African-American men and women have a strained—oftentimes fatal—relationship with law enforcement. And while common sense says not all officers should be categorized with Daniel Pantaleo (Eric Garner), Timothy Loehmann (Tamir Rice), Darren Wilson (Mike Brown) or Dante Servin (Rekia Boyd), the constant names of dead black men and women at the hands of police make that thought difficult to believe.
Tired of injustice and lustful for police accountability, Carmen Perez, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Mysonne Linen—all members of Harry Belafonte’s social justice organization Gathering For Justice—created #March2Justice. For nine days, new and seasoned activists, Black Panthers, teens and elders walked 250 miles from New York to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to police brutality and hand off three pieces of federal legislation to Congress they believe will combat the problem.
But you can’t just march across state lines and think you’re not going to come across your fair share of aggression, resistance and even racial hate. Perez, Mallory and Linen stopped by the VIBE offices to discuss the logistics of the march, Freddie Gray and what needs to be done to stop another black life from becoming a hashtag.
VIBE: How did you come up with #March2Justice?
Tamika Mallory: We marched for Martin Luther King Day in New York City back in January and as we were walking, we decided we needed to do something more dramatic and we came up with “March2Justice.”
Carmen Perez: We also wanted to allow other groups to get involved. We had done a lot of our work around New York City for the Eric Garner case and this march, taking pieces of federal legislation to Congress, allowed other groups to get involved in what we were doing.
You can’t just walk from New York to D.C. and not have a place to stay, or lunch to eat. How did you guys plan this?
TM: We used all our personal resources. I’ve walked from Selma to Montgomery in the commemoration marches every year. I’ve learned in that experience what has to be done, even though we did it on a much bigger scale. I took that model and used that to formulate the plan for the 200+ mile march. We used our relationships with churches and mosques.
TM: Community centers.
CP: We stayed in the basement of the health care union 1199 SEIU. We also had Justice League member, LaMon Bland, drive the route several times and gave us the key locations that allowed us to organize and reach out to the local communities for a place to stay and food.
Marching across several states and bringing a few folks with you isn’t cheap. How much money was raised?
Mysonne Linen: About $42,000. It all came together at the end, [Tamika and Carmen] are just worry warts. What we were doing was dynamic, and when people saw that, they come out and supported.
During the march, where did you receive the most resistance?
TM: Particularly in Maryland and the tail-end of Pennsylvania.
ML: It was Klan country. I have a picture and you see people marching and there’s a confederate flag in the background. So we’re walking and they’re screaming, “Go home, n-gger! Get a job!”
CP: A lot of the n-word, “spics,” black smoke was thrown in our faces as we marched up the hills. An older lady honked at us; we thought she was waving at us, but she was flipping us off. [Laughs] Everyone responded with, “God bless you! We love you too!” A lot of the hate was confronted with love and I feel a lot of it had to do with the space we were trying to create for these individuals that were marching for us.
You began the march April 13, the day after Freddie Gray was arrested, and during the march learned he died. How did that effect the course of the march?
ML: We decided after learning he passed away, and knowing what the march signified, it wouldn’t make sense for us to not show solidarity to those people during that time. So we re-routed and we went there, and while walking through the city, you can see the city is in so much turmoil. There are so many abandoned buildings and drug-infested areas. That city is going through a lot. So as we walked through the city and we started to gain momentum, a lot of people started to come and to gather with us. Along the way, we met Gray’s family members. They wanted answers.
Were there any specific cases that prompted this march?
TM: It was a collective of all the different cases. We started the march in Staten Island for Eric Garner, but there were families when we got to Newark. There were families when we got to Trenton. There were families in Philly. There were families in every city we went to and we learned of fresh cases.
ML: That you or I were never privy to.
TM: Fresh cases! Not like cases that were 10 years old. Like 2014 cases. Families would say to us, “My son or my daughter was killed or brutalized and they’re now paralyzed.”
CP: We found out three people died because of police brutality during the march from the time we started to the time we ended. And to also know that Rekia Boyd’s family would not see justice for their sister or their daughter, that was just another element that happened.
ML: Police accountability really touches home for me. I’m formally incarcerated. I did seven years in prison for a crime I never committed and throughout that time I know other people who shared my story. During that time [I was in jail], I watched police abuse people inside prisons. I watched police officers beat them down, knock their teeth out. I’ve watched people die. Growing up in the neighborhoods, these are things I’ve witnessed.
How many times did you guys want to give up?
TM: I know by the end of day two, I did not think that I could make it anymore. My body was in pain just that bad. I’ve never felt that type of pain before in my life. And I didn’t think I could make it, but everyday there was a new circumstance that gave me the fuel to keep pushing. 1199 provided an RV with a nurse that traveled behind us the whole way so when people had issues and they were able to go to the nurse. That week was extremely warm and there was a lot of sun and a lot of dehydration.
CP: It was hard for the people running the march. A lot of things fell on myself, Tamika and Linda Sarsour. Tamika had to put out press releases. We had to put out logistical fires. For example, food. What are we going to eat? It was like, “Okay, let’s walk around and find a Chinese spot.” There were the little fires that we were responsible for and the larger messaging to the world that we were trying to control our own narrative and what we were doing, ensuring families felt that their loved ones were being elevated. All of that on top of no sleep.
And by no sleep, you mean like an hour?
TM: Like two hours a night
CP: Just ensuring things were happening and then being responsible for our marchers.
So you guys finally get to Washington. Then what?
TM: The whole purpose of us marching was to deliver this package to Congress that had three pieces of federal legislation, which included ERPA (The End Racial Profiling Act), the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. Those are the three pieces of legislation that we brought to D.C. ,which are already sponsored by a congressional member or more. We went there to say that we think these three pieces will help to address the issue of police accountability and end racial profiling, and it was introduced the day we reached Washington.
CP: The aftermath of it is that we’re now going back to our national groups and local groups asking them to adopt a justice package and sign on as an organizational sponsor for the three bills. So we’re going to continue to push this on a federal level and on a local level.
The march, the three pieces of legislation, they all sound well and good, but how can we prevent another black man or woman from becoming a hashtag?
TM: The way we stop the hashtag is when everybody decides this a problem they have to be involved in. When we’re fundraising, we still have our young professional world that’s not connected to social justice. Those people said they’re not giving any money. They don’t believe they should be engaged in the movement. As long as we have that going on, we’re never going to get where we need to be, because as long as people can find a group of people who aren’t involved, then it’s not that important. We were just dealing with Walter Scott. While we were gone it’s Freddie Gray. Next week, it’s going to be someone else. We all have to play a role. So if I’m in finance, I have to figure out how to fund the movement. If I’m in education, I have to donate my time to teach young kids about the history of the movement.
Photo Credit: Instagram