The families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were among the demonstrators in the heart of the US capital Washington for the “Justice For All March,” part of a growing protest movement sparked by the fatal August shooting of the unarmed Brown, 18.
A grand jury decision last month not to indict police officer Darren Wilson over the killing in Ferguson, Missouri, was followed by another that also declined to charge another white policeman in the Staten Island “chokehold” death of father-of-six Garner.
Their deaths, and that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice — shot dead last month by Cleveland police as he brandished a toy gun — unleashed simmering resentment of police tactics in the United States and underlined the distrust many African American men feel toward law enforcement.
Rice’s family and relatives of Trayvon Martin — shot and killed in Florida by a neighborhood watchman in 2012 — were also at the Washington march, which was mirrored by crowds that flooded downtown New York in protest.
Thousands more gathered in chilly Manhattan, shutting down major roads, with protesters shouting “We will shut New York City down” and “Black lives matter.”
Some carried black cutouts of human figures scribed with “RIP” along with the names of those killed by police, while others shouted “Justice now! The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”
Bartender Cole Fox, 24, marched with his mother and held a banner reading, “Grand Jury Reform Now.”
“Fundamental changes need to be made. It’s just a matter of days before the next person, black or white, is killed,” he said.
Student Rosalind Watson, 21, decried “institutional racism.”
“If one person sees this march and feels more supported and safe, it’ll be a success,” she told AFP at the spirited protest.
Crowds also gathered in Boston as part of the movement, and Massachusetts State Police said several people had been arrested while some roads were blocked.
Demonstrators also turned out in Berkeley, California, where an effigy of a black man was hung by a noose at the entrance of a university with the words “I can’t breathe” scrawled on its chest.
– ‘History-making moment’ –
In Washington, protesters shouted “No justice, no peace!” — a signature chant of the nationwide demonstrations — as Garner’s widow took to the stage before the energized crowd, vowing to honor her slain husband.
“I am here not only for marching for Eric Garner, but for everyone’s daughters and sons and nieces and nephews and dads and moms,” Esaw Garner said.
Garner’s mother Gwen Carr told the amped-up crowd: “This is a history-making moment,” as onlookers erupted in cheers.
She vowed to press on with protests until lawmakers responded to demands for justice.
“We will come here as many times as it takes. We will come here over and over and over again,” she told a cheering crowd as they edged toward the US Capitol building that houses Congress.
“When we go home today, we hope that they have heard our voices, they yield to our commands, because no justice, no peace.”
Some in the crowd, which was made up of mostly young black and white people, held banners proclaiming, “Stop racist police,” “I can’t breathe” and “President Obama seize this moment. The ancestors are watching.”
“I can’t breathe” were the last words uttered by Garner, whom police wrestled to the ground for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
The atmosphere was largely defiant but peaceful, although police stood by in large numbers.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and a prominent figure in the rallies, led the protest march.
He called for sweeping justice reform and said he would not stop fighting in honor of those who have died at the hands of police.
“You thought it would be kept quiet. You thought you’d sweep it under the rug. You thought there would be no limelight. But we’re going to keep the light on Michael Brown, on Eric Garner, on Tamir Rice, on all of these victims,” he thundered, as the families of those killed joined him on stage, some sobbing.
Organizers called for lawmakers to “pass a national profiling act.”
Claire Rose, 69, said she traveled several thousand miles for the rally to make sure her voice was heard.
“It just moved me to see the reactions of these families of young people killed. Their lives did not matter for the police,” she said.
“There is definitely racism throughout the country.”- AFP