Fifty-seven years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, the families of Black Americans shot or killed by police officers spoke at the same site Friday, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and Jacob Blake joined Reverend Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III at the Commitment March: Get Your Knee off Our Necks, which drew an estimated thousands.
The march, organized by the National Action Network, was calling for racial justice and police reform. Sharpton first announced plans for the march during a memorial service for George Floyd, the 46-year-old father who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May.
“George Floyd’s story has been the story of Black folks because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” Sharpton said at the service in June. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!'”
George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told the crowd Friday he was overwhelmed by the support, and said he wished “George were here to see this right now.” His sister, Bridgett Floyd, said, “we have to be the change.”
The mothers of Dontre Hamilton, Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery also spoke.
“Even though we’re going through a crisis, even though it looks dark, I want to tell you to be encouraged,” said Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton. “Don’t stop saying Black lives matter, don’t stop protesting,” she said.
In the months since Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter marches have proliferated across the country. Protesters continue to call for justice for the officers charged in Floyd’s death, and those involved in other controversial cases including the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by officers in her own home in Louisville, and Elijah McClain, who died after a police chokehold in Aurora, Colorado, last summer.
Protests erupted again this week following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was hospitalized after police shot him several times in the back as he opened the door of his parked car. Attorneys for his family say he is now paralyzed.
Jacob Blake’s father speaks at the March on Washington: “I’m tired of looking at cameras and seeing these young black and brown people suffer… We are not taking it anymore” https://t.co/rPUAWLIwhM pic.twitter.com/wW7FGvc2yM
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 28, 2020
Blake’s father spoke at the march on Friday, and used it as an opportunity to “hold court” against systematic racism in America. “We’re going to have court right now. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Racism against all of us. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty,” he said. “… And we’re not taking it anymore.”
“We’re going to stand up, every Black person in the United States is going to stand up,” he said. “We’re tired. I’m tired of looking at cameras and seeing these young Black and Brown people suffer.”
His words, spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, come 57 years after his own father attended the original March on Washington, according to Blake. “I have a duty,” he said. “I have a duty to support and understand each one — I love everybody in this crowd, I love you.”
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris recorded brief remarks for the march that played during the event on Friday.
Harris, who tweeted her address Thursday night, said that if civil rights activists from the 1960s were here today, they “would share in our anger and frustration as we continue to see Black men and women slain in our streets and left behind by an economy and justice system that have too often denied Black folks our dignity and rights.”
“They would share our anger and pain, but no doubt they would turn it into fuel,” Harris continued. “They would be lacing up their shoes, locking arms and continuing right alongside us to continue in this ongoing fight for justice.”
Harris said Americans are once again in a position to make history. “The road ahead is not going to be easy,” she said, adding, “we have an opportunity to make history, right here and right now.”
Other lawmakers spoke about the need to pass legislation crafted to confront racial injustice. Texas Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee asked the crowd, “how did this happen?” answering, “because of institutional racism.” Lee urged for the passage of her bill H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to “study and develop reparation proposals for African-Americans.”
Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, demanded that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 be fully restored. The act established federal oversight of election laws in states with a history of racial discrimination, but key sections of the legislation were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
The late Congressman John Lewis spent much of his life fighting for voting rights and was a champion of the act, which passed in part because of his march in Selma, Alabama. Lewis continued to fight for its restoration until his death in July.
“We are here today because people died, and were denied basic civil rights,” Beatty said. “… John Lewis left us with marching orders.”
Reverend Al Sharpton also invoked Lewis in his speech. With a nod to his advocacy of getting into “good trouble,” Sharpton said, “we didn’t come to start trouble, we came to stop trouble.”
“Black lives matter,” Sharpton said. “And we won’t stop until it matters to everybody.”
Tim Perry contributed to this report.