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'Get Your Knee Off Our Necks' Rally Takes Place On Anniversary Of March On Washington

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial today, the brother of George Floyd addressed thousands of people who marched on the National Mall to call for racial justice.

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PHILONISE FLOYD: I wish George were here to see this right now. That's who I'm marching for. I'm marching for George, for Breonna, for Ahmaud, for Jacob, for Pamela Turner, for Michael Brown, Trayvon and anybody else who lost their lives.

SHAPIRO: And, of course, Philonise Floyd spoke on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech, delivered on the same steps. NPR's Adrian Florido was at the Lincoln Memorial, and he joins us now. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Just describe the crowd. Do you know how many people were there? What was the mood like?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, organizers called this march the Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks, in reference to George Floyd's death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The march aimed to draw on the legacy of that 1963 march on Washington, but this time with much of the focus on police killings of Black Americans.

The crowd today was not nearly as big as it was in 1963 in part because of coronavirus travel restrictions, but there were many thousands of people wearing masks, doing their best to socially distance and braving the heat to hear from the emotional speeches from some of these people, people like Philonise Floyd and the father of Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Wisconsin earlier this week.

SHAPIRO: After this long spring and summer of protests about racial justice, tell us about how this particular march came to be this year.

FLORIDO: Well, it was organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III. Sharpton first announced this march during his eulogy for George Floyd in Minneapolis back in June. And his goal was to keep the momentum alive from the protests that exploded this summer after George Floyd's death under Derek Chauvin's knee. Here's a little of what Sharpton said today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

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AL SHARPTON: We are not going to take it. Some have different tactics, but we all are rising up. We will get your knee of our neck. Enough is enough. Enough is enough. Enough is enough.

FLORIDO: The organizers also hoped that this march would put pressure on Congress to pass a new voting rights bill and also the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which aims to limit police misconduct.

SHAPIRO: As you moved through the crowd today, what did people tell you about why they came out to march?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, there was a good mix of people in the crowd. It was racially diverse, though it was overwhelmingly Black. There were a lot of older people who have spent decades protesting for civil rights, people like Monique Downs, who said her father marched here back in 1963. Listen to what she said.

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MONIQUE DOWNS: I just find it very sad, actually, that I'm here doing the same thing he did almost 60 years ago because not much has changed.

FLORIDO: But she said she was, you know, really proud to see a new generation of activists taking up the fight for racial justice. And there were also a lot of younger people in the crowd, people like Emasia Thorn. She came from Washington state with other young Black organizers who, after George Floyd's death, formed an activist group in Washington they call the New Generation 2.0. Listen to her.

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EMASIA THORN: The people before our time and our ancestors, they kind of built the foundation, you know, but it crumbled a little bit. So I feel like us, the new generation, we're here to, you know, make sure the foundation is solid and actually take over and get - you know, take over and really be the revolution of, you know, this generation.

FLORIDO: You know, interestingly, Ari, you know, she told me that she and a lot of young people in the crowd told me they'd never even heard of Al Sharpton. But as that speech portion of this gathering ended, they and he and all the thousands of other people in the crowd marched together to the nearby Martin Luther King Memorial.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Adrian Florido. Thanks for your reporting, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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