March on Washington updates: Thousands gather at Lincoln Memorial to march for racial equality


    March on Washington organizers expect about 50,000 people to gather in Washington on Friday to call for criminal justice reform and racial equality and to honor the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address from the same spot.

    Organizers began planning in June after the funeral of George Floyd, but they recently lowered their crowd estimates, citing fewer buses arriving in the city because of the coronavirus pandemic. They plan to highlight the civil rights issues of today and bring well-known speakers to address the crowd while also mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus with strict safety protocols.

    The march — dubbed the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” March on Washington — will begin with speeches from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, followed by a choreographed march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park. The event is expected to end about 3 p.m.

    Just before 9 a.m., a band played “A Change Is Gonna Come” to hundreds of people who sat in folding chairs spaced six feet apart beneath the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

    Speakers, public figures and families affected by police violence were invited to sit in the fenced-off area between the Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. A row of empty chairs in the front was reserved for members of Congress.

    As the first speakers took the podium, the credentialed guests stayed socially distanced with umbrellas over their heads to block the sun and handmade posters resting in their laps.

    Meanwhile, a crowd trickled into the grassy lawn behind the fenced-off area. They sat in clusters and listened to speeches echoing from large speakers, occasionally erupting in cheers.

    A group of people, who walked from Milwaukee, arrived at the Lincoln Memorial at 7:37 a.m. Friday to participate in demonstrations.

    “We had to do over 30 miles a day each day on this march, and that made it more difficult,” said Frank Nitty, 39, who led the 750-mile journey that started in early August.

    “All the blisters, all the pain in our legs, our feet, and on our journey we’ve been through so much,” he said.

    About 20 people joined Nitty when he set out, but more people joined as they passed through cities. By the time the group arrived at the memorial Friday morning, there were 70 people.

    The journey was tough, Nitty said. Walkers were blocked from using bathrooms at gas stations. They said they were called the n-word. They were hit by a car.

    25-day walk to D.C. brings racism, arrests and a sense of urgency for March on Washington activists

    Orsino Thurman, 37, who was also involved in the walk, said he was shot by a man and hospitalized in Bedford County, Pa. He said he wasn’t deterred.

    On Friday, legions of Americans will descend on the nation’s capital resolved to take advantage of “the fierce urgency of now,” a phrase coined by Martin Luther King Jr. on the very same day in 1963.

    The full name of that historic gathering on Aug. 28 was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This time, it’s the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks March on Washington.

    As if more than half a century ago had hardly passed, the two events partly mirror each other in theme: police brutality, voting rights and new legislation to ensure equal treatment. Both the 1963 march and the Friday event — co-sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and others — share the goal of pressuring lawmakers to act. The 1963 march helped spur the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 2020 gathering aims to assure that the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020becomes law, as well as a robust police reform bill named after George Floyd, who died in a police killing in May in Minneapolis after an officer knelt on his neck.

    The parallels point to the racist policies, behavior and ideas that stubbornly persist, despite the great strides African Americans have made since the 1960s, said Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of communication and affiliate professor of history at American University who lectures about American politics and the 1960s.

    The line spilled down Constitution Avenue and turned onto Henry Bacon Drive, flanking the Lincoln Memorial with swarms of masked people carrying posters, bullhorns and backpacks of snacks in preparation for a long day on the Mall.

    In line stood first-time protesters from across the country, who said that the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were seminal moments in their lives.

    “Breonna Taylor hit me deep,” said Boddy, who is Black. “If you are not comfortable in your own home, where are you safe?”

    Standing with her cousin in matching red shirts, Boddy adjusted a plastic bag that held a sausage sandwich and other snacks from her hotel.

    “We are sick and tired,” she said. “At this point I’d crawl over glass to be here.”

    Janice Orgaro, who described herself as “over 70,” flew in from Georgia to march in her first protest.

    “I flew here to make a statement that we matter,” said Orgaro, who is Black. She wore a homemade shirt that read “Always Remember The Struggle of Our Ancestors.”

    Though she says her friends tell her she should be, Orgaro is not a history teacher. But she said she hopes the history of the United States — “built on the backs of Black people” — will be a centerpiece of today’s march.

    Mothers who said they have lost sons to police brutality were among the first to get their temperatures checked Friday before entering the “Get Your Knees Off Our Necks” demonstration in Washington.

    Monica Watson, 53, said she lost her son in 2014 to an incident of police brutality in Winston-Salem, N.C.

    “I want to speak out because it’s a little small town, and my son’s case got swept under the rug,” she said.

    Another mother, Carol Harrison Lafayette, 54, said her son was jumped by five Dallas police officers in 2017, and she witnessed the encounter.

    “I stood there, and I actually watched them jump on my son,” she said. “Not only did they jump on him when they hurt my son, they took him to jail, instead of the hospital.”

    Medical students from Howard University are among those who volunteered to take people’s temperatures. Volunteers through the National Action Network passed out gloves, hand sanitizer, masks and neon green wristbands to participants as they entered the rally.

    Before police shot a Black man from Wisconsin seven times in the back at point-blank range, before the National Guard was called in amid nightly unrest, a group of Milwaukee activists set off on a protest march calling for an end to racist policing and injustice that would wind through mountains and cross state lines.

    In cities big and small, they raised their fists and chanted, “Black lives matter.” In sleepy suburbs, they marched and bobbed down empty streets to the beat of music from a tinny cellphone speaker or the windows of a support vehicle in their growing caravan.

    They were heading to the 2020 March on Washington the old-fashioned way: by putting one foot in front of the other.

    Led by Milwaukee activist Frank Sensabaugh, better known as Frank Nitty, the group began its trek in a Milwaukee parking lot on Aug. 4.

    Twenty-five days later — after arrests, a shooting and countless conversations with angry and frightened White residents worried that a “Black lives matter” chant was a foghorn warning of violence — the group plans to arrive early Friday in the nation’s capital, where Nitty will take the stage at the Lincoln Memorial.

    A large section of downtown D.C. will be closed to traffic and street parking on Friday to accommodate the civil rights march and related demonstrations.

    Beginning about 6 a.m., D.C. police were shutting down roads generally south of L Street NW between 12th and 18th streets, down to Constitution Avenue.

    Constitution Avenue will be closed from 12th to 23rd streets, and all streets around the Lincoln Memorial will be blocked off. Independence Avenue will be closed from the Arlington Memorial Bridge to 12th Street SW.

    Friday’s civil rights rally timed to the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s seminal “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, is expected to bring thousands to the same location on the Mall.

    Headlined by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who will be joined by King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, and family members of several men and women who were killed by law enforcement officers, the demonstration will conclude a week of large-scale events in the nation’s capital, including days of protests and a fireworks display Thursday night over the Washington Monument to mark the end of the Republican National Convention.

    The Friday march — dubbed the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” March on Washington — will take place in D.C. as the region continues to navigate a still-raging coronavirus pandemic. March on Washington organizers initially thought at least 100,000 people would gather, but a permit issued Tuesday indicates they now expect about 50,000 people will attend.

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