“Come on my people, let’s get free.”

Video by Ford Fischer
Article and Photos by Alejandro Alvarez

Hundreds joined a Black Lives Matter march through southeast DC on Saturday, in a continuing call for Mayor Muriel Bowser to take decisive action against police brutality in majority black neighborhoods.

Heading out from Congress Heights Metro, about 300 marched down Alabama Avenue through Buena Vista and Anacostia as part of the “Take Back Our Streets” march, with a final destination of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Seventh District headquarters, named by marchers as “one of the most vicious and brutal police departments in the District.”

“We ask that our community stand with us as we divest from punishment and invest in our self-determination,” read the event’s Facebook description, highlighting the march’s focus on bolstering community power in confronting police violence against members of the black community. Terrence Sterling, a motorcyclist killed in an encounter with DC police last September, was one of the cases brought up by marchers as proof that swift action to protect black communities is urgently needed. Other signs referenced the case of Phresh, a 9-year-old pit bull shot and killed by a DC officer this January while responding to a domestic disturbance.

According to Movement for Black Lives, the organizers of Saturday’s event, initiatives are already under consideration by DC lawmakers to alleviate the matter. Jonathan Lykes, a leader at Black Youth Project 100, cited the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act (NEAR) as a key piece of legislation passed by the DC Council to empower neighborhoods to supervise their own wellbeing.

Though the law was passed unanimously, the city council has thus far failed to provide NEAR with the full funding it requires to achieve its goal of community-led violence prevention. Mayor Bowser claimed there were no funds available after the act’s approval amid the defeat of her own plan. “This move was widely interpreted as a political snub based on the Mayor’s anger at the rejection of her own proposal,” read a primer on the NEAR Act provided by the organizers.

Livestream:

Apart from local politics, Saturday’s march also provided community members an opportunity to voice their concern with the state of race issues after President Trump’s election.

“With the current administration pushing more policies that are systemically racist and building more institutional barriers in people’s lives,” said Lykes, “in this particular moment, it’s important for us to come together and make sure we’re responding to the harm caused to our communities.”

“Take Back Our Streets” marched over a mile and lasted about an hour, with a rally outside MPD’s station lasting an additional hour until the rally dispersed mid-afternoon. It remained peaceful throughout and was coordinated with local police. The event was Movement for Black Lives’ first major street action since the inauguration, and is the latest in Black Lives Matter activism in DC following on from mass protests against police shootings last summer.