Aug. 28 (UPI) — Civil rights activists, lawmakers and thousands of citizens assembled in Washington, D.C., Friday to rally against police brutality and call on voters to spur change with the November presidential election.
Tens of thousands gathered on the National Mall for the “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” a reference to the death of George Floyd on May 25. He died after a Minneapolis police officer subdued him by kneeling on his neck for several minutes.
Friday’s march — held on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” — began with remarks from civil rights leaders and elected officials in the exact location King delivered his historic address.
Organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, the NAACP, the National Urban League and the Hispanic Federation, participants spoke at the Lincoln Memorial before a unified march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The network said Friday’s march aims to bring attention to police brutality nationwide and call for law enforcement reforms and accountability. Organizers are also seeking to encourage people to fill out the census and vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Sharpton attended with the family of Breonna Taylor, a Kentucky woman who was shot dead by Louisville police in March. Like Floyd’s, her death has spurred much of the activism nationwide over the past several months.
One of the first speakers was Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y.
“As the first formerly undocumented member of Congress, I stand here with you today to say, that yes, I am a man. That yes, we shall overcome,” he said.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his famed “I Have Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. UPI File Photo
“We must pass legislation to ensure there is police reform,” he added. “Let’s rid of the chokehold, let’s get rid of the knee.”
Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, called for reparations to Black communities and a permanent end to institutional racism.
“We want an America that will stamp out the divisiveness, the intimidation and the threats,” she said. “We want a White House that stands as a healer-in-chief, who understands Black mothers’ pain and understands your pain.”
Supporters hailed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the Democratic House in June but has yet to be taken up in the Republican-held Senate. The proposal would bar police from using chokeholds and remove officers’ qualified immunity from civil liability suits.
Others scheduled to speak Friday were the families of Floyd, Taylor and other Black Americans who have died in police-involved shootings — Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, Martin Luther King III, Rep. Sheila Jackson of Texas, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and singers George Clinton, Tyrese and Ne-Yo were also expected to speak at the event.
“For 401 years, there were plenty knees on the necks of Blacks who came to this country. Meet us in Washington on Aug. 28, 2020 as we honor the anniversary of the March on Washington and demand America get its knee off our necks!” Sharpton said in a Twitter post in June announcing the event.
Organizers encouraged residents from states with high COVID-19 rates to stay home and participate in local events or watch online.