March2Justice, a 250-mile march that began in New York City on April 13 campaigning for criminal justice legislation reform in the United States, culminated in a rally on the National Mall Tuesday, April 21.
Hundreds of marchers delivered a “Justice Package” to Congress containing three pieces of legislation to encourage an end to racial profiling, police force militarization and child incarceration.
March Director Carmen Perez spoke and said that the march served to honor the lives of many people affected by such issues.
“We are marching for those who have lost their lives, we are marching for those who cannot march because they are incarcerated, we are marching in the spirit of our elders who have marched before us,” Perez said. “We are marching with so many people in our hearts.”
Perez serves as the executive director of The Gathering For Justice, an umbrella organization that oversees Justice League NYC, a task force of criminal justice advocates, artists, experts and formerly incarcerated individuals who planned March2Justice.
The march began in Staten Island as a tribute to Eric Garner, a black man who was choked to death by police last July. From there, it traveled to Newark, Trenton, Philadelphia and Baltimore, crossing through five states over nine days to reach Washington.
“We could have flown to D.C., but for us it was about building with communities, registering voters along the way and making sure we have a human connection to those that are impacted by these issues,” Perez said.
According to Perez, there was a sense of urgency during the march due to news of three different individuals killed by police across the country while on the road.
Specifically, Perez spoke about when the group was worshiping at Empowerment Temple in Baltimore on Saturday and received the news that Freddie Gray had died from a spinal cord injury while in police custody. Six officers were suspended in the wake of the tragedy as protests broke out in Baltimore. The marchers altered their route to meet up with Gray’s community, and several of Gray’s family members joined the march.
“It’s been a powerful journey, it’s been a transformational journey, it’s been a spiritual journey for us,” Perez said.
Aside from the physical toll of marching hundreds of miles, Perez said the group required mental discipline to overcome emotional challenges from the racism she said it experienced.
“We’ve gone through communities and towns where we’ve been cursed at or we’ve been the targets of racial slurs, but it’s made us stronger,” Perez said. “We understand that this is bigger than us, this is about shedding light on the families and the victims of police brutality.”
After the culminating D.C. rally, the group met with members of the congressional black caucus, the congressional Latino caucus and the congressional Asian caucus. Perez added that it also hoped to meet with politicians who might oppose the legislation it proposed, but could not confirm any official meetings at the time.
“The work really begins after this march,” Perez said. “When we hold our elected officials accountable, when we hold Congress accountable, when we really demand justice.”
Perez emphasized that the marchers are not just protesters and that protesting is just one of the tactics in their larger strategy.
“We need new policy, we need a cultural shift, we need to change the hearts and minds of individuals,” Perez said.
The group also joined with other unaffiliated organizations over the course of the march. At the rally Tuesday in Trenton, N.J., it stood with members of the Fight for 15 campaign, a movement by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago seeking a $15 an hour living wage and the right to form unions without retaliation.
“We support them in solidarity, especially understanding the intersectionality between economic justice and criminal justice,” Perez said. “If people don’t get paid a living wage then oftentimes they are stuck in poverty, which can lead to other things.”
About 50 to 60 individuals began the march in New York City and were joined by more people at each stop, some from as far away as North Carolina. The marchers included justice champions from New York City, justice seekers who met up with the march on route, and justice supporters who came to rallies, donated or spread the word on social media.
Leading up to the march, the organizing team drove the route several times in advance and created host committees in each city to provide a place to sleep, coordinate meals and organize rallies. Among these organizers were the honorary co-chairs of March2Justice, founder of The Gathering for Justice Harry Belafonte and George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, a local union of the Service Employees International Union.
Actor and activist Danny Glover, Congresswomen Yvette Clarke of New York and families of police brutality victims all attended the rally at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Heaven Gross, the daughter of Bobby Gross, who was shot and killed March 13 by the Metro Transit police, also delivered a speech.
“I want justice for my dad, my unborn brother, my mom and my family,” Gross said. “I am asking for prayers and peace. The police are supposed to protect us, but instead they are killing our people.”
Several Georgetown students attended the rally, though no campus organizations planned official trips as a group. Zack Abu-Akeel (SFS ’18) was among the attendees and expressed his admiration for the marchers.
“It interested me personally because I thought of what they had to sacrifice to march 250 miles, and I wondered if I would ever be able to do something like that,” Abu – Akeel said. “We talk about the same messages they do every day, but they walked the walk, literally.”
Anthony Saadipour (COL ’18) also attended and commented on the issues this movement brings to the forefront of the nation’s discourse.
“These issues are very prevalent in today’s society, but I think it’s easy to forget the lives that are lost to police brutality,” Saadipour said. “It’s easy to forget the subtleties of racism that we experience every day. And it’s extremely easy to give up on our youth rather than put effort into helping those without the same resources and opportunities to be successful.”
Saadipour said he was particularly moved by the speeches from families of the victims of police violence.
“It was a very empowering and moving experience,” Saadipour said. “We heard politicians, we heard activists, and we heard from the families of victims. But the lines were blurred; it didn’t feel like we were listening to people who belong to different societal categories. We were all part of a community, rallying behind this important cause.”