Thousands of Americans marched and rallied in New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and other cities around the country Saturday, voting with their feet against police brutality – specifically in response to recent police killings in Cleveland, New York, and Ferguson, Missouri, that have wracked a nation still dealing with issues involving racial mistrust and mistreatment of black people at the hands of white police officers.
Family members of those killed recently – Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, and John Crawford – spoke at the “Justice for All” rally in Washington.
"What a sea of people," said Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old killed in Ferguson in August. "If they don't see this and make a change, then I don't know what we got to do."
Eric Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, called it a "history-making moment."
"It's just so overwhelming to see all who have come to stand with us today," she said. "I mean, look at the masses. Black, white, all races, all religions…. We need to stand like this at all times."
The march in Washington, which proceeded down Pennsylvania Ave. to the Capitol, was sponsored in part by The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, the Urban League, and the NAACP.
While protesters rallied in Washington, other groups including Ferguson Action conducted similar "Day of Resistance" movements around the country.
In some locations, protesters blocked traffic with “die-ins,” and a few arrests were reported. But by the end of the afternoon there had not been the kind of violence and destruction of property seen earlier in some cities.
Meanwhile, the activist organization Change.org reports that so far this year, 622 online petitions have been started about police violence, which have attracted a total of 1.1 million signatures – considerably more than the 217 petitions in 2013.
Among them: Support for President Obama’s plan to provide $263 million in federal funding for body cameras and training for local police departments (192,613 signatures); a call to fire New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who applied an apparent chokehold to Eric Garner (95,856 signatures); and a petition to stop the transfer of military equipment to local police departments (117,003 signatures).
There was a historic sense to the events Saturday.
"I stand here as a black man who is afraid of the police, who is afraid of never knowing when my life might end, never knowing when I might be … gunned down by a vigilante or a security guard or a police officer,” marcher Ahmad Greene-Hayes in New York told CNN. “That fear, that trepidation is rooted more so in my connection to my ancestors … who were enslaved, those who were beaten during the civil rights movement…. So there's a longstanding history that I'm connected to."
The US Justice Department is investigating the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
"It's important to recognize as painful as these incidents are, we can't equate what is happening now to what happened fifty years ago," President Obama said in a televised interview this week with BET, a network that reaches predominately young African-Americans. "If you talk to your parents, grandparents, uncles, they'll tell you that things are better – not good, in some cases, but better…. The reason it's important for us to understand that progress has been made is that then gives us hope that we can make even more progress.”
Still, Obama said, “This isn't something that is going to be solved overnight…. This is something that is deeply rooted in our society. It's deeply rooted in our history.”