On Wednesday, April 15, 2015, I joined the “March2Justice,” (M2J) an eight-day, 250-mile march through 5 states from New York City to Washington, D.C. Walkers plan on delivering a “Justice Package” to political officials in D.C., calling for juvenile delinquency prevention, an end to the militarization of police and to end racial profiling. It was organized by the NYC-Justice League (JL), an organization founded in 2014 by criminal justice activists. The JL branched off from The Gathering for Justice, formed in 2005 by legendary black activist and celebrity Harry Belafonte, a.k.a, Mr. B., after witnessing a 5-year-old girl getting handcuffed and arrested in her kindergarten class in Florida that same year. The M2J began on Monday, April 13, 2015 in Staten Island, and will conclude on the West Lawn in D.C. on Tuesday, April 21.
I personally joined the march on the third day, April 15, in Philadelphia, where the walkers joined over 500 demonstrators outside McDonalds on Broad & Arc for the $15 Now rally, conducted nationwide. Unions such as SEIU supported McDonald’s workers and airport workers in their fight for a $15 minimum wage. Carrying two suitcases and a poster, I joined the large march toward 30th Street Station, dragging my suitcases along the route. With the large turnout the mood was filled with enthusiasm, especially when we were joined by someone wearing a complete Spiderman outfit. At one point we all stopped in front of Comcast’s headquarters and denounced the giant corporation for avoiding tax payments. Speeches were made by union members and low-wage employees at 30th Street Station, and afterward I followed the M2J members to their two rented buses, where I was welcomed without question. We then drove to an Islamic Temple in Philadelphia, where we slept that night. So began my experience in the M2J.
Another speaker at 30th Street Station was Tanya Brown, who lost her son Brandon Tate Brown from police brutality in December 2014, and I listened to her speak for nearly the 5th time in the past few months. I felt confident taking on the M2J because of my long-list of previous actions, especially in the Black Lives Matter Movement. In 2012 I took part in vigil for Trayvon Martin at Rutgers University as well as a 24-hour vigil in Philadelphia during the 2013 summer after the “not guilty” verdict. In August 2014, I joined 700 demonstrators at Love Park during the first wave of Mike Brown protests. Then in December I took part in 5 different Die-Ins: the first on December 3 at 30th Street Station with nearly 800 persons. Then the scariest one on December 7 outside the Eagles-Seahawks game at the Lincoln Financial Field in an intersection, where over 300 students and clergy members were verbally attacked by hundreds of angry football fans who yelled: “Get a job, do something useful,” “support the police,” “we hate criminals,” “Shoot them all,” “stop wasting my tax money,” and a full 30-second chant, “assholes, assholes, assholes.” On December 12, I performed one in Camden led by 50 religious clergy members, one of the only die-ins organized in all of New Jersey. On December 18, I performed a die-in with over 200 high school students, part of the Philadelphia Student Union, outside the School Reform Commission Building to protest the slashing of public school funds. Lastly I performed three die-in’s on December 20 at the King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall on the east coast that was packed with holiday shoppers, for a total of 29 minutes and 30 seconds.
Even though no other die-ins were organized in the area after this, I still took part in Black Lives Matter marches and rallies in Philadelphia for Brandon Tate Brown, including the 100-person rally at the Liberty Bell on December 28, the massive 5,000-person MLK-Day protest on January 19, the 75-person march to the Frankford Transportation Center on January 31, the “March to End Poverty” near Temple University on April 4, and a small vigil outside a police station on April 11. In addition I protested the police murder of Jerame Reid in December in Bridgeton, NJ. On February 3, 50 of us marched in the street to protest his murder, until the nasty police thugs forced us onto the sidewalk and ticketed four of us, including myself, through intimidation methods. I returned to Bridgeton with Brandon Tate Brown’s mother and 250 others on February 28, where we were greeted by police in swat uniforms, who antagonized the demonstrators and arrested one after throwing him to the ground.
So I had a lot of confidence coming into the M2J, since I had walked all 113 miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg in 2013 with Decarcerate PA, in protest against the building of prisons and the closings of public schools. But I discovered immediately on Wednesday night at the Islamic Temple that these walkers were much more experienced and knowledgeable about the criminal justice system than I was. They had been involved in community building projects and meetings long before I joined the Movement, and had worked with, and were even mentored by, experienced activists such as Mr. B. They shared stories about their previous actions in the criminal justice system, about their fear of losing their black children someday, and their passion about saving communities in NYC from the growing police-state. They even had direct contact with victims of police brutality, which I am still lacking.
