Multi-issue Anniversary Speech Emphasizes Justice
By Barrington M. Salmon
(TriceEdneyWire.com) — Two decades after 1.2 million black men assembled, creating a blanket of humanity that spread across the National Mall from the U. S. Capitol to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the man who convened the largest-ever gathering on the Mall reenacted the Million Man March of 1995 with a new message, largely for a new generation.
Saturday’s ‘Justice or Else’ rally, featuring Minister Louis Farrakhan, drew a lineup of activists, people of faith, and families of victims of police killings who outlined for eight hours the conditions under which African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and other oppressed and marginalized groups exist. To a crowd comparable to that of 20 years ago, Farrakhan —setting aside prepared remarks — spoke about a number of topics, ranging from police shootings of unarmed black people to the mistreatment of Native Americans, to the manner in which many disrespect each other and themselves.
Mainly, Farrakhan reminded the nation that America was built on the backs of black slaves whose ancestors remain oppressed. He called for people of color to redirect the pain of oppression by withholding their money at Christmas in a massive economic boycott. He said black people spend billions between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the majority of the money handed to merchants on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
“Our people have been deprived of the precious essence of life,” Farrakhan said. “Down this mall, there used to be slave pens. A little yellow house where the man depicted in [the movie] ’12 Years a Slave’ was held and severely beaten.”
He continued, “I feel the pain of the ancestors, the pain of those on whose shoulders we stand. The young generation has arisen. I see the faces of the young. We who are getting older, myself and my generation, what good are we if we don’t prepare young people to take the torch to the next step?” He told the youth, “We see you. We honor you.”
The march took place against the backdrop of persistent, youth-led protests against killings by police of primarily unarmed black men, women and children. In what many are calling a new era of civil rights, millennial activists in states across the country, including those from the popular Black Lives Matter movement, have been agitating for broad, systematic changes in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
National Action Network Executive Director Tamika Mallory, among the youth who spoke, said although the spirit of Saturday’s march –– that of unity for justice –– was basically the same as 20 years ago, she recognized that 20 years ago was also about “atonement, reconciliation and responsibility for the black man.”
However, she stressed that the increasingly visible and heightened protests against the degrading of black youth, vividly displayed through social media, has created unique circumstances that require an intensified demand of the powers that be.
“The time for games is over!” she said repeatedly. “Twenty years ago, Tamir Rice’s story would have fallen on deaf ears and would have been left to the pages of a falsified police report rather than broadcasted for the world to really know what happened to him. Twenty years ago, Sandra Bland’s bravery would have never been known to us. We would never have questioned what happened to that sister. Twenty years ago, Mike Brown’s body, being left on the street for four and a half hours, rotting in the sun, would only have traumatized that community instead of waking up the people as they did. Twenty years ago, Eric Garner’s last words would have just been whispered to his killers instead of shouted to all of us to make us wake up. We can’t breathe, brothers and sisters. Oscar Grant, Rakia Boyd, Freddie Gray, Ayana Jones, Maya Hall, Megan Hockaday,” Mallory listed the names of those killed by police. “Let us remember the words of Ida B. Wells: ‘The ones who commit the murders write the reports!’”
A string of clergy and civil rights leaders hammered similar points one after another. Despite the injustices that remain, some were also able to point to progress over the past two decades.
“There was a young state senator from Illinois out in the audience 20 years ago. His name is Barack Hussein Obama. Now he’s in the White House. So, we’ve made some progress,” Benjamin Chavis, NNPA president/CEO, told the crowd. “But you and I know we’ve got a lot more progress to make. There’s too much injustice. There’s too much inequality. There’s too much mass incarceration. There’s too much in our communities that needs addressing. That’s why we’re here today.”
The day that started with ecumenical prayers and music at around 7 am, gradually built and culminated with the long-awaited speech by Farrakhan.
In an address that lasted about two hours, Farrakhan castigated white supremacists, state-sanctioned violence, police abuses and the sorry state of race relations in the America. He spared no one, criticizing elected officials, those in the church and others who have stood with hands at their sides while blacks in America endure racial rancor, discrimination and a slate of behaviors designed to keep non-whites at the bottom of the social ladder.
He spoke not only on behalf of African Americans but Latinos, Native Americans, and all of the oppressed.
“Native Americans came in native dress. They’re not here as some mascots. They’re the original inhabitants of this earth and they’ve come seeking justice too,” said Farrakhan, 82. “Their suffering in this land is very great. No crime is greater than those who’ve suffered the most. They are indigenous people not just in this country but throughout the Western Hemisphere.”
Diversity was a major focus of the 20th anniversary. People from varying walks of life, ethnicities, cultures, religions and races were represented, and they appeared unified behind the principled issues.
“An economic boycott is right up my alley,” said Nana Makini Niliwaanbieni, a DC-based Akan priest, educator and activist. “I hope African Americans will heed Farrakhan’s call to action. I made the decision 25-30 years ago about spending money at Christmas,” said the Trenton, New Jersey native.
Elliott Carr, a Cleveland City employee said economic self-sufficiency is a vital way for black people to balance the scales of injustice.
“I’m here for black unity,” said Carr. “I love seeing black people. It’s good to see us all together talking and doing something positive. Black people have to remember that the system is not for us. We’re economic slaves to debt, student debt and other things. A degree doesn’t guarantee anything. They’ll put a case against you and have you caught up in the courts and if you get convicted that will follow you forever.”
The atmosphere veered from somber to festive under the clear blue skies and 70-degree temperatures as speakers like Carmen Perez, a member of the Justice League New York City and executive director of A Gathering for Justice; Native American activist Jay Winter Nighthawk; Baltimore Pastor Jamal Bryant; The Rev. Willie Wilson; Ron Daniels, president of the Black World 21st Century who called for reparations for slavery; Christopher Barry, son of the late DC Mayor Marion S. Barry; and Emma Lozano, executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras, an organization which defends day laborers in Chicago, all electrified the crowd.
“It’s been 50 years since Selma, 20 years since the first march and we’re still fighting,” said Perez. “Twenty years from now, we’ll come back here again proclaiming victory. If we don’t get what we want, shut it down, shut it down!”
Farrakhan, making it clear that economic sanctions are the “or else” of the gathering, promised to unfold a more specific agenda and instructions in days to come. He concluded, “You all with your tender hearts; you never understood what justice is. Justice for Pharaoh is not the same as justice for the children of Israel. Justice for the oppressed is not the same as justice for the oppressor. Mercy is for the oppressed. So Jesus said, ‘God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, the same shall he also reap.’ Oh my God. That’s a horror story for somebody.”
Trice Edney News Wire Editor-Publisher Hazel Trice Edney contributed to this story.