These are just a few of the names of victims of police brutality and racism. We honor their lives; we uplift their families; and we vow to never cease our work to bring about justice for them and for all those who have suffered at the hands of state sanctioned violence or discrimination. It is why National Action Network (NAN), Martin Luther King III and many of the family members of those killed by police will join together in the nation’s capital on August 28th and lead a Commitment March.
If ever there was a time to renew our commitment to criminal justice reform, voting rights and equality for all, well that moment is now. We call upon everyone – from every generation, ethnic or religious background and from all communities – to join us in solidarity in Washington D.C. as we say in unison: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.
Fifty-seven years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convened the historic March on Washington where he delivered his revered “I Have a Dream” speech. The march was a culmination of years of activism by Dr. King and others whose dedication and sacrifice helped usher in transformative legislation from the federal government like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was the grassroots civil rights movement that held elected officials accountable and put pressure on them to enact laws to advance the cause of justice. More than a half century later, when we gather once again in Washington, D.C., we call upon elected officials to also pass laws that protect our civil rights and the fundamental right to vote.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is policy that would ban chokeholds, eliminate qualified immunity for officers, establish federal guidelines for transparency, ramps up use of body cameras and more. We urge the Senate to immediately pass this Act so that Black and Brown lives can be protected and another family does not have to bury a loved one because of overzealous police officers who abuse their power. We must have transparency and accountability in policing; those sworn to serve and protect must understand that they are not above the law themselves. At the Commitment March, we will rally around the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act with the family members of many of these victims of police brutality who will lead the march.
The second demand we have is for lawmakers to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the civil rights icon and congressman who we recently lost. In 2013, the Supreme Court virtually gutted the Voting Rights Act and opened the floodgates for states to implement all kinds of draconian measures and roadblocks that impact the already marginalized from exercising their right to vote. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would require any state with a history of voting discrimination in the past 25 years to obtain federal approval before making any changes, and it would require all states to obtain federal clearance before making any changes that would disenfranchise voters of color. We honor John Lewis and demand equality in his name.
At the funeral services for George Floyd in June, I told mourners that we aren’t fighting disconnected incidents, but instead fighting an institutional systemic problem that was allowed to permeate since we were brought to these shores. Many of the family members of victims like Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery and others attended the services to stand alongside the Floyd family because they understand all too well the pain and anguish that they are suffering.
This is why they will be the ones in D.C. leading our Commitment March because those closest to the problem, closest to the pain, should be the folks closest to the solution. As I stated that day, we are fighting wickedness in high places; and it’s going to take mobilization, organization, strategy and commitment from the grassroots to usher in transformative change.
The NAACP, The National Urban League, AFSCME, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Hispanic Federation, The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and many other organizations have partnered with NAN for this march. We will gather at the Lincoln Memorial beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET and the program will run from 11:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m. ET, followed by a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Everyone will be asked to wear a mask and social distance; if people do not have a mask, NAN will provide you with one for free. We will practice social distancing in the march, as well as on the buses heading down to D.C. Those who are unable to attend, we ask that you join us via social media using the hashtag #NANMOW2020.
Since 2015, there have been more than 5,000 fatal shootings by police according to the Washington Post. At a time when police continue to kill with impunity, institutional racism is embedded in all aspects of society, a pandemic is inflicting Black and Brown communities especially hard, unemployment is dangerously high, voter suppression tactics are taking place around the country and federal agents are deployed against protesters, the need to raise our collective voices is as great as ever. The Commitment March in D.C. is an intergenerational day of action that will renew our commitment to civil rights, equality and justice for all.
Join us on August 28th as we work together to continue the legacy of Dr. King, John Lewis and the late C.T. Vivian. We march in their spirits as we emphatically chant: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.
For more information on the Commitment March or to register, please visit NationalActionNetwork.net
Rev. Al Sharpton is President and Founder of National Action Network.
Photo by Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images