When I began marching with them through Pennsylvania on Thursday, April 16, I was shocked to see the limit they went to “put their bodies on the line” as a way to “speak truth to power.” Marching nearly 20 miles that day, I had to sit out toward the end because my calf was swollen, but nearly every other walker – already on their 4th day of marching – completed the entire route that day. That night we arrived at Lincoln University, the prestigious black university, where we had a rally and were then free to swim in the indoor pool and sleep on our inflatable beds in the basketball gymnasium.
On Friday, April 17, we marched from PA into Maryland, where we found white resistance in certain parts. Walkers passed by confederate flags and bystanders who yelled “nigger” and “white power,” reminding us that racism is without a doubt still alive and well in America today. It is a tragic irony that whites denounce the Black Lives Matter Movement as much as they do, since they too would profit greatly from reducing police militarization and investing in healthier jobs for communities instead. (Frances Piven and Richard Cloward made this same point for the Welfare Movement in the 1960s. Many whites who were added to the welfare rolls would have been rejected if not for the black struggle to expand the rolls. Whites consistently attacked the idea of welfare expansion, saying blacks were lazy, although to this day “blacks comprise slightly less than half of the AFDC rolls.” Piven & Cloward, “Regulating the Poor,” p. 337) At the end of the route that day, which once again I had to sit out, several dozen walkers committed civil disobedience by crossing a two-lane bridge/dam against the orders by Maryland police not to do so, which ended in victory after no one was arrested. That night we stayed in the Maryland/D.C-1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union hall building in Baltimore.
The crossing of the bridge was a great act of civil disobedience, but what is even more significant is that the entire march has taken place in the streets and on the highways. These Freedom Fighters are testing our rights everywhere we go, despite the risk of arrest. I still have my Bridgeton ticket to show how inconsiderate police can be regarding the right to march on the side of the road. But the M2J is following in the footsteps of previous historical marches by fighting for this right. During the 1966 “March Against Fear” in Mississippi, state troopers blocked King’s path and ordered him off the pavement. King was then shoved into the grass by state troopers, which caused him to yell in protest: “We walked from Selma to Montgomery in the middle of the road.” (Taylor Branch, Vol. 3, p. 477) Similarly in the 1976 “Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice,” demonstrators only marched in the streets for the 9-month march with 20 routes that covered 34 states. It was the southern route marchers who were harassed the most, being arrested over six times between April and October for refusing to use the sidewalk. This group was harassed the most because of the racist attitudes in the south directed at the mainly black group. They were tear-gassed in Louisiana, were left in the back of scorching hot police vans in Alabama until they fainted, placed in segregated jails in North Carolina, and learned in Mississippi that police truly believed blacks to be animals when an officer expressed his fear that the black walkers might soil themselves. Nevertheless, they arrived in D.C. on time along with the rest of the contingents in October.
On Saturday, April 18, we marched through a rural area in Maryland, where we received more derogatory remarks such as “niggers” and “get a job,” but received more positive remarks and even free water from sympathetic bystanders. Although it was tiring to go up multiple hills, we felt strong because we had the largest amount of walkers that day, with nearly a hundred marching in a single, stretched-out line. Walking Guards are positioned throughout the line of marchers, giving signals to one another to determine if everyone should slow down or speed up, and to decide if we walk in lines of one or two. Once again I took a break from walking toward the end, while everyone else continued marching. In the last mile that day, police surprised demonstrators when they voluntarily decided to escort the demonstrators to the final location, with one police officer telling March Director Carmen Perez: “We’re going to shut it [the street] down for you.” The walkers, instead of being harassed by police for marching in the street, were accommodated by the police with our own terminology – “shut it down.” Afterward we returned back to the Baltimore- 1199 SEIU building for dinner, and from there marched several blocks to a Baltimore Church, where we were greeted by loud applause from hundreds of local community members. Moving speeches were made by families who had lost loved ones from police violence, and several speeches and poems were made by M2J walkers, receiving standing ovations after bringing tears to the eyes of the audience. Afterward I returned home to New Jersey so I can perform civil disobedience in Trenton on Monday. Then I plan on returning back to the M2J Monday night in order to walk into D.C. with them on Tuesday morning, which will conclude with a large rally on the West Lawn.
The M2J deserves all the support it can get because the walkers give so much and ask for little in return besides Justice. They are a nonviolent army led by natural-born leaders such as Darius Gordon, who combines courage and compassion like a modern-day example of former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader John Lewis. Other JL leaders, including Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour to name only a few, share the same goals as SNCC – to build powerful communities across the nation to solve local issues regarding police brutality and injustice, while applying pressure on the federal level as well. Not to mention the fact that one walker from Philadelphia has literally worn the SNCC outfit of denim overalls the entire time. Each and every single walker brings with them the burning passion that was seen in early SNCC members and civil rights workers; and by doing so they will rekindle the conscience of America that we all yearn to reignite.