Monday, 28 Sep 2020

Thousands of anti-racism protesters march in historic Washington demonstration

Tens of thousands of civil rights advocates have gathered to protest police brutality against black Americans at the commemoration of a historic 1963 march in Washington.

Huge crowds of activists came together at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday – exactly 57 years after Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in the same location.

The demonstration also comes five days after Jacob Blake, 29, was shot repeatedly by police officers in front of his children in the city of Kenosha.

Onlookers today claimed the rally could be one of the largest political gatherings in Washington since the coronavirus pandemic began.

It comes after the death of George Floyd sparked historic racial justice protests across the world in June.

Many arrived at the demonstration today wearing T-shirts showing the image of late US Congressman John Lewis, the last speaker from the original march on Washington.

Participants stood in line to have their temperatures taken as part of coronavirus protocols and were reminded to practice social distancing and wear masks throughout the day.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights hero, and Reverend Al Sharpton, whose civil rights organisation National Action Network planned the event, both delivered keynote speeches.

King said he imagined his father would ‘be proud of people gathering about injustice, but sad that people had to gather, because justice should already exist’.

He told the crowd: ‘We’ve come to bear witness, to remain awake, to remember from where we’ve come and to carefully consider where we’re going.

‘Whether you’re here in person or watching on television networks, thank you for joining us for this March on Washington.

‘We’re taking a step forward on America’s rocky but righteous journey toward justice.’

Rev Sharpton brought together the families of Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, among others, to underscore the urgency of the march.

During an impassioned speech, he said: ‘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?’

Participants are set to march to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in West Potomac Park before dispersing.

Turnout was expected to be smaller due to city-imposed pandemic restrictions limiting out-of-state visitors.

The National Action Network organised several satellite march events in places including South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

Rev Sharpton has called on those protesting to support federal policing reforms and demand reinvigorated US voter protections, in memory of the late John Lewis.

In June, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which seeks to ban police use of the stranglehold manoeuvre and end qualified immunity for officers.

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