50th Anniversary March on Washington Will Emphasize Criminal Justice Issues


Half a century after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famed “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the often-parallel topics of racism and criminal justice have been thrust into the spotlight.

Tomorrow and on August 28 civil rights leaders will demand reforms to such racially-tinged criminal justice issues as police “Stop-and-Frisk” tactics, “Stand Your Ground” laws and mass incarceration at the Lincoln Memorial where King made his impassioned plea so many years before.

These policies, among others, have added to the increasingly heavy cost of incarceration of African-Americans effectively decimating the fabric of many communities.

The numbers are startling: one in three black men can expect to be in jail during their lifetime. African-Americans are arrested at nearly six times more than whites and almost one million of the United States 2.3 million prison population are black.

But in the last month some strides have been giving leaders attending the march more urgency.

Perhaps at no time since King's famed speech have the often-parallel topics of racism and criminal justice been so intertwined and in the spotlight. On August 12, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the “Smart on Crime” program, a sweeping initiative by the Justice Department that pivots away from decades of tough-on-crime anti-drug legislation.

That same day, Judge Shira Scheindlin of U.S. Southern District Court in Manhattan, declared the New York Police Department's use of “Stop-and-Frisk” unconstitutional. The tactic is used to search individuals — predominantly minorities — for drug paraphernalia and guns.

Scheindlin said in her ruling that the tactic “perpetuates the stubborn racial disparities in our criminal justice.”

Editor’s Note: In a column for The Crime Report, Delores Jones-Brown, a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, called Scheindlin’s decision a ‘Victory for American Values.’ To read her column, click HERE.

Tomorrow's observances begin with a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and King’s son, Martin Luther King III.

They will be joined by family members of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten and killed on August 28, 1955 after being accused of flirting with a white woman.

The national fervor surrounding Till's death — for which no one was ever convicted — is reminiscent of another, more recent case.

Joining Till's family at the rally tomorrow will be the parents of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy who was shot and killed last year by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

Among those speaking will be Congressman John Lewis, whose speech at the original March on Washington cited “the constant fear of a police state.”

“We are tired of being beat by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again,” Lewis said at the time.

His speech is expected to strike a similar tone tomorrow.

The week of events will culminate on August 28, when President Barack Obama will give a speech in which he is expected to emphasize the “dreams” of King that remain unfulfilled.

Below, The Crime Report has embedded original footage, from the National Archives,of King's and Lewis' speeches, as well as the program from the original event.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech:

John Lewis’ Speech at the 1963 March on Washington:

The program from the original March:

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