“Our war is on two fronts,” he said. “The inner-city and police wickedness. Preachers, you’re the most important. Take Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence and redirect it to black people. We have to teach to love one another and to love your neighbor.”
Farrakhan’s message, delivered under a pale blue sky with streaks of billowy clouds, was, at times, pointed.
“It’s hypocritical to say we’re citizens when we’re denied civil rights. . . human rights,” he said.
At another point, the 82-year-old who organized the 1995 MMM that was dubbed “A Day of Atonement” asked, “What good is life if there is no freedom?” What good is life if you see people suffering in tyranny? . . . What good are we if we don’t prepare our young people to carry the torch of liberation? We will not forsake our duties.”
He called on “honest” leadership to be at the forefront of influencing change.
“It grieves me that many are willing to take a little money to upgrade their cars, to upgrade their suits, to upgrade their shoes,” he said about black leaders. “All corruption is an enemy to the progression of many.”
Many of his points were received with uproarious approval. Among the thousands who descended on Washington—a crowd that was much younger than 20 years ago and with more women—was Dorothy Hill of Buffalo. At 80, She jumped into her car and drove 401 miles from Buffalo to hear Farrakhan and to feel the spirit of the occasion.
“I just had to be here,” she said. “Too much is happening to the black community for me to just sit home.”
Hill’s seven-hour drive reflected her—and many African-American’s across the country—desperation for change amid recent, high-profile deaths of black males, either at the hands of or in police custody.
“I have lived through a lot,” she said. “But these times in 2015 are more difficult for black people than they should be. Coming here is a statement about how concerned we are.”
Beneath the banner “Justice or Else,” this march appeared different from the Oct. 20, 1995, event. The thrust of that occasion involved black men being better husbands, fathers and sons.
Despite talk of unity and brotherhood, Saturday’s tone, under the banner of Justice or Else, was decidedly more aggressive than at the original gathering. Speaker after speaker demanded that law enforcement be held accountable for what they called unruly and deadly actions against blacks.
The crowd that numbered in tens of thousands or more cheered any mention of retribution against lost black lives.
“We didn’t come to D.C. to play games,” said Tamika Mallory, the national coordinator for Justice or Else. “My father was among more than a million men here in 1995. But we gather again knowing that much is at stake. . . Let us remember the words of Ida B. Wells: ‘The murderers are the ones who write the reports.’ . . . (But) we will not allow injustice to go unnoticed.”
An estimated 400 bus trips were organized from across the country into Washington. Speakers included Hispanics, Native Americans and people from other backgrounds.
Victor Pearson of suburban Baltimore came with four boys from his neighborhood, ages 11 through 14. He maneuvered with them through the crowd and told them to look for his gray and black hat if they got disconnected.
“They could get lost in this crowd, but I wouldn’t be worried. That’s how much love is in the air,” Pearson, 38, said. “I don’t have children, but it was important that I bring them along so they can feel the love that is so evident here. I was here as a teenager in ’95. To come back now, I knew I needed to bring some young people with me. They needed to experience this. I could have told them about it. But it would not have been the same. You can only get this feeling from being here, not someone telling you about it.”
“I was in prison when they had the first one,” Joe Wilburn of southern California said. “I told myself that if there was another one, I wouldn’t miss it. And I feel blessed to be among such a feeling of positive people who want to see equal rights for all. That’s not asking a lot. It’s only fair. And having been what I have been through, I had to come to be a part of something meaningful. I feel good about myself.”
Most of the nearly two dozen speakers called for change in the judicial process and advocated rules that would make it easier to prosecute police misconduct. Those at the podium also targeted politicians.
“To those running for president,” said Reverend Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, “if you can’t say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ you’re not qualified to run the United States.”
“It’s a growing movement, not a moment,” said one Black Lives Matter organizer. “We are under siege. All of us. Pulling our pants up won’t save us. Our college degrees won’t save us. Middle class status won’t save us. They’ve declared war on us . . . Black Lives Matter is a rallying cry . . . It’s recognition that we have all within us to win.
“Today is a watershed moment. ‘Or else’ means we will no longer accept the murder of our people. It is by design . . . and it is our duty to fight for freedom.”
Hill said she would drive back to Buffalo feeling replenished from her experience and hopeful for change.
“There’s a lot to be done, and I hope all the change that was talked about becomes reality,” she said. “It was a powerful day just to be here. Everyone felt like family. I’m glad I came. I can go home knowing I was a part of something very special.”
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