Civil rights advocates in the US are highlighting police and vigilante violence against black Americans at a commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Thousands are estimated to have gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his historic I Have A Dream address about racial equality.
They are gathering after another shooting by a white police officer of a black man – this time 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday – sparking days of protests and violence that left two dead.
On the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, let’s continue to march on for justice, in the name of our ancestors and in the name of our children and grandchildren. pic.twitter.com/BlP5oCEbxW— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 28, 2020
Early on, the march was shaping up to be the largest political gathering in Washington since the coronavirus pandemic began. Many attendees showed up wearing T-shirts bearing the image and words of the late US congressman John Lewis who, until his death last month, was the last living speaker at the original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which went on to become one of the most famous political rallies in US history and one of the largest gatherings at the nation’s capital with over 200,000 people advocating for social change.
The thousands of participants that were streaming in for the march late on Friday morning stood in queues that stretched for several streets, as organisers insisted on taking temperatures as part of coronavirus protocols. Organisers reminded attendees to practise social distancing and wear masks throughout the programme.
Later in the day, Martin Luther King III, a son of the late civil rights hero and the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose civil rights organisation, the National Action Network, planned the event, are expected to deliver keynote addresses that show the urgency for federal policing reforms, to decry racial violence, and to demand voting rights protections ahead of the November general election.
And to underscore the urgency, Rev Sharpton has assembled the families of an ever-expanding roll call of victims including Mr Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, among others.
Mr Arbery and Mr Martin were both killed by white men who pursued them with guns.
Following the commemorative rally, participants will march to the Martin Luther King Jr memorial in West Potomac Park, next to the National Mall, and then disperse.
Turnout in Washington was expected 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 organised a handful of satellite march events in South Carolina, Florida and Nevada, among others.
While participants march in Washington, Rev Sharpton has called for those in other states to march on their US senators’ offices and demand their support of federal policing reforms. Rev Sharpton said protesters should also demand reinvigorated US 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 manoeuvres and end qualified immunity for officers, among other reforms. Mr Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer in Minneapolis held a knee to the man’s neck for nearly eight minutes, sparking weeks of sustained protests and unrest.