They faced arrests and gunfire on their 750-mile march to Washington, D.C. After Jacob Blake’s shooting, their journey is more crucial than ever.
Correction: A previous version of this video misspelled Frank Nittyâs name. This group is marching 750 miles from Milwaukee to arrive in Washington DC on the 57th anniversary of MLK’s « I Have A Dream » speech.
After enduring blistered feet, arrests, harassment and a spray of gunfire over the course of weeks, dozens of people marching 750 miles to protest police brutalityÂ arrived in the nation’s capitalÂ Friday, theÂ anniversary of the March on Washington.Â Â
Frank « Nitty » Sensabaugh stood on the National Mall at 9 a.m. ET, exhausted, sore, hungry and in disbelief.Â
« It’s indescribable, » said Sensabaugh, a Milwaukee-based activist who organized the march.Â « I was crying for a while. I was tired because I haven’t slept in three days. Then I was crying again. »
Sensabaugh and about 20 other men, women and children first left Milwaukee on Aug. 4Â and planned to walk about 30 miles a day through Aug. 28, whenÂ thousands of people are expected to attend the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington.
Now, their demonstration has become even more necessary, saidÂ Tory Lowe, a Milwaukee-based victims advocate who co-organized the march from Milwaukee.
‘We have all had a knee on our neck’: Activists to call for police reform, voting rights at March on Washington
Just miles from MilwaukeeÂ last weekend, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake in the back several times, leaving the father of three paralyzed from the waist down, according to lawyers for his family. The shooting ignited several nights ofÂ looting, violence andÂ protests in Kenosha and other cities across the country âÂ the most recent incidentsÂ of unrest this summer amid a nationwide movement for racial justice.
« This march was meant to happen because look whatâs happening in the state of Wisconsin, » Lowe said. « This is why weâre marching. It brings validation to the fact of why we ever started this march in the first place. »
Milwaukee protest leader Frank Sensabaugh, who goes by the name Frank Nitty, starts his march with supporters to Washington, D.C., along Highway 31 in Caledonia on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
The first few days of the journey went smoothly, organizers said, as police escorted the march to and through Chicago. People began to turn out on sidewalksÂ to offer support as the marchers passed by, and others monitoring their progress on social media began to donate food and pay for hotel rooms.
« Once we got into Indiana and Ohio, it got really intense because the areas with less diversity became our biggest issues, » Lowe said. « Some people were saying go home. People would write things on the ground. TheyÂ were pissed. »
On the ninth day,Â Indiana State Police arrested and held Sensabaugh and Lowe for several hours near Warsaw because, police said, the group was blocking traffic.
« We’ve been arrested for walking, and we’ve been shot at, » Lowe said. « A white male just came out of nowhere, and our security was shot. »
As the march moved through western Pennsylvania on Monday night, the group of about 30 stopped in the parking lot of a private business and gunfire broke out, according to state police. « The property owners confronted the activists. The confrontation escalated, and gunshots were exchanged between the property owners and the activists, » Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Brett Miller said Tuesday.
Sensabaugh’sÂ body guardÂ was injured, Lowe said. He had non-life-threatening injuries andÂ was treated at the hospital, police said.
The Bedford County District Attorney was investigatingÂ the incident, and no charges had been filed, Miller said.
As the marchers left Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, a group of residents â some armedÂ â lined the streets and yelled slurs, Lowe said. At the same time, other residents came out to protect the marchers, he said.
« Itâs been a spiritual journey, and itâs an eye-opening journey for many of us because weâre seeing outright racism as we walk, » Lowe said. « Itâs been 24 days, and every day is something. Not one day have we been out here and someone hasnât thrown racial slurs. »
Sensabaugh and Lowe said they’vealso been heartened by the outpouring of support for the march. At one point in Indiana, a group of diverse group of residents brought the marchers two week’s worth ofÂ supplies, water andÂ shoes. Some nurses volunteered to look at their feet.
« It was amazing, and the spirit of humanity was alive, » Lowe said. « There are some people working to change things in these communities as well. »
In the final days of the march, the group started breaking up the day’s mileage into morning and night crews. Lowe and his cohort walked from Wednesday afternoon to about 5 a.m. Thursday, whenÂ Sensabaugh and others caught up to them in their car caravan and began their walking shift.
Sixty people (plus cats and dogs)Â âÂ some with bleeding feet and pulled calf musclesÂ âÂ crossed into D.C. around 7:30 a.m. Friday morning, Sensabaugh said.
« There’s a lot of joy, happiness, and relief, » Sensabaugh said. « Between being tired and overwhelmed with emotions, Iâm at a loss for words for the first time in my life. Iâm trying to soak it all in. »
Sensabaugh said he and other marchers were expected to speak on the Mall and participate in events throughout the day.
« Thereâs a lot of racism that still exists in this country. This journey showed me that a lot of these smaller towns are still in the 1960s, and thatâs unacceptable, »Â Sensabaugh said. « If we truly knew how to come together, we could change. »
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