Thousands echo historic Washington civil rights march 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.”

A participant raises his first during the "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" protest against racism and police brutality on August 28, 2020, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. - Anti-racism protesters marched on the streets of the US capital on Friday, after a white officer's shooting of African American Jacob Blake. The protester also marked the 57th anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. (
Image:Thousands attended the ‘Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks’ protest
Jacob Blake Sr., father of Jacob Blake, Jr., speaks at the Lincoln Memorial during the "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" protest against racism and police brutality, on August 28, 2020, in Washington DC. - Anti-racism protesters marched on the streets of the US capital on Friday, after a white officer's shooting of African American Jacob Blake. The protester also marked the 57th anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at th
Image:Jacob Blake Sr speaks at the Lincoln Memorial

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.

Rev Al Sharpton spoke passionately at the march and called for change
Image:Rev Al Sharpton spoke passionately at the march and called for change

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.

Jacob Blake, a black man shot by police in Wisconsin. Pic: Ben Crump
Image:Jacob Blake, who was shot in Wisconsin, remains in hospital

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.

Philonise Floyd speaking in Washington DC

‘Change is happening because we demand it’

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.

Demonstrators sit in chairs set out for social distancing at the Lincoln Memorial
Image:Demonstrators sit in chairs set out for social distancing at the Lincoln Memorial

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.”

Martin Luther King III, eldest son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks at the "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" Commitment March
Image:Martin Luther King III, eldest son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks at the Commitment March

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?”

Reverend Al Sharpton speaking in Washington DC

Al Sharpton: ‘We’re tired of broken promises’

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Rev Sharpton has called for those in other states to march on their US senators’ offices and demand their support of federal policing reforms.

In June, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, which would ban police use of stranglehold manoeuvres and end qualified immunity for officers, among other reforms.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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