By Hannah Yale
On Friday, August 28, thousands of protesters gathered peacefully at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to demand racial justice and lasting reforms within American institutions with a track record of racial discrimination and profiling. Fifty-seven years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream of racial equality and Black prosperity at the 1963 March on Washington, Americans must still march against police brutality and the violent attacks on people of color that occur in the U.S. every day.
Friday’s event formally titled the Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks, referred to the police-killing of George Floyd on May 25. The protest mentioned and honored other recent victims of police-instigated murders, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake, Wisconsin police shot Blake, a 29-year old Black man, seven times in the back on August 23. He suffered paralysis from his injuries. The police officer who fired on Blake, Rusten Sheskey, has not been charged nor removed from the force.
Several family members of those being honored at the Commitment March participated as guest speakers along with Reverend Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III. Sharpton, the founder of the National Action Network, spoke about the importance of following protests with direct legislative action. “Demonstration without legislation will not lead to change,” he said. Rev. Sharpton specifically touched on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R.7120) which has already been passed by the House of Representatives but has yet to be voted on in the Senate. If signed into law, H.R.7120 would implement a wide range of reforms in the American policing system, including requiring police officers to receive training on implicit bias and racial profiling, creating the National Police Misconduct Registry to compile data on police complaints and misconduct across the nation, and limiting qualified immunity as a defense to liability in instances of excessive force. Rev. Sharpton also stressed the cruciality of voting in the upcoming election, declaring passionately “If we gotta march every day, if we gotta vote every day, we will get your knee off our neck. Enough is enough.”
Martin Luther King III, who also spoke about the urgency of voting and the continuing struggle of voter suppression, gave the microphone over to his daughter to briefly address the crowd. Twelve-year-old Yolanda Renee King, who made her own emergence into activism with the March for Our Lives in 2018, spoke about the power of the young generation. “We are going to be the generation that dismantles systemic racism once and for all, now and forever. We are going to be the generation that calls a halt to police brutality and gun violence, once and for all, now and forever. We are going to be the generation that reserves climate change and saves our planet, once and for all, now and forever. And we are going to be the generation that ends poverty here in America, the wealthiest nation on earth, once and for all, now and forever,” she said. “We are the great gems of our grandparents, great-grandparents and all our ancestors. We stand and march for love, and we will fulfill my grandfather’s dream.”