Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Commitment March: Thousands echo historic March on Washington to protest against police brutality

Thousands of people have gathered to commemorate the historic 1963 civil rights March on Washington, channelling those who took part back then to demonstrate police brutality against black Americans.

The rally saw dozens speak passionately about ongoing violence against black citizens in the US at the hands of white people or law enforcement, most recently highlighted by the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

Mr Blake’s father, also named Jacob Blake, was among those who addressed the crowds on Friday, telling those in attendance that his own dad was at the original March on Washington.

“I truly did not want to come see you all here today for these reasons,” he said, adding: “But I have a duty.”

Reverend Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and family members of other victims who have died or been left injured by police violence also spoke at the event.

It was dubbed the Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.

The gathering took place 57 years since Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech in the same location and five days after Mr Blake, 29, was shot repeatedly by police officers in the city of Kenosha – in front of his children.

Mr Blake survived the attack, but has been left paralysed from the waist down, according to his family.

His shooting sparked mass protests, with people demanding justice for black lives.

Two people were left dead during demonstrations in Kenosha after a young white man, who was caught on a mobile phone video, opened fire in the middle of the street with a semi-automatic rifle.

Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old, has been charged with homicide.

Reverend Sharpton, whose civil rights organisation the National Action Network planned the event, invited family of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mr Blake to speak on Friday.

Mr Floyd, Ms Taylor, Mr Brooks and Mr Garner were all killed by US police officers, while Mr Arbery and Mr Martin were both killed by white men who pursued them with guns.

The protesters who took part in the rally stood in queues that stretched for several streets as organisers insisted on taking temperatures as part of coronavirus restrictions.

They were seen wearing masks and also sitting in socially-distant chairs, which had been laid out.

Speaking at the rally, Mr King III said: “Today we commemorate the march on jobs and freedom in 1963 where my father declared his dream.

“But we must never forget the America nightmare of racist violence exemplified when Emmett Till was murdered on this day in 1955, and the criminal justice system failed to convict his killers.

“Sixty-five years later, we still struggle for justice. Demilitarising the police, dismantling mass incarceration – and declaring and determinedly as we can, that black lives matter.”

Later on, Rev Sharpton told the crowd during his impassioned speech: “You act like it’s no trouble to shoot us in the back. You act like it’s no trouble to put a choke-hold on us while we scream ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times.

“You act like it’s no trouble to hold a man down on the ground until you squeeze the life out of him.

“It’s time for a new conversation.”

He added: “Some say to me, ‘Reverend Al, y’all ought to denounce those that get violent, those that are looting?’ All of the families have denounced the looting. What we haven’t heard, is you denouncing shooting.

“We will speak against the looting, but when will you speak against wrong police shooting?”

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