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Tens of thousands join Get Your Knee Off Our Necks march in Washington

AFP/Washington, United States
Filed on August 29, 2020
thousands, march, washington, get your knee off our necks, police brutality, united states
People holding placards attend the 'Get Your Knee Off Our Necks' march in support of racial justice, in Washington, U.S., August 28, 2020.

(Reuters)

Huge crowds flooded the National Mall to mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King's historic 'I have a dream' speech.

Tens of thousands of protesters demanding an end to racial injustice and police brutality thronged the US capital on Friday, sign of a renewed groundswell of anger gripping the nation following a white officer's shooting of African American Jacob Blake.

Huge crowds flooded the National Mall for a mass march marking the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King's historic "I have a dream" speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

Friday's demonstration was dubbed "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks," in reference to George Floyd, who suffocated beneath the knee of a white officer in Minneapolis in May, igniting the most widespread civil unrest in the country in decades.

Often fighting back tears, relatives of Floyd, Blake and Breonna Taylor -- a 26-year-old killed in a police shooting in her own apartment -- took turns addressing the sea of people, who called out the victims' names in reponse, over and over. 

"What we need is change and we're at a point where we can get that change," said Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer. "But we have to stand together."

Like his father did 57 years ago, King's son, Martin Luther King III, stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before the vast crowd lining a reflecting pool and urged Americans to keep fighting inequality between whites and people of color -- and to vote in November at all cost to defeat President Donald Trump.

"We are taking a step forward on America's rocky but righteous journey towards justice," King told a crowd enduring muggy Washington heat, at times wiping sweat from his brow.

"We're marching to overcome what my father called the triple evils of poverty, racism and violence," King said.

The same spot was the scene of a lavish fireworks display the night before, as Trump wrapped up the Republican Party's pre-election convention with an angry "law and order" speech at the nearby White House.

Thousands of people, among them many families with children, streamed towards the event from dawn, with Covid-19 facemasks mandatory -- but planned temperature checks abandoned due to long queues and large crowds.

After the speeches, the crowd set off in direction of the nearby Martin Luther King Memorial.

Local store front windows were boarded up due to the threat of violence, and a heavy police presence blocked off streets.

As she headed toward the Mall, Karisha Harvey, 46 and black, held a poster depicting a weeping Statue of Liberty cradling a crying baby swaddled in American flag.

"Not coming wasn't an option," said Harvey.

Her white companion Cortney Smith, white and also 46, said, "I'm sick of hearing about a black man getting killed in the street every week."

After mass protests sparked by Floyd's death, outrage has revived over the last week since Blake was shot multiple times in the back during a confrontation with police in the Midwestern city of Kenosha.

Blake survived and is hospitalised, but may never walk again, according to the 29-year-old's lawyer.

Many at the protest expressed fury at news that Blake is shackled to his hospital bed even though he is paralyzed.

- National anger -

Authorities identified the officer who opened fire as Rusten Sheskey, saying police were attempting to arrest Blake and had tried to subdue him with a stun gun. They added that a knife had been found in his car.

In the violent and chaotic protests that followed in Kenosha, two people were shot dead by a man with an assault rifle.

Authorities arrested a 17-year-old in the killings and filed intentional homicide charges against him.

Major sports teams and leagues have called off games and matches to protest against racism and police abuse, as the latest shooting rekindled the anti-racism demonstrations that have convulsed the country all summer.

Trump, who is behind in polls for the November 3 election, has dismissed the wave of protests as criminal looting and violence -- presenting himself a bulwark against social anarchy and a defender of the police.

The Department of Justice has announced an FBI civil rights investigation into Blake's shooting. 

But activists continued to demand action against police who shot Blake on Sunday as he tried to enter his car, with his three sons watching.

Don Carlisle, a black man in his mid-50s attending Friday's march with friends, told AFP "we do a lot for this country, but still a lot of African-American individuals, male or female, are still treated unjustly."

"(Police violence) not going to stop until we voice our opinion. We have been waiting for 300 years for equality."


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