By ADIA ROBINSON and KIARA BRANTLEY-JONES, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Thousands of protestors seeking criminal justice reform gathered at the National Mall on Friday under the rallying cry “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” a reference to the manner in which George Floyd was killed while in police custody in May and reminiscent of the 1963 March on Washington.
“We are tired of the mistreatment and the violence that we, as Black Americans, have been subjected to for hundreds of years,” Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement before the event. “Like those who marched before us, we are standing up and telling the police, telling lawmakers, telling the people and systems that have kept us down for years, ‘Get your knee off our necks.'”
Sharpton announced the march in June during his eulogy at Floyd’s Minneapolis memorial service. It occurs on the 57th anniversary of the original March on Washington and in conjunction with the NAACP’s virtual March on Washington.
Civil rights and social justice activists addressed the crowd and delivered speeches from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, demanding action to end major issues such as systemic racism. Speakers also called for the U.S. Senate to pass H.R.7120, known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The bill, approved by the House but not by the Senate, would address issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability.
“We must answer the call of institutional racism … now, today, this attack on us as people of color who died on the battles of warfare, who have died on the streets for civil rights, it will stop today,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. “We will heal the nation, but we will not stop until the nation knows Black lives matter and reparations are passed as the most significant civil rights legislation of the 21st century.”
Joyce Beatty, vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, echoed a similar sentiment to protesters.
“Go vote! Go vote!” said Beatty. “Tell them to get their knees of of our necks.”
Martin Luther King III, who helped lead Friday’s march, told ABC News’ “2020” in an interview scheduled to air on Friday that normally there wouldn’t be a march for the 57th anniversary of his father’s historic march.
“But because of what is going on,” the oldest son of Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the climate in this nation — more civil rights demonstrations we’ve seen in our nation and really throughout the world that are finally acknowledging that Black Lives Matter — when you realize the reasons why, police brutality and misconduct is still occurring, it is beyond time for immediate action.”
“We all saw some things begin to move a short period of time after, tragically, George Floyd was killed, but we haven’t made the kind of steps that we need to, certainly not at the national level,” he added.
The “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” March comes toward the end of a summer of unrest sparked by more Blacks being killed or severely injured by police. Floyd, 46, died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Chauven was fired and now faces murder charges.
Protesters have called for the arrest and prosecution of the Louisville, Kentucky, officers involved in the March shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was shot at least eight times when plainclothes officers fired “blindly” into her apartment as they executed a no-knock warrant, alleges a lawsuit by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer.
Most recently, Jacob Blake, 29, was shot by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin Sunday night. According to Blake’s family, he was shot seven times in the back and is now paralyzed from the waist down.
The Department of Justice identified the officer as Rusten Sheskey Wednesday.
Speakers at Friday’s march are expected to include Sharpton, King and the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner. Jacob Blake, the father of the man shot by police in Wisconsin, also is expected to speak, as first reported by USA Today.
People are expected to begin gathering at the Lincoln Memorial around 7 a.m. Speeches are scheduled to being at 11 a.m., followed by a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, all participants are required to wear masks and get their temperatures checked before entering the event. While buses are bringing participants in from outside of the region, the organizers are discouraging people living in states on D.C.’s mandatory quarantine list from traveling there for the march.
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