JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROTEST

Thousands Rally Against Perceived Bias in Prosecutions

Billie Lopes, left, of Upper Marlboro and Cardelia Maupin of Silver Spring join the thousands of protesters at Freedom Plaza in Northwest Washington.
Billie Lopes, left, of Upper Marlboro and Cardelia Maupin of Silver Spring join the thousands of protesters at Freedom Plaza in Northwest Washington. (Photos By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Michael E. Ruane and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thousands of African American demonstrators from across the country marched on the Justice Department yesterday in a large and emotional protest over what they termed the inequality of the nation's justice system.

Chanting "No Justice, No Peace!" and "No More Nooses!" the throng was large enough to fill several blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue while simultaneously ringing the department's fortress-like Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building at 10th Street and Pennsylvania.

The demonstration was headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network; Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader; and Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The trio marched with arms locked, surrounded by legions of demonstrators carrying red-green-and-black flags that whipped in the cold wind under the day's clear blue sky.

While the march was aimed at what organizers said was the department's failure to vigorously prosecute hate crimes, many participants expressed anger at what they perceived as widespread inequality in the administration of justice.

Many expressed outrage over such incidents as the display of lynching-style nooses from a tree during racial turmoil in Jena, the rural Louisiana town that also has been beset by fistfights and other interracial confrontations. Thousands gathered in September for a civil rights demonstration there.

Protesters, carrying signs reading "Enough Is Enough," yelled, wept and quoted the Bible, the Koran, and the late soul singer James Brown.

"We are ready to raise hell!" Steele shouted at a pre-march rally. "We're fired up!"

The crowd chanted: "We're sick and tired of being sick and tired!"

Marchers came from as far away as Michigan, Ohio and Georgia. One, Walter Herndon, 53, a salesman from Lansing, Mich., pushed his mother, Willie Spires, 78, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, in a wheelchair.

Leaders and protesters said they were pleased at the turnout for a march that was called only a few weeks ago.

"Incredible!" King declared as he walked in the center of the crowd. "It's incredible!"


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