Seeking Systemic Reform, Civil Rights Activists Embark on 250-Mile Justice March
Proponents of criminal justice reform began a nine-day, 250-mile march from New York City to Washington, D.C. on Monday, seeking to end racial profiling, demilitarize local police departments, and "tear down the societal and institutional pillars of mass incarceration."
The 'March 2 Justice,' spearheaded by the grassroots group Justice League NYC, started Monday morning in Staten Island, where Eric Garner was killed by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in July 2014. The Justice League, a task force of juvenile and criminal justice experts, advocates, artists, and formerly incarcerated individuals, brought together under the banner of the Gathering for Justice, a social justice organization founded by Harry Belafonte in 2005, was active in organizing the protests that followed Pantaleo's non-indictment.
Once they reach the nation's capital, those participating in the march—who include students, clergy, civil rights activists, and elected officials—will lobby Congress in support of a "Justice Package"—three pieces of federal legislation that dovetail with the movement's goals:
- The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act, the nation's main juvenile justice law, which is currently more than six years overdue for reauthorization;
- The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (HR 5478), which would amend the program under which the Secretary of Defense is authorized to transfer excess personal property of the Department of Defense (DOD)—such as automatic weapons or armored vehicles—to federal and state agencies for law enforcement activities;
- The End Racial Profiling Act (HR 2851), which would prohibit any law enforcement agent or agency from engaging in racial profiling.
"We march to shed a light on the national crisis of police brutality and the system that allows it to continue," said march director Carmen Perez, who also heads Gathering for Justice. "We march for our lives and for the livelihood of our communities."
(View video at #WhyWeMarch)
In a separate but related development, Grammy-winning singer John Legend (whose song, "Glory," provides the soundtrack to the #WhyWeMarch video) on Monday launched what he is calling a multi-year campaign to end mass incarceration.
In an interview with the Associated Press about his Free America initiative, Legend said: "We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country. It's destroying families, it's destroying communities and we're the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration."