Article by Joel Simon
Video by Ford Fischer
Thousands of racial justice activists, allies, and supporters coalesced on the National Mall in Washington D.C. for the National Action Network’s “Get Your Knees off Our Necks” Commitment March on Friday. Led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, the event lands on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The speakers at the Lincoln Memorial ranged from grassroots activists, to academics, to theologians, to business & labor leaders and sitting members of congress.
The tones of the speeches varied from apolitical to full-throated endorsements of politicians running against President Trump. Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris appeared in a video message at the event, urging activists to continue their efforts in the spirit of those who came before them, such as the late Rep. John Lewis.
MLK Jr’s son, Martin Luther King III, and MLK Jr’s granddaughter Yolanda King were two of the event’s featured speakers.
MLK III spoke broadly about a host of issues in America, and urged listeners to continue the efforts championed by MLK Jr. and civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 60s.
“There’s a knee upon the neck of democracy, and our nation can only live so long without the oxygen of freedom,” he said, adding that if activists continue to move with purpose and passion, they would be able to complete the work started by his father.
The youngest King professed the hope that her generation would be the one to end systemic racism. The 12-year-old stressed the goal of the movement was “genuine equality.”
Reverend Al Sharpton headlined the speaking portion of the event, leading attendees in chants of “No Justice, No Peace!”
He, like many prior speakers, drew parallels between the circumstances of 1963 and 2020, speaking out about the perception that the Trump administration may be attempting to “rob” voting rights from African-Americans, a sentiment shared by many activists.
Sharpton spoke in support of the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed in the House of Representatives, but has not yet been passed in the senate. He also advocated for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
“Demonstration without legislation will not lead to change,” said Sharpton. “We didn’t come to start trouble, we came to stop trouble.”
The event is one of the largest sanctioned gatherings during the Coronavirus pandemic, and while many in attendance wore masks and attempted to keep distance, large crowds closely packed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.
Sharpton advised attendees to socially distance if possible, but noted the importance of the gathering. “Even though we are here in the midst of a pandemic…we want to show with our bodies that enough is enough.”
Also speaking were Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, Letetra Widman and Jacob Blake Sr, sister and father of Jacob Blake, and Bridgett & Philonise Floyd, sister and brother of George Floyd, and many other family members of those killed by law enforcement or suspected white supremacists.
So many family members assembled to speak, that not every person could be accommodated, as event organizers had to direct attendees for marching.
NFAC militia speaks at MLK Jr. Monument
As tens of thousands attended the “Get your knee off our necks” march in Washington DC, the “Not F***ing Around Coalition” (NFAC), an all-Black militia, rallied at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
While they usually carry pistols and rifles, today they wore bulletproof vests, knives, a machete, and empty pistol holsters. The group’s leader, “Grandmaster Jay” revved up the crowd by saying that the NFAC are “the new Black Panthers” and concluded by leading marchers in a chant of “Black power!”