism.”
Photo: Crowd marching down Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C. | Margaret Baldridge/PW