DEMONSTRATORS protesting the fatal shootings of unarmed black men by police chanted “I can’t breathe!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and waved signs that read “Black lives matter!” as family members of three victims packed a stage while urging the marchers to keep pressing for changes to the criminal justice system.
The march in Washington – attended by family members of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who were killed by police in recent months, and Amadou Diallo, who was fatally shot by police more than 15 years ago – coincided with demonstrations in other cities, including New York, San Francisco and Boston. Most were peaceful, although about two dozen people were arrested in Boston for disorderly conduct.
“My husband was a quiet man, but he’s making a lot of noise right now,” said Washington protest marcher Esaw Garner, widow of Eric Garner, 43, who died in July after being put in a chokehold by New York City police during an arrest for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
“His voice will be heard. I have five children in this world and we are fighting not just for him but for everybody’s future, for everybody’s past, for everybody’s present, and we need to make it strong.” New York City police said two officers were assaulted by protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge when they tried to arrest a man who was attempting to toss a rubbish bin on to police officers below.
Some marchers then blocked traffic on the bridge for about an hour. Police said the officers were treated for minor injuries. They also said there had been no arrests and that a backpack full of hammers and a mask was found.
Organisers had predicted 5,000 people at the Washington march, but the crowd appeared to far outnumber that. They later said they believed as many as 25,000 had shown up.
Mr Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, called the demonstrations a “history-making moment”.
“It’s just so overwhelming to see all who have come to stand with us today,” she said. “I mean, look at the masses. Black, white, all races, all religions. We need to stand like this at all times.”
Joining the Garners in Washington were speakers from the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old killed in Ohio as he played with a pellet gun in a park, and the mother of Mr Diallo, who in 1999 was shot and killed in the Bronx by four New York City police officers.
Mr Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo, reflected on how the same issues being debated today were debated when her son was killed.
“We’ve been there so many times,” she said. “Today we are standing still and demanding the same thing.”
The Rev Al Sharpton helped organise the marches.
“Members of Congress, beware we’re serious,” Mr Sharpton said in Washington.
“When you get a ring-ding on Christmas, it might not be Santa; it may be Rev Al coming to your house.”
Before the crowd started marching on Saturday, Mr Sharpton directed, “Don’t let no provocateurs get you out of line. We are not here to play big shot. We are here to win.”
Police said they had made no arrests in the capital protests.