Fifty-seven years to the day Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, relatives of African Americans killed or injured in recent police encounters took to the same spot on the National Mall to emotionally call for social and political change.
“We will not be a footstool to oppression,” said Letetra Widman, Jacob Blake’s sister, to crowds in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday’s March in Washington.
“Black America, I hold you accountable. You must stand. You must fight, but not with violence and chaos,” Widman added.
Numerous speakers, including King’s son Martin Luther King III, made emphatic calls for police reform, justice reform and voter action in an event meant to recall the 1963 March on Washington that demanded civil rights and economic opportunity.
Rev. Al Sharpton organized Friday’s event and dubbed the “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,”as he delivered a eulogy for George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
“My brother cannot be a voice today. We have to be the voice. We have to be the change,” said Bridget Floyd, George Floyd’s sister on Friday.
“We’re at a point we can get that change,” said Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, “but we have to stand together — we have to vote.”
The event brings an end a tumultuous week, one where police shot Blake in Wisconsin. It follows a summer that has seen a global outcry over the killings of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
Speakers called on the Senate to pass police reform legislation named after Floyd, which the House approved in June. And they called for ending police violence, dismantling systemic racism and ensuring access to the ballot box, organizers said.
The bill, titled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, would overhaul qualified immunity for law enforcement, prohibit no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, ban chokeholds at the federal level and establish a national registry of police misconduct, among other provisions.
King III spoke against police brutality and for voter action and called on people to do more than quote his slain dad.
“If you’re looking for a savior, get up and find a mirror. We must be (our own) hero,” by voting and working for social change, said King.
“Raise our voices and say, ‘Enough is enough!'” he said.
Sharpton called for America to never “forget what you’ve done,” referring to police shootings of African Americans. “Call their names.”
“Society had (its) knee on our neck,” he said. “We are rising up. We are going to get your knee off our neck!”
Martin Luther King III: ‘Dad would be very proud’
Before the event, Martin Luther King III told CNN that “Dad would be very proud that people are coming together to stand up against injustice.”
“But certainly (he would be) very sad that we’re still attempting to get justice.”
Adding to the urgency for organizers is the November election, the lead-up to which has been marked by a divisive presidential campaign.
Trump has downplayed police violence against Black Americans and characterized protests in US cities as a descent into lawlessness.
Given the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, King says he is optimistic that tides are turning.
“We are on the way to a resolution, I believe, because the consciousness is awakened,” King told CNN before the march. “I don’t think these young people are going to stop. I think they’re going to continue to demand justice.”