By Mariya Moseley
Aggie Press Contributor
WASHINGTON, D.C.–“No Justice, No Peace.”
“Hands up, Don’t Shoot.”
“ I can’t breathe.”
Those three chants were repeated by thousands of people who marched through Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. to peacefully protest the recent decisions of two grand juries to not indict police officers in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and choke-hold death of Eric Garner in New York.
Brown, 18, an African-American male, was killed in August at the hands of Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot Brown despite the youth’s efforts to surrender by raising his hands and despite his being unarmed. Several weeks before Brown was killed, Eric Garner, 43, also African-American, died at the hands of New York policeman Daniel Pantaleo, who is white. The failure of grand juries to indict either police led to protests throughout the country. Some have been violent.
However, Saturday’s “Justice For All” protest largely was peaceful.
The rally, sponsored by the National Action Network, the Black Women’s Round Table, The NAACP, and the National Urban League, drew protestors as early as 8 a.m. Organizers predicted the crowd would swell to 40,000. Some of the more well-known protesters included filmmaker Spike Lee.
In addition to the vendors’ T-shirts emblazoned with the aforementioned slogans, other march supporters carried brown cardboard boxes with complimentary water, granola bars, and organic fruit snacks.
The march began at Freedom Plaza migrating along Pennsylvania Avenue to a stage set up near the U.S. Capitol Building.
Protesters joined hands to prepare for the prayer by National Action Network Chairman, The Rev. Franklin Richardson.
“We gather here today because we know that we have to move from protest to problem solving,” said Richardson. “And so today, joined together in our diversity, I want to ask you to join me and focus on our spiritual center. Let us pray.”
Leighton Watson, president of the Howard University Student Association, discussed police brutality issues and potential solutions.
“The system is working for the people it was always made to work for … but that’s not how this story ends,” said Watson.
According to the Department of Justice, a black man is killed by a white officer twice a week in America, “but we’re here in D.C. by the thousands to say that this is not how the story is going to ends,”said Watson. “If they thought that’s how this story was going to end, they better wake up. I’m not too middle class or too comfortable to understand that this could have been my parents sitting back here crying over me.
“We need a cultural shift that identifies black lives as equal to any other life in America,” Watson continued. “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it. Malcolm X.”
U.S. Rep. Al Green (D-Houston) discussed the impact he plans to have and the purpose of the march.
“We are here because we refuse to accept injustice,” said Green. “We are here for the same reason that Dr. King marched from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama. I want you to know that we in congress, who are the members of the Professional Black Caucus, have heard your cry.
“We will bring about change and the way policing takes place in this country,” Green added. “We have Bobby Scott got a piece of legislation that requires Congress to get an annual report and the pending law requires body cameras on police officers across the country, and although body cameras don’t make all of the difference. If it weren’t for that camera, Eric Garner would have been Mike Brown. There would have questions whether he said I can’t breathe.”
“We’ve got to pass legislation for body cameras, but that’s not enough.”
“Not enough!” echoed crowd members.
“We must give the justice department the addition authority so that it can investigate every one of these questionable shootings .. so that we can get a greater degree of transparency,” stated Green.
Civil rights activist The Rev. Al Sharpton, who led the protest, wasted no time getting to the point.
“We come as the shot and the choked asking you to help deal with American citizens who can’t breathe in their own communities,” said Sharpton. “I’ve been inspired today, when I saw white kids holding signs saying that say Black lives matter. You may bury us, but you didn’t know you were burying seeds… Bury us if you want, but we’ll grow stronger and last longer.”
Sharpton noted that the purpose of the march was to accomplish three things: To establish a law on judicial threshold, more funding from the U.S. Justice Department to ensure that the laws are changed, and greater scrutiny of how prosecutors are selected.
“We’re not anti-police, but we’re anti-police brutality,” continued Sharpton.
Travis Jackson, a N.C. A&T alumnus and founder of HBCU Pride Nation, was among the protesters, having joined his local NAACP chapter from Charlotte, N.C. to attend the march.
“Today I learned that there is power, want, true diversity, and compassionate people that want what’s best for our country,” said Jackson. “Support is inevitable during a time like this.”
Jeremiah Isaiah, an A&T alumnus and U.S. Representative staffer, joined Jackson to show his support in the movement , saying “cohesive is the movement that undoes the evils of the oppressor.”
Demetrius Rashod, a 26-year-old Memphis, Tenn. voiced similar thoughts.
“ I felt like I was a part of changing history for our generation and our future generation today,” said Rashod. “After hearing the pain and sorrow in each of the victim’s families, I have become motivated to keep speaking out until justice is served!”
One victim’s father, John H. Crawford Jr., who spoke about his son who killed on Aug. 5for playing with a play gun in a Cleveland Wal-Mart chain.
“I am the father of the slain, John H. Crawford III, who was murdered August 5 in the biggest retail store in the entire world, that be Wal-Mart . Let me say the name loudly for you, Wal-Mart. Where most Americans spends their money, and at one point in time including myself. But that is no more …”
“I worked under the criminal justice umbrella off and on for almost 20 years, and the same system that I carry out my duties is the same system, that I am receiving injustice for,” continued Crawford.
Carlos Ball, the brother of Cary Ball Jr., who was shot more than 25 times and killed by St. Louis police 25 times on April 24, also addressed the crowd.
“St. Louis city police never wanted the nation to know about this story … but since the day he (Cary Ball Jr.) died, I’ve been determined to get his story out,” said Carlos Ball. “This broke my mom and my daddy down, so I’m going to put it on my shoulders… and I’m going to keep on fighting with these families because we’re going to get justice for them.”
Ball’s comments were echoed by members of the legal community, who pledged to work toward change.
“They say to us, we are not profiled … I say to them when we lawyers and police officers that deescalate forces in white communities like they do in the black communicate, then we’’ll stop speaking out,” said Pamela Meanes, president of The National Bar Association.
“When they apprehend a brother, like they did a white boy who walked into a movie theater and shot up 14 people, then we’ll stop marching,” said Meanes. “They didn’t shoot him down. They calmed him down … When they start doing that in the black community, then we’ll stop marching,
“We’re going to tell you as legal scholars, that there is something wrong with the system,” Meanes added. “I say reform the jury systems.”
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