WASHINGTON — Massive crowds descended on Washington, D.C. on Friday to protest police brutality and racism.
A series of speakers addressed thousands of protesters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, marking the 57th anniversary of American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the 1963 March on Washington. “We’re marching to overcome what my father called the triple evils of poverty, racism, and violence,” Martin Luther King III said in his remarks, adding that those “evils” have exacerbated four major challenges – the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment, police brutality and gun violence, and voting rights – that currently face the United States. The event, dubbed the “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” came after 46-year-old African American George Floyd died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May.
Floyd’s death sparked weeks-long protests and social unrest across the United States. Public anger has been reignited in the wake of the Aug. 23 police shooting of 29-year-old African American Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has led to consecutive days of protests and violence at times in the city. “I wish George were here to see this right now,” George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told protesters on Friday. “That’s who I’m marching for. I’m marching for George … and anybody else who lost their lives.”
Jacob Blake Sr., father of Blake who was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer, also spoke to the crowds. “I truly did not want to come see you all here today for these reasons,” he said. “We’re not taking it anymore, I ask everyone to stand up. No justice, no peace.” Families of other victims of police violence – Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner – were also at the Lincoln Memorial. Blake’s shooting has led to several days of protests and violence at times in the city. While Democrats are renewing calls for racial justice, U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to highlight his “law and order” message, a major theme of his reelection bid. “Success: Since the National Guard moved into Kenosha, Wisconsin, two days ago, there has been NO FURTHER VIOLENCE, not even a small problem,” Trump tweeted on Friday. “When legally asked by local authorities, the Federal Government will act and quickly succeed.”
Former U.S. Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden struck a different tone. “As we mark the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, we must continue the hard work of perfecting our union,” he tweeted. “It’s up to all of us to carry on the march toward equality, liberty, and justice for all.” The gathering was the largest political demonstration in the U.S. capital since the coronavirus pandemic began. Most of the attendees were wearing masks but the limited space made it difficult for them to keep social distance.