'I Have A Dream': New march on Washington marks fraught anniversary of King's speech

Reuters , Friday 28 Aug 2020

Thousands of people gathered to march in Washington on Friday to denounce racism and protest police brutality on the anniversary of the march in 1963

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: Attendees hold images of George Floyd as they participate in the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. AFP

Thousands of people gathered to march in Washington on Friday to denounce racism and protest police brutality on the anniversary of the march in 1963 where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr made his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

In his often-repeated speech, King envisioned a time his children would "one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Speakers referenced John Lewis, the late lawmaker also spoke at the 1963 march. They also referred to the importance of voting in November's election, and the links between activism for Black civil rights, disability rights and LGBT rights and against gun violence, among other causes.

This summer has been marked by racial unrest and hundreds of nationwide protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Earlier this week, protests broke out in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police officers shot another African-American man, Jacob Blake, multiple times in front of his young children while his back was turned. Blake survived the shooting, but has been paralyzed, his lawyers told reporters this week.

His father has said he will attend the march. His lawyer is expected to speak, as are other victims of police brutality.

Frank Nitty, a Black Lives Matter activist in Wisconsin, organized a 750-mile, 24-day walk from Milwaukee to Washington for the demonstration. "My grandsons ain't going to be marching for the same stuff my granddaddy marched for," he told the crowd.

Corrada Shelby, a 49-year-old human resources executive, said she joined the march at the base of the Lincoln Memorial to ensure the movement for racial equality does not fizzle out.

"This year the march is extra special because it is a continuation of the George Floyd protests," she said. "I'm here to empower our people and to make sure we continue the fight."

Jamaal Budik, a 23- year-old history student from Baltimore, said it was important for elected officials to understand that what had happened to Floyd and Blake could not continue to occur. "We just want what has been long denied to us - racial justice," Budik said.

Friday's protest, called "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks," was planned in the wake of Floyd's death by civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network.

After speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, participants will walk to the Martin Luther King memorial about a half mile away.

The march comes as Black people suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed about 180,000 Americans. Blacks have been more likely to be sickened and die from the virus and to lose jobs from the economic fallout.

Organizers say they are taking the pandemic into account by restricting access to buses from so-called coronavirus high-risk states, distributing masks and checking temperatures. There will also be free COVID-19 testing provided at the event.

At one point, a speaker directed attendees to stand with their arms out to ensure there was enough distance between them. At other points, march staff wiped down the podium and microphones between speakers.

In addition to the live march, there will be a virtual commemoration 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 group was organizing its own march on Friday after the March on Washington 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.

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