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(NYT) Echoing Calls for Justice of Million Man March, but Widening Audience

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WASHINGTON — Thousands gathered on the National Mall on Saturday to demand justice for the black men and women who have been killed at the hands of the police, echoing many of the cries that rang out in the same spot 20 years ago during the Million Man March.

The anniversary event took “Justice or Else” as its theme. The air of a family reunion — young children ran about waving red, black and green Pan-African flags that their parents bought from vendors lining the Mall — mixed with one of political protest, along with anger and frustration from some participants.

“Begging and pleading and marching and singing Negro spirituals hasn’t made the white man treat us any better,” said Art Scott, 59, a salesman who lives in the area. “There comes a time, after being pushed for so long, to push back. I think that’s the feeling in the black community right now.”

Taylor Hunt, a Howard University freshman, said that she had been stirred to action after the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was found hanged in a Texas jail cell in July after she was arrested on a traffic violation. Others recalled the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., as the impetus to demand changes in the justice system.

People gathered in Washington on Saturday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, which was held on Oct. 16, 1995. A crowd spread from the Capitol down the National Mall, listening to speeches and carrying placards. Credit Evan Vucci/Associated Press

That feeling was expressed in the day’s keynote speech, delivered by Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam and leader of both Saturday’s rally and the original one in 1995. When he came to the podium, people sitting on the grass jumped to their feet. Camera phones were raised and the crowd quieted.

He spoke about politicians who did not act in the best interest of the people, hypocrisy when it comes to human rights and other “hard truths” that he says are necessary to acknowledge in order to keep the movement alive.

“The demand for justice demands integrity,” Mr. Farrakhan said. “The demand for justice demands selflessness. The demand for justice is bigger than all our lives, so the demand for justice must give us the will to wish to sacrifice our lives, because the many are greater than the one.”

In his wide-ranging speech, which lasted two hours, Mr. Farrakhan also called on the African-American community to take more responsibility for black-on-black crime and killings, and for the federal government to take a closer look at the recent string of police killings of unarmed black men and women.

“There must come a time when we say enough is enough,” he said.

Other speakers included relatives of victims of police violence, Christian clergy members, Islamic ministers, Native American activists and Latinos who spoke against the demonization of unauthorized immigrants. Their involvement in the program underscored a decidedly broader theme for the event, which was to engage and acknowledge more than black men.

Throngs filled the green-and-gravel spaces between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The National Park Service stopped issuing crowd estimates after the original march in 1995, after a dispute arose between organizers and the agency over estimates of the turnout. The park service said that there were around 400,000 attendees, while other estimates put the number around 800,000.


Either way, millions watched on television, and organizers called it a success. They said that 1.7 million black men registered to vote, and the event prompted other civil involvement and raised awareness of racial issues.

Organizers of Saturday’s march were adamant that the struggle of one oppressed group is intrinsically linked to the struggles of other such groups, and that they should unite to fight against systemic oppression. Some speeches were delivered, for example, in Spanish.

Extending invitations beyond black men helped illustrate the influence of new fighters against social injustice, many of whom are part of the Black Lives Matter movement. They have taken a different and more inclusive route toward justice, choosing to eschew centralized leadership and to amplify the voices of women, gays and transgendered people.

But many of the attendees were ready to move beyond marches in general. People both young and old spoke of building self-sufficient communities in which African-Americans direct buying power toward their own businesses. The next phase of the revolution, they say, is going to be economic.

Justin Cotton and his friends, who call themselves the Society of Young Re-Evolutionaries, set up a table at the march, where they passed out a 24-page pamphlet called “The Black Book,” which was filled with names and contact information of black businesses in the Washington area.

“It has to stop being about awareness and it has to be about action,” Mr. Cotton said. “Time and time again we see people come and take something that’s unique to us and add it to the commodities market. If we took the time to look upon ourselves and the power we actually have and used it, we’d be able to move ourselves forward.”

Read More at the New York Times