Details of the Aug. 28 rally for criminal justice revisions — the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march — have begun to crystallize in recent days as the Rev. Al Sharpton announced a lineup of speakers and the NAACP unveiled plans Monday to supplement the protest with three days of digital programming meant to reach those unable to attend the march.
While daily protests continue at Black Lives Matter Plaza, the glossy, well-funded event marks a dramatic shift from the organic, leaderless marches that have defined demonstrations in D.C. and across the country that erupted after the police killing in May of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis.
Organizers of the August demonstration have acknowledged that the rally, which they estimated could draw about 100,000 people, will take place amid a raging global pