By William J. Ford
Last weekend, thousands descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March demanding justice for Black victims of police brutality.
Speakers at the “Justice or Else” rally addressed the high-profile killings of Black men and women at the hands of police, economic empowerment and the need for unity and strong families in the Black community.
On Oct. 16, 1995, twenty years ago, the Million Man March was a call for one million Black men to seek atonement, reconciliation and responsibility for their families. This time around, Black women and children marched and chanted next to their husbands, fathers and brothers.
After the morning prayer, the sun began to hover above the Capitol and more people filled the Mall sitting on folding chairs, blankets and holding signs with slogans like: “End Police Terror! Racism is the Disease, Revolution is the Cure!” and “Black Power Matters.”
Just like the 1995 rally, there was plenty of commerce too, as dozens of vendors sold T-shirts, buttons, paintings, drawstring bags, food and other paraphernalia.
Rally participants watched a myriad of speakers passionately talk about the deaths of young Black men killed by police in recent years on at least four Jumbotron screens that lined the grassy area of the National Mall.
Some of the family members of shooting victims spoke on stage Saturday.
“This is about human rights. We will not continue to stand by and not say anything anymore. We will speak up and speak out,” said Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Black teenager who was profiled, followed and shot to death by then neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. “I say to the families that are standing here before me: don’t hold your head down as if your child’s life has been lost in vain. Hold your head up high. Your child was not the person that shot and killed someone else. Your child was murdered.”
A message several speakers made clear before Farrakhan made the final speech was for the thousands in attendance to return home and make their communities better.
Azia Evans, 22, who attends York College in York, Pa., plans on spreading the word about the march on her predominantly White campus to incorporate more diversity in the school’s programs and activities.
Linzy Burton has a similar plan when he leaves D.C. and heads back home to Seattle, Wash.
“I’m going to look into joining a local [organization] to help do something because the killing of our youth this summer in Seattle was ridiculous,” said Burton, who works for an organization called Youth Care that assists homeless youth.
While District Councilman Vincent Orange (At-large) and Mayor Muriel Bowser emphatically encouraged support for D.C. statehood, Joshua Storks-Sayles talked about making a difference within the judicial system.
After Storks-Sayles graduates from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, he plans to enroll in the police academy.
“I get a lot of criticism for that because no change will happen overnight, but it’s about making change,” said Storks-Sayles, 23, who’s from Detroit, Mich. “If you look at it from a bigger perspective, inserting yourself in the system can make things better. You can be chief of police and make things better. It may take five or 10 years, but I’m 23. I have time.”
Complete photo coverage by David Wright in the Photo Gallery