Thousands of demonstrators from across the country gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Friday for a march against police brutality and racism. The demonstration was held on the 57th anniversary of the original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the seminal civil rights and economic inequality march that culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Friday’s march continued a momentous summer of reckoning over racism dominated by protests against police brutality and white supremacy, which were catalyzed by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black people.
Protests swelled again this week, after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times in the back, leaving him gravely wounded and paralyzed.
The Rev. Al Sharpton addressed the crowd flanked by people wearing masks that read “I can’t breathe,” the final words of Eric Garner, killed by police in New York; “good trouble,” the famous call of the late Rep. John Lewis to fight for justice; and “I will vote.”
“Even though we are here in the midst of a pandemic … we wanted to come to show … that enough is enough,” Sharpton said. “We come to let you know that we will come out by these numbers in the heat, that we will stand in the polls all day long.”
“It’s time we have a conversation with America,” the civil rights leader added. “About your racism, about your bigotry, about your hate, about how you would put your knee on our neck while we cry for our lives.”
The families of Blake, Floyd, Taylor and Arbery spoke at the march, as well as those of other Black people killed by police. A number of Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Karen Bass (Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) also spoke.
George Floyd’s brother Philonise — donning a T-shirt that said “8:46,” the amount of time a white officer kneeled on his brother’s neck, killing him — broke down in tears when speaking about the recent shooting of Blake by police.
“Shot seven times man, with his kids,” Floyd said of Blake. “That’s painful.”
Blake’s father, Jacob, then spoke of the “two systems of justice” in the U.S.
“There’s a white system and there’s a black system,” Blake said, noting that his own father came to D.C. for a previous march against racism. “We’re tired. I’m tired of looking at cameras and seeing these young Black and brown people suffer. … We’re not taking it anymore.”
He then turned to the crowd and said, “No justice!” The crowd yelled back: “No peace!”
Crowds began lining the National Mall early Friday morning ahead of the 11 a.m. event.
Demonstrators followed COVID-19 precautions, including wearing masks and undergoing temperature checks at the march’s entry point.
Organizers initially anticipated as many as 100,000 participants, but later expected about half as many, due to pandemic travel restrictions and the District of Columbia’s rule that travelers from COVID-19 hotspots must quarantine upon arriving.
In addition to protesting racism and police violence and calling for criminal justice reform, the march, organized by Sharpton’s National Action Network, aimed to mobilize Americans to fill out the census and vote in the November elections.
Many of Friday’s speakers stressed the urgency of the election and urged attendees to combat voter suppression efforts and work to preserve the right to vote, illustrating how the march and the current moment are a continuation of the work of the previous generation of civil rights activists.
“Together, we are taking a stand, and we are taking a giant step forward ... on America’s rocky but righteous journey toward justice,” Martin Luther King III said.
“We need to vote as if our lives and our livelihoods, our liberties depend on it — because they do,” King added. “There is a knee upon the neck of democracy.”
At the end of the rally, the thousands gathered marched through the 90-degree heat to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.