Half a century after police wielding batons and tear gas blocked Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of nonviolent protesters from leaving Selma, Ala., his words are buttressing a new generation of activists.
This Martin Luther King Day, protesters around the country are amplifying the hallowed echoes of Dr. King's words as part of a loosely connected string of #ReclaimMLK demonstrations protesting police violence and inequality.
The high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo.; New York; and elsewhere have ignited this new generation of demonstrators. While some protests have resulted in violence and looting, the majority of demonstrations across America have drawn from King’s playbook of nonviolent resistance, with protesters seeking peaceful means to convey their anger at what they say is a culture of aggressive and violent policing of minority communities.
In Oakland, Calif., demonstrators assembled before dawn Monday in front of the home of newly inducted Mayor Libby Schaaf for what organizers are calling a “people’s inauguration.” The protesters say they are angry with Mayor Schaaf for spending her inauguration day with police who have a history of violence against minorities.
#WakeUpTheMayor protesters projected quotes from King on the mayor’s garage. Some demonstrators held up a sheet with the words, “If we can’t breathe, we can’t dream,” a reference to the final words of Eric Garner as he choked to death at the hands of a police officer on the streets of Staten Island, N.Y.
Bay Area protesters staged a series of marches throughout the holiday weekend. Four people were arrested Sunday evening during a police-escorted march, and another four people were arrested during a largely peaceful demonstration Saturday.
In Philadelphia, protesters planned to assemble in front of the main offices of the Philadelphia public schools Monday afternoon for a “MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment.” The MLK D.A.R.E. coalition posted a call to action essay on the website Medium.com. The group’s demands include “fully funded, democratically controlled schools,” a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and “a fully empowered, independent police review board.”
“We must recognized what King called ‘the fierce urgency of now’ and that ‘time waits for no one,' ” MLK D.A.R.E.’s statement reads.
“It is time to break the silence about what Dr. King called the triple evils: racism, poverty and militarism,” the essay reads. “Now is the time! We are the ones. We, the people, are the leaders we have waited for.”
In Minnesota, 2,800 people signed up to attend a #ReclaimMLK march Monday in the wake of the fatal shooting of Marcus Golden by St. Paul police officers Wednesday. Police say that Mr. Golden drove his vehicle at the officers and left them “fearing for their lives.” Golden reportedly had a handgun within reach, but it remains unclear whether he had fired on the officers.
Other demonstrations have occurred in major cities around the United States throughout the weekend, beginning Thursday, King’s actual birthday. Additional marches are scheduled for Monday afternoon in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.
• This report includes material from the Associated Press.