WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of Americans marched along the National Mall in Washington on Saturday to protest the deaths of unarmed black men and boys at the hands of the police. The demonstrators — many of them wearing T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” and chanting “I can’t breathe” — filed in from the blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue, evoking memories of civil rights marches of past decades as they moved toward the Capitol.
“It’s a matter of honoring the lives we’ve lost,” said one protester from the District of Columbia. “It’s a double-edged sword, I’m proud that we are coming together, but on the other hand I’m sad that we are here, marching for the right to breathe.” She added, “This is not a localized issue; this our country’s issue.”
The march — known for years as the National March Against Police Violence — was led by the National Action Network, the organization run by the Rev. Al Sharpton, and was attended by the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, all killed by police officers while unarmed. Additional protests were planned Saturday in New York City and around the country.
Police would not estimate how many were marching, but at midday a plaza that could hold 5,000 people, had overflowed. As the march moved toward the Capitol, thousands more demonstrators poured in from side streets to form a mobile mass of puffy coats, strollers, posters and spontaneous prayer groups.
Video Feature | Voices From the ProtestsWith demonstrations planned nationwide this weekend to protest the deaths of black men at the hands of the police, four protesters in New York City outlined their goals and motivations.
“I’m marching for everyone’s sons and daughters,” said Esaw Garner, the widow of Eric Garner, who died in Staten Island when an officer placed him in a chokehold. Samaria Rice, the mother of 12-year-old Tamir, said, “To the police force: Don’t shoot our children. To the all the families who experience the same pain as me: We will have justice.” Her son was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland because he was waving a gun that turned out to be a toy that fired plastic pellets.
The march follows protests around the country over recent grand jury decisions not to indict the officer who shot Mr. Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., or the one who placed Mr. Garner in a fatal hold in Staten Island.
On Friday, the death of Tamir, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy, was formally ruled a homicide, according to a county autopsy report; he died in November when an officer shot him within seconds of arriving on the scene.
Protesters have occupied parks, city streets, train stations and retail stores to draw attention to he use of force by police. Thousands of people in New York tried to close major roadways, bridges and tunnels, and disrupt the rhythms of the city. In Berkeley, Calif., an Amtrak train was forced to stop, a central freeway was closed down for hours, and regional commuter trains were halted.
The National Park Service said sponsors of today’s march in Washington, which this year was called Justice for All March, had sought a permit for 5,000 protesters. Many protesters were organized by the American Civil Liberties Union, branches of the N.A.A.C.P. and various labor, civil rights and religious groups.
Protesters gathered at the Freedom Plaza near the National Mall; the march was to end near the Capitol, where Mr. Sharpton was expected to call for congressional hearings into the deaths in New York and Ferguson, and lay out a legislative agenda concerning police conduct. The Justice Department is investigating the deaths in both cities, but the organizers want the department to have broader powers over killings by police officers.
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