Crowds gathered in the District on Friday with the Lincoln Memorial at their backs and many of the participants wearing masks and practicing social distancing — cognizant of the ongoing coronavirus health pandemic.
They assembled to mark the 57th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held in 1963 on the very same grounds organized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, John Lewis and other leaders from the civil rights movement.
However, as those who traveled from near and far to attend the recent Commitment March illustrated, this call for racial justice amid a slew of nationwide protests against police brutality, continues to be dominated by a new generation – many of whom have grown tired of waiting for the right to simply breathe.
To many who assembled in the District, little has changed. But with a mixture of the old vanguard, millennials and children still holding the hands of their parents, one of the over-arching messages remained the importance of teaching and inspiring today’s children to pick up the baton in the pursuit of justice for all.
In stark contrast to last Friday’s peaceful assembly here in the District, in the city of Portland, Oregon, officials braced themselves for another bout of violence, arson, arrests, protests and allegations of police brutality. At least one fatal shooting in the city has been confirmed as the protests have continued for nearly 100 days.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler asked citizens to join him in “denouncing violence” days after a man was shot and killed Saturday as supporters of President Donald Trump clashed with protesters against police violence and racism in the city’s downtown district.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community,” Wheeler wrote Tuesday night in a tweet. “But last night saw more senseless violence in Portland.”
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, Donald Trump visited another U.S. city embroiled in its own share of protests and violence, Kenosha, Wis., where he touted his law-and-order message in a city where frustration and anger have risen to unprecedented heights after the recent police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake.
Trump ignored the pleas of both the city’s Democratic mayor and the state’s Democratic governor to cancel his plans to visit Kenosha, instead arriving with a small entourage in tow. Some criticize the president for using the visit as a campaign opportunity. During his appearance, he said Kenosha has “been ravaged by anti-police and anti-American riots” and promised to give his full support to law enforcement.
D.C. Mayor Bowser Fears Race War
Officials in Wisconsin and Portland do not stand alone in their criticisms of Trump and the oft-times mixed messages he shares, usually via Twitter. In fact, differing views about how to squash violence and achieve justice for Blacks and other Americans have brought the president and many city leaders, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, into stark opposition.
Bowser told reporters Monday she fears the country is “descending into a race war.”
During a press conference, she addressed the violent protests that recently rocked the city, blaming outside agitators for creating havoc and disrupting peaceful demonstrations over the weekend in the District of Columbia. She criticized Trump’s Twitter retorts about the violence, saying outsiders will not be allowed to start a race war.
“We will not tolerate violence of any kind in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said during a public safety briefing on Monday. “We don’t tolerate it if it’s on the streets between rival crews and we won’t tolerate it against our police officers, the men and women who are charged with keeping our community safe. And we certainly won’t tolerate it against our residents and visitors. Many of our residents are out there protesting themselves and doing so peacefully.”
Meanwhile, over the weekend, Trump tweeted about Bowser, saying she should “arrest these agitators and thugs!”
Final Words from the March on Washington
Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. King, attended Friday’s March with his wife and daughter. He compared the recent gathering to the one led by his father 57 years ago.
“All of us are protesting and most are positive,” he said. “Those who don’t think we should be protesting have the right to their views but that’s not important. The key is to mobilize and galvanize as well as change who’s in the White House.”
“I think there are enough people in America with consciences. My father once said, ‘a vote-less people is a powerless people.’ I’m convinced that people are going to show up during this election cycle like never before.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who called for the Commitment March under the banner of his national organization, the National Action Network, said the purpose of returning to the District was to send America a message that could be clearly understood.
“We are showing with our bodies in 2020 that enough is enough,” he said on Friday. “When I was at George Floyd’s funeral, I talked with Martin III about this march. We didn’t know how we’d do it but we did it. We want the George Floyd Policing and Justice Act passed. We want the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill passed.”
“We didn’t come here for a show. Demonstration without legislation won’t lead to change. We’ve come to let America know that if we can come out in these numbers in the heat, we will also stand in the polls all day long. We didn’t come to start trouble – we’ve come to stop trouble.”
“It’s time for a new conversation. We denounce the looting and violence that have occurred during protests across the country. But we haven’t heard the president or others denounce the shooting of Black men and women. When will you speak against wrongful and deadly shootings of innocent Blacks at the hands of the police?”
“Tall, short, dark, light … Black lives matter. And we won’t stop until Black lives matter to everybody,” Sharpton concluded.
Hamil Harris contributed to this story.