Fight for jus­tice marches on 20 years later

Speak­ers at rally point to po­lice killings of young black men

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID NAKA­MURA AND HAMIL R. HARRIS david.naka­mura@wash­post.com hamil.harris@wash­post.com Michael Laris con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Thou­sands gather on the Mall for the “Jus­tice or Else” rally, which marked the 20th an­niver­sary of the Mil­lion Man March. Although the crowd Satur­day was smaller, the spirit of the orig­i­nal move­ment was echoed by those who ad­dressed the au­di­ence.

Thou­sands of black men, women and chil­dren gath­ered on the Mall on Satur­day to de­mand jus­tice at a time of grow­ing anger and fray­ing ten­sions in African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties over the killings of young black men by po­lice.

By noon Satur­day, the crowds had swelled just be­yond the stage at the west front of the Capi­tol, with on­look­ers watch­ing on sev­eral jumbo screens. Some peo­ple sat on lawn chairs, and oth­ers perched on blan­kets to lis­ten to the speak­ers, in­clud­ing Louis Far­rakhan, the leader of the Na­tion of Is­lam, which spon­sored the “Jus­tice or Else” rally.

The event marked the 20th an­niver­sary of the Mil­lion Man March in 1995, when hun­dreds of thou­sands of black men ral­lied on the Mall in a pow­er­ful dis­play of protest. Although Satur­day’s crowd was far smaller, the spirit of the first move­ment was echoed by those who ad­dressed the au­di­ence.

But the speak­ers also point­edly tied the strug­gle of the black com­mu­nity to mod­ern-day in­ci­dents. Tamika Mal­lory, a na­tional or­ga­nizer of the rally, re­cited a list of young black men who have been killed by po­lice in re­cent years, in­clud­ing Tamir Rice of Cleve­land, Michael Brown of Fer­gu­son, Mo., and Eric Garner of Staten Is­land.

“Twenty years ago, the death of Tamir Rice would have fallen on deaf ears and been left for the po­lice to write a false re­port, not broad­cast for the world to know,” Mal­lory told the crowd. “Michael Brown’s body would have only trau­ma­tized the com­mu­nity, rather than wake up the peo­ple.

“Amer­ica, we can’t breathe,” Mal­lory said, echo­ing the phrase that Garner ut­tered while be­ing held in a choke­hold by po­lice in July 2014 and that has been ap­pro­pri­ated by the civil rights move­ment.

The peace­ful rally was a re­minder that seven years af­ter the elec­tion of the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent, enor­mous frus­tra­tion re­mains among seg­ments of the African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity about progress on civil rights.

Pres­i­dent Obama, who has spo­ken out about gun vi­o­lence and the mis­trust be­tween po­lice and the black com­mu­nity, was at­tend­ing Demo­cratic fundrais­ers in Cal­i­for­nia on Satur­day. His ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to bal­ance a call for re­forms among the tac­tics of lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies with sup­port for po­lice de­part­ments to help in­te­grate them more fully into their com­mu­ni­ties.

The only im­ages of him and first lady Michelle Obama at the rally were on tote bags be­ing sold by ven­dors.

The moth­ers of San­dra Bland — a black woman found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Tex., in July af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion with a po­lice of­fi­cer — and Trayvon Martin, a black teenager fa­tally shot by a com­mu­nity watch vol­un­teer in 2012, ap­peared to­gether on­stage with rel­a­tives of other shoot­ing vic­tims. Bland’s death was ruled a sui­cide by lo­cal author­i­ties, and Martin’s killer was ac­quit­ted of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der charges; how­ever, the cir­cum­stances around both deaths have an­gered black lead­ers.

“This is about hu­man rights,” said Sy­b­rina Ful­ton, Martin’s mother. “We will not con­tinue to stand by any­more.”

