Marches for racial justice and black women converge in Washington

Marches for women and racial justice converge in Washington DC.VIDEO: REUTERS
Protesters take a knee near the Trump hotel as they take part in the march for Racial Justice in Washington, on Sept 30, 2017.
Protesters take a knee near the Trump hotel as they take part in the march for Racial Justice in Washington, on Sept 30, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - On the first crisp fall day in Washington, thousands of anti-racism marchers proved that the capital's summer of protests had not yet come to a close.

Two separate rallies - the March for Racial Justice and the March for Black Women - converged in Lincoln Park, a picnic-and-birthday-party plot nestled in the heart of the gentrified eastern part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. They marched in front of the Justice Department before descending on the National Mall to denounce institutionalised racism.

"It's now an Injustice Department," said Markus Batchelor, a member of the District of Columbia's State Board of Education representing Ward 8, a predominantly black part of the city where he was raised.

"We're here because there are concerted efforts to deprive minorities of their rights. Under this president, the Justice Department has become a mechanism to make injustice the law of the land - and that's dangerous."

The March for Racial Justice - which sought to "harness the national unrest and help focus it into a national mobilisation", according to its website - was organised after the acquittal of a Minnesota police officer in the death of Philando Castile.

Castile's killing, during a traffic stop, was livestreamed on Facebook by his girlfriend.

Many of Saturday's marchers had previously been involved in protests nationwide, including the Charlottesville, Virginia, clashes with white nationalists.

Among their demands were the removal of Confederate monuments, deeper legal investigations into hate crimes and greater focus on indigenous cultures, colonialism and slavery in textbooks.

Throughout the weekend, more than 15 related marches were scheduled to take place around the country.

The March for Black Women - organised to bring attention to the widespread incarceration of black women, sexual violence and murders of black transgender people - aimed to set itself apart from the huge Women's March on Washington in January, after Inauguration Day, which received some criticism for a perceived focus on white women's activism.


"Look around, look at the ways you black women show up to a march," Michaela Angela Davis, a fashion and race writer and activist, said from the rally stage. "Braids, Afro-pops - y'all can't fit that under a pink hat."

The group held a morning rally of several hundred black women and allies before joining the racial justice protesters. Women linked arms as speakers recited the names of black female victims of violence, punctuated by a chant of "Say her name!".

Although much smaller, the women's march did not accidentally overlap with the main rally.

"I heard about the March for Racial Justice, and I didn't think there would be space for black women," said Farah Tanis, a founder of the group Black Women's Blueprint and an organiser of the march.

But one week after President Donald Trump sparked a national debate over NFL players' kneeling protest during the national anthem, the two events began together. Led by beating drums, protesters jabbed signs in the air: "Complacent is complicit!"; "Melanin rocks!"; "It's so bad that even introverts are here." Iris Jacob, the founder of Social Justice Synergy, a local justice and inclusion training organisation, came to the marches with her two daughters.

"I brought them because I thought about myself as a little girl and how this kind of event would have changed my life," she said, cradling one of them against her chest.

The weekend coincided with the anniversary of the three-day massacre in Elaine, Arkansas, at which more than 100 black activists were killed after organising to pursue fairer wages on white-owned plantations at the conclusion of the so-called Red Summer of 1919.

"This isn't new - it's always been relevant," said Sade Moonsammy, a marcher and friend of Jacob's. "We aren't asking for anything that our parents haven't already asked for. We're still in the fight."