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Thousands expected at March on Washington commemorations

The young granddaughter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave an impassioned speech that vowed her generation will ‘fulfill my grandfather’s dream’, as the families of black men and women killed by law enforcement demanded justice as they spoke before 50,000 people at the March on Washington’s 57th anniversary. 

Yolanda Renee King, 12, provided hope as she declared younger Americans will end the struggles of their grandparents’ pasts.

‘We will be the generation that moves from ‘We’ to Me,’ said Yolanda.

‘We are going to be the generation that dismantles systematic racism once and for all, now and forever. We are going to be the generation that puts a halt to police brutality and gun violence.

‘We stand and march for love and we will fulfill my grandfather’s dream.’

Rev. Al Sharpton, whose civil rights organization, the National Action Network, planned Friday’s event, said the objective of the march is to show the urgency for federal policing reforms, to decry racial violence, and to demand voting rights protections ahead of the November general election. 

The event was also dubbed the ‘Commitment March: Get Your Knees Off Our Necks’ in reference to the death of George Floyd, 46, who was killed when a white cop knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in Minneapolis in May sparking global protests.

Relatives of families of victims including Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner joined civil rights activists and the family of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. nearly six decades after he gave his historic ‘I Have a Dream’ address.  

They descended upon the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to protest racial inequality, police brutality and call for criminal justice reform amid nationwide protests that have continued for three months. 

The march comes after another shooting by a white police officer of a black man – 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, which has sparked days of protests and violence that left two dead. He was shot by police seven times and remains in hospital.    

Yolanda added that the swath of issues facing Americans, including the coronavirus pandemic and police brutality, have helped foster a new generation of leaders.

‘I didn’t know what would hit us in 2020: a pandemic that shut our schools and put our young lives on hold, more killings of unarmed black people by police, a tax on our right to vote, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression that we learned about in school and more extreme weather than we’ve ever seen before,’ she said.

‘But great challenges produce great leaders. We have mastered the ‘selfie’ and Tik Tok. Now, we must master ourselves.’

Yolanda then recalled the word’s of her grandfather and his predictions in the fight for racial equality.  

‘Less than a year before he was assassinated, my grandfather predicted this very moment. He said we were moving into a new phase of the struggle. The first phase was civil rights, the second phase is genuine equality.

‘Genuine equality is the reason why people all across the world, from New Zealand to New Jersey. He said we must not forget the days of Montgomery, we must not forget the sit-ins. 

‘We must not forget the freedom rides, the Birmingham movement and Selma. Papa King, we won’t!’

Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, wore a face mask at the march which read ‘8:46’ – the amount of time white cop Derek Chauvin had knelt on George’s neck before he died. 

The massive crowd chanted ‘George Floyd’ as Philonise approached the podium.

‘I wish George was here to see this right now,’ said Philonese, who broke down in tears and was overcome with emotions.

‘That’s who I’m marching for. I’m marching for George, for Breonna, for Ahmaud, for Jacob, for Pamela Turner, for Michael Brown, Trayvon [Martin] and anyone else who lost their lives to.’

Philonese echoed the sentiments of current civil rights activists who noted that change is at America’s doorstep and now is the time to take it.

‘It’s never been more clear that change is happening right now, because we demand it!’ he said.

‘I have to advocate for everyone because right now Jacob Blake was shot seven times with his kids [nearby]…that’s painful.’  

Breonna Taylor’s mother Tamaika Palmer also spoke to the crowd.   

As Palmer approached the microphone, the massive crowd began chanting ‘Breonna’ as Sharpton prompted the crowd to ‘say her name.’

‘What we need is change,’ said Palmer, ‘and we’re at a point where we can get that change but we have to stand together. We have to vote’. 

On March 13, 26-year-old EMT Breonna was shot dead inside her apartment on Springfield Avenue during a no-knock search warrant at her home.

She and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were asleep when three plains clothes officers burst into the apartment around 1am. 

Louisville police have claimed that they identified themselves before entering the property using a battering ram, but Breonna’s family and neighbor’s dispute this.

They said police never identified themselves during the incident and that Walker, who was legally allowed to have a firearm, opened fire at officers because he believed they were getting robbed.

Officers fired back at the couple and shot Breonna eight times.

The warrant to search her home was in connection with a suspect who did not live there and no drugs were found.

According to Letetra Widman, the shooting of her brother Jacob Blake goes beyond simply police brutality and she suggested a historic trend against minorities in America.

‘We will not pretend. We will not be your docile slave. We will not be a foot stool to oppression,’ she said.

‘Most of all, we will not dress up this genocide and call it police brutality. We will only pledge allegiance to the truth.

‘Black America, I hold you accountable. You must stand, you must fight, but not was violence and chaos. Learn to love yourself black people. Unify.’

Blake, a 29-year-old father of six, was with his children on August 23 when he was shot seven times in the back by Officer Rusten Shesky in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Police arrived to the 2800 block of 40th Street in Kenosha after Blake’s girlfriend ‘reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.’

Officers tried to subdue him with a taser before opening fire, authorities said.

During an investigation Blake admitted to police that he had a knife and authorities recovered it from the driver’s side floorboard of car after opening fire. No other weapons were found at the scene.

Outrage over Blake’s case continued to grow this week after it was revealed he is now paralyzed from the waist down and was handcuffed to his hospital bed by law enforcement.

Jacob Blake Sr. took to the podium after his daughter and said ‘We’re going to hold court on systematic racism – guilty!’

‘Racism against Trayvon Martin – we find them guilty! Racism against George Floyd – we find them guilty! Racism against Jacob Blake…guilty! And we’re not taking it anymore.’

B’Ivory LaMarr, the attorney for the Blake family, doubled down on his clients stance and said ‘we’re tired of talking.’

‘We’re tried of playing games. 2020 is they year America will be put on timeout. Today, I just want to let you know is the last season of the police version of ‘How to Get Away With Murder,’ said LaMarr, referencing the popular television show.

‘We know your playbook. We know your plays,’ he continued. ‘Step one: claim that you were in fear and find an object so you can justify that you were in fear of a black or brown person.

‘Step Two: assassinate that black person and step three: assassinate his character.’

Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, recorded a video address to rally attendees that both commemorated the work down by past civil rights leaders. 

‘I was born into an activist family with my parents…pushing me in a stroller through Bay Area streets marching for justice in the years following the March on Washington,’ she said. 

‘This moment is a reminder that we must always honor the sacrifices of the leaders who made that march happen. From the names we know, like Randolph, Farmer, Young and King, to everyone who worked behind the scenes that sacrificed quietly, but profoundly.’

Harris added that she believed those same civil rights leaders and supporters would share the anger of millions of Americans, but would turn that anger ‘into fuel.’

‘I have to believe if they were with us today, they would share our anger, frustration,’ she said, ‘as we continue to see black men and women slain in our streets that were left behind by an economy and justice system that have too often denied black people our dignity and rights.  

‘They would turn it into fuel. They would lace up their shoes, link arms and march alongside us.’

Harris also took time to pay tribute to Rep. John Lewis, who died earlier this month after years of service in Congress and activism. 

Following the commemorative rally that will include remarks from civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents several of the victims´ families, participants marched to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in West Potomac Park, next to the National Mall.

A number of Congress members also gave remarks, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who recalled the civil rights supporters who paved the way for current demonstrations.

‘The truth of the matter is, because of them, we are black with a capital B. We are the manifestation of the movement, we are a symbol of social, political and cultural progress,’ she said.

‘We are in unprecedented and uncertain times. We are challenged by the state of the nation and the crisis we face. But the state of our movement is strong. It is possible.’ 

She added: ‘Today I am thinking of the ancestors. Not just the ones recorded in out history books, but the ones omitted from out history books. The justice seekers, the freedom riders, the organizers the community builders, every loved one who packed a brown bag lunch, led a freedom song, risked their lives and livelihood.’

Pressley briefly touched on the topic of reforming legislation, which she noted has ‘never’ been created for the benefit of black American lives.

‘Yes, it is possible to write budgets that benefit black lives. If that sounds unfamiliar, that’s because it’s never been done in America,’ she said, before adding, ‘We will meet the moment.’

Rep. Adriano Espaillat took a step further and called for sweeping reform to law enforcement and criminal justice.

‘Let’s get rid of the chokehold. Let’s get rid of the knee,’ he declared.

‘Let’s do away with the death penalty. Let’s do away with solitary confinement. Let’s do away with mandatory minimums.’

Turnout in Washington will be lighter than initially intended due to city-imposed coronavirus pandemic restrictions that limit out-of-state visitors to the nation´s capital. 

To that end, the National Action Network organized a handful of satellite march events in South Carolina, Florida and Nevada, among others. 

People filtering into the designated rally area in front of Lincoln Memorial were asked to undergo temperature checks and seating was separated by six feet in accordance with CDC public health guidelines.

Washington D.C. had recorded more than 13,000 cases and 605, which is dwarfed when compared to the 5.8million cases that have inundated the United States. 

While participants march in Washington, Sharpton has called for those in other states to march on their U.S. senators´ offices and demand their support of federal policing reforms.

Sharpton said protesters should also demand reinvigorated U.S. voter protections, in memory of the late Congressman John Lewis who, until his death on July 17, was the last living speaker at the original march.

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

In July, following Lewis´ death, Democratic senators reintroduced legislation that would restore a provision of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. 

The law previously required states with a history of voter suppression to seek federal clearance before changing voting regulations. Both measures are awaiting action in the Republican-controlled Senate.

‘We´re demanding that that be enacted,’ King said.

 ‘The senators won´t even take action on it. That gives us an opportunity to say, `OK, we gave you guys a chance, we as the people, as black people, as white people, as Latinos and Hispanics and we´re going to vote you out.´’

He added: ‘There are a number of senators who need to go because they don´t have the capacity or have not demonstrated they have a capacity to understand what needs to happen in the community.’

Thursday evening, the NAACP began commemorating the March on Washington with a virtual event that featured remarks from voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali.

‘Thanks to the activism of countless young people, the movement for justice goes on,’ Pelosi said. ‘We must keep up the fight and, as John Lewis would say, `find a way to get in the way.”

Later in the evening, the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 black-led organizations that make up the broader Black Lives Matter movement, will hold its virtual Black National Convention.

The convention will coincide with the unveiling of a new black political agenda intended to build on the success of this summer´s protests.

The platform will deepen calls for defunding police departments in favor of investments to healthcare, education, housing and other social services in black communities, organizers said.

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