Far­rakhan, who had also or­ga­nized the 1995 rally, spoke for more than two hours — as he did 20 years ago. He de­liv­ered a ram­bling ad­dress that chal­lenged the par­tic­i­pants to work at self-im­prove­ment and to pledge their faith in God. But he also crit­i­cized the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to pro­tect and to pro­vide for the public, es­pe­cially the un­der­class.

“There’s no gov­ern­ment on this earth, not one, that can give the peo­ple what the peo­ple de­sire of free­dom, jus­tice and equal­ity,” he said. “You are yearn­ing for some­thing the gov­ern­ment can’t give you.”

Though his or­ga­ni­za­tion is not con­nected to newer move­ments, such as Black Lives Mat­ter, that have sprung up in re­sponse to the re­cent vi­o­lence, Far­rakhan made the link by sug­gest­ing this pe­riod rep­re­sents a new flash­point in the civil rights strug­gle.

“This is not a mo­ment. This is a move­ment,” Far­rakhan said. “When the broth­ers and sis­ters arose in Fer­gu­son, you didn’t have any money; you had a prin­ci­ple, a prin­ci­ple you were will­ing to suf­fer for that you felt was big­ger than your­self and your life and your with­stand­ing of pain.”

Signs of the com­mu­nity’s frus­tra­tion were dis­played on T-shirts read­ing “Black Lives Mat­ter” and on posters read­ing “Straight Outta Pa­tience.” One man wore a “Hands up, don’t shoot” T-shirt, mark­ing the ral­ly­ing cry in Fer­gu­son af­ter res­i­dents and po­lice clashed vi­o­lently in the streets in the wake of Brown’s shoot­ing death in Au­gust 2014.

There were more young adults on Satur­day than there were 20 years ago at the Mil­lion Man March and, pro­por­tion­ally, more women. On­stage, there were few na­tional black lead­ers and politi­cians, such as Jesse Jack­son and Al Sharp­ton, who were not in at­ten­dance.

Some spoke about other calls for jus­tice — for Na­tive Amer­i­cans and for con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tion for D.C. res­i­dents.

Dennis Muham­mad, 45, of Charleston, S.C., ar­rived on a bus with 55 mem­bers of his com­mu­nity early Satur­day. Muham­mad came to stand with the oth­ers “for the cause of jus­tice for all of our peo­ple, es­pe­cially those of our peo­ple that have been vic­tims of overzeal­ous po­lice work or bru­tal­ity.”

He men­tioned Wal­ter Scott, a South Carolina man killed in a po­lice shoot­ing in North Charleston in April whose fam­ily re­cently re­ceived a $6.5 mil­lion set­tle­ment from the city.

Nor­ris Hen­der­son came to Washington with a group of for­mer of­fend­ers from New Or­leans.

“Twenty years ago, I watched this on TV from a jail cell,” Hen­der­son said. “The last thing that they said at the march was ‘Don’t for­get the broth­ers on the in­side.’ ”

Also in the crowd was Shon Ter­rell, 46, who works for the Jus­tice Depart­ment in At­lanta. He pointed to­ward the Washington Mon­u­ment to show his friends how far back the crowd stretched 20 years ago.

“You could feel the energy,” Ter­rell re­called. “Twenty years later, I had to come. I was com­pelled again. It’s part of me.”

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST

CEN­TER: Par­tic­i­pants take a group selfie in front of the Capi­tol. The crowd at the rally was far smaller than that of the MillionManMarch 20 years ago, but the first move­ment’s spirit was echoed by those who spoke at the event.

PHOTOS BY JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST

ABOVE: There was a heavy po­lice pres­ence as thou­sands gath­ered on the­Mall for the “Jus­tice or Else” rally Satur­day, the 20th an­niver­sary of the MillionManMarch in 1995.

BOT­TOM: Jeff Bryant of Chicago, fore­ground, was among the rally’s par­tic­i­pants. Or­ga­niz­ers said the event was a call for jus­tice and equal­ity for all in the United States.

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