Black police victims’ relatives urge action at mass march in D.C.
Washington: A screen displays a video with Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris speaking during the March on Washington, Friday Aug. 28, 2020, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. | AP/PTI Photo

WASHINGTON—One by one, they strode up to the podium on a hot and humid day in D.C.: Relatives or survivors of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jacob Blake and other unarmed Blacks whom police have gunned down over the years.

And one by one, they had a message for the crowd of more than 50,000 stretching from the Lincoln Memorial up and down the National Mall: Hit the streets. Keep marching for justice. And vote, vote, vote this fall.

“The police have killed so many of us there’s not enough time to acknowledge all the families,” the lead organizer of the August 28 march, the Rev. Al Sharpton said before calling Lesley Brown, Michael’s mother, to stand by him.

Michael’s murder in Ferguson, Mo., led to organization of the Black Lives Matter movement, a key participant in this “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march.

“You see all the names that are being called: Pamela Turner, Tamir Rice,” Brown, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Jacob Blake and more, Sharpton added. “Black lives matter. And we won’t stop until it matters to everybody.”

Turner died in Texas after being pulled over for a traffic stop and then thrown in jail. A cop killed Rice in a park in Cleveland. The cop thought Rice, age 12, brandished a gun. A white Minneapolis cop killed the unresisting Floyd with a knee to his neck on May 25, choking him. “I can’t breathe” were among his last words, along with pleas for his dead mother. Those were Garner’s last words, years before, too.

And Blake was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down just a few days ago when a white police officer first tasered him, then shot him seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wis., as he was getting into his SUV. His father was scheduled to come to D.C.

The killings, what they say about the lack of police accountability and the criminal justice system’s mistreatment of blacks, ran through the speeches at the peaceful gathering in D.C., organized by Sharpton’s National Action Network. It also marked the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March for Jobs and Justice, which culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. This one culminated in a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the nearby King Memorial.

“We must never forget the American nightmare of racist violence, exemplified by” the fact that “Emmett Till was murdered on this day in 1955,” eight years before the march his father led, said Martin Luther King III. “And the criminal justice system failed to convict his killers.”

Like King’s 1963 march, backed and financed by the Auto Workers and organized by activist Bayard Rustin and pioneering Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph, this one had union backing. AFSCME and the Teachers (AFT) led the union list and AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke. It had Black activist organizers, too: Sharpton, the NAACP and their allies.

But there were differences between 1963 and now. The biggest was that the coronavirus pandemic limited the size of the crowd. It still was above 50,000, and everyone underwent temperature checks and wore anti-viral masks. Most kept social distancing. Busloads of participants from viral hotspots such as Texas and Florida were politely told to stay away. They staged their own marches.

Politically, there were differences, too. Democrat John F. Kennedy was president then. His civil rights support was lukewarm because of racism in his own party. The 1963 march changed his mind and he started a strong push for the Civil Rights Act. He was murdered before it passed in 1964.

Donald Trump, a Republican who spouts dog whistles and imposes racist policies, is in the White House in 2020. His party, now a Trump cult at its convention which ended the night before, blindly follows.

And the marchers now have full and full-throated support of the Democrats, represented by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the party’s vice-presidential nominee. Harris is the first Black woman and first Asian-American on a major party ticket.

Presidential nominee Joe Biden and Harris face Trump and VP Mike Pence. Pence’s August 26 speech to his convention was weighted heavily in favor of police, regardless of what they do.

By contrast, Harris taped a video message declaring to marchers full backing of their immediate goal and their ultimate aim, starting to root out endemic U.S. racism.

After lauding past leaders of the movement, naming King, Randolph, the late Rep. John Lewis and others, Harris declared “They would share our anger and our frustration as we continue to see Black men and Black women slain in the streets” and at lack of progress in the 57 years since King’s march.

“Black folks,” she said, are “left behind by an economic system and a justice system that has often denied them their dignity and their rights.” Of those long-ago leaders, she added: “They’d be lacing up their shoes and locking arms and continuing right alongside us in this ongoing fight for justice.”

While pledging the support, Harris sounded a warning: “The road is not going to be easy.” And we can’t go back to the old “normal,” she added—a theme labor, Black, civil rights and Democratic Party leaders have sounded for almost a year.

Marchers, activists and the party must “challenge every instinct our nation has to return to the status quo. We must combine the wisdom of those longtime warriors for justice with the creative energy young leaders bring today. Then we have an opportunity to make history, right here and right now.”

But it’ll take more than leadership, Harris said, though that’s valuable. It’ll take a mass movement, she declared. King III agreed. “If you’re looking for a savior, get up and look in the mirror!” he said.

There was another difference in the evening: The first African-American Political Convention since 1972. That one was in Gary, Ind., was chaired by Black city Mayor Richard Hatcher. This one, due to the coronavirus pandemic-induced ban on large indoor gatherings, was virtual, scheduled for the evening of August 28, after the march ended at the King Memorial.

Organizers expected attendees  to update a prior platform and pass resolutions demanding reparations to U.S. Blacks for 250 years of unpaid slavery and further economic bondage. They also demanded Congress restore tough enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, in a House-passed measure, HR4, named after Lewis.

Delegates also planned to campaign for legislation to ban police chokeholds, track police misconduct nationwide and hold cops civilly and criminally responsible for shooting down unarmed Blacks.

The Associated Press reported the convention would also demand universal basic income, environmental justice and defunding the police, which delegates defined as shifting money and people from cops to human resource needs such as mental health treatment, better schools, fair housing and better education.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).