By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Days before last Saturday’s history-making “Justice or Else” rally in the nation’s capital commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, conservative elements of the media predicted the event would be marred by violence.
Most mainstream daily papers and newscasts simply downplayed or totally ignored any coverage of the event – before and after.
Yet, peace and harmony were the order of the day as the National Mall filled to the brim on October 10 with thousands of Black, Native American and Hispanic men, women and their children.
The event was organized by the Nation of Islam (NOI) and various other supportive African-American activist and civic groups.
Although it was a diverse crowd, most of the participants were African-Americans who rode buses for hours through the early morning to the nation’s capital, coming from all corners of the nation, including Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Participants arrived at the national mall hours before the 10 a.m. kick-off led by a member of the NOI who called the faithful to prayer and worship.
“We are here continuing the legacy of the Million Man March. We gather today knowing much is at stake,” said Tamika Mallory, event co-convener. “Let us remember the words of Ida B. Wells: The ones who commit the murders write the reports. We are here today to say we choose differently.”
The U.S. Capitol Police also had to submit an apology to NOI officials, because of a press release citing their concerns about potential violence at the event. NOI officials told federal authorities that they had discouraged participants from bringing weapons to the event.
“To my friends who called me, who are scared, step aside. We didn’t come to Washington to play games. Go back and tell your brothers and sisters that the time for playing games is over,” Mallory said.
Speakers observed that the MMM Anniversary event coincided with a number of “injustices” inflicted on Black and other minority communities by police who have been recorded shooting or have contributed to the deaths of a number of unarmed Black men and women the past four years.
Speakers talked about the weakness of the Black family, and the economic, judicial and educational problems which have slowed Black progress.
Mallory recited a list of young Black men who have been killed by police in recent years, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland; Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo.; and Eric Garner of Staten Island, N.Y.
“Twenty years ago, the death of Tamir Rice would have fallen on deaf ears and been left for the police to write a false report, not broadcast for the world to know,” Mallory told the crowd. “Michael Brown’s body would have only traumatized the community, rather than wake up the people.”
The city of Cleveland released a report over the weekend, written by two agencies investigating Rice’s shooting, which said the police officer’s shooting of the Black male teen was justified.
“America, we can’t breathe,” Mallory continued, echoing the phrase that Garner uttered while being held in a chokehold by police in July 2014 and that has been appropriated by the civil rights movement.
The mothers of Sandra Bland — a Black woman found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Tex., in July after an altercation with a police officer — and Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager fatally shot by a community watch volunteer in 2012, appeared together onstage with relatives of other shooting victims.
Bland’s death was ruled a suicide by local authorities, and Martin’s killer was acquitted of second-degree murder charges; however, the circumstances around both deaths have angered Black leaders.
“This is about human rights,” said Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother. “We will not continue to stand by anymore.”
Signs of the Black community’s frustration were displayed on T-shirts reading “Black Lives Matter” and on posters reading “Straight Outta Patience.” One man wore a “Hands up, Don’t shoot” T-shirt, marking the rallying cry in Ferguson after residents and police clashed violently in the streets in the wake of Brown’s shooting death in August 2014.
Hampton Roads Youth Attend Rally
Local youth activist Seko Varner, of Positive Action Inc., of Hampton Roads, said a group in which he was involved, The Golden Fold Movement, organized a bus load of 50 adults and youths ranging in ages from 5 to 60 to attend the event.
Varner attended the event 20 years ago, and this year, his son was among the Black male youth who “got on the bus” in the early morning hours of October 10.
This time Varner gave the young men an assignment: to interview Black men who had attended the event 20 years ago and ask them why they returned and the impact the 1995 MMM had on their lives.
“The young men had never seen such a large gathering of Black people committed to the goal of uplifting Black people,” Varner said. “The young men really got excited about their assignment … some interviewed 10 of the men,”
The youth reported the men interviewed wanted to come back and to recommit to going back home and serving their communities. Varner said the responses gave the young men insight into the purpose of the event.