WASHINGTON — Relatives of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and other unarmed black men felled by bullets or police force filled a podium Saturday during a massive march in Washington. “This is a history-making moment,” said Gwen Carr, whose son — Eric Garner — died after a police officer put him in a chokehold.
Invoking the familiar names of black men who died at the hands of police, thousands of protesters marched throughout the nation Saturday as part of a growing national conversation about what they see as rampant racial injustice.
The throngs — young and old, black and white — hit the streets in major cities, including New York City and Washington, where thousands snaked through the streets in a march to the Capitol.
They appear to represent a burgeoning movement sparked by the decision of grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men.
In Washington, many carried signs with now familiar messages: “#Black lives matter,” “Hold cops accountable” and “I can’t breathe.”
“I’m here for the voiceless, for those that have died for the injustice and systematic racism that is happening on this land,” said Shanna Lawrie, her hands in the air as she marched to the Capitol. “It’s systematic racism that is instilled in our government.”
Busloads of young people left New York’s Harlem neighborhood before dawn to participate in a massive march in the nation’s capital. Others came from Ferguson, Missouri.
“We come in peace but we come strong,” said Ashley Sharpton, daughter of activist Rev. Al Sharpton, an organizer of the Washington march. “We come with demands. We want the government to get involved.”
Protesters are demanding a more aggressive federal response to a spate of racially charged slayings by police. They call their fight a human rights struggle.
Washington resident Anthony Passmore said he was marching for the future of his child and others
“I want a future for them to actually be able to do what they want to do, be what they want to be,” he said. “They say this is the land of opportunity, the land of freedom. Let them live right and not be judged.”
One marcher was Samaria Rice, whose 12-year-old son was shot to death by a Cleveland police officer while carrying a toy handgun in a park. On Friday, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office said his death was ruled a homicide.
In recent weeks, thousands have marched and stopped traffic in protests surrounding the controversial deaths of Michael Brown near St. Louis and Eric Garner in New York City.
Saturday’s demonstrations cap what organizers are calling a nationwide “Week of Outrage.”
“Our message is very simple,” said Carl Dix, founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, one of the main organizers of the protests. “Since the ‘normal routine’ of America has always included murder of black and Latino people by law enforcement, this week, that ‘normal routine’ must be disrupted.'”
Eric Garner Jr., the son of the man who died after a New York police officer held him in what appeared to be a chokehold, said he was proud of the protests.
“It’s amazing how everybody (is) doing this. My father and I appreciate it,” the son told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
Some peaceful protests across the country this week have been marred by bouts of violence and crowds that disrupted thousands of motorists by shutting down freeways.
Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer shown on video wrestling Garner to the pavement with his arm around his neck, spoke with internal affairs investigators this week. A New York grand jury decided last week not to indict him in Garner’s death.
“He indicated he never used a chokehold,” said Stuart London, his attorney. “He used a takedown technique he was taught in the academy. He said he never exerted any pressure on the windpipe and never intended to injure Mr. Garner.”
In Missouri, Officer Darren Wilson — who testified to a St. Louis County grand jury that he shot Michael Brown in August after the 18-year-old tried to take his gun and then charged at him — resigned from the Ferguson Police Department last month.
Mayor accused of lack of support
Police officers are pushing back.
In New York City, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association sent a form for members to sign requesting the mayor not attend funerals of anyone killed in the line of duty.
They accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of “consistent refusal to show police officers the support and respect they deserve.”
The city said it was disappointed.
“Incendiary rhetoric like this serves only to divide the city, and New Yorkers reject these tactics,” it said in a letter. “The mayor and the speaker both know better than to think this inappropriate stunt represents the views of the majority of police officers and their families.”
President Barack Obama discussed race relations in America this week.
“This isn’t something that is going to be solved overnight,” Obama said on BET. “This is something that is deeply rooted in our society. It’s deeply rooted in our history.”
He urged African-American youths to be persistent and patient in order to help combat racial tensions in the nation.
CNN’s Ralph Ellis and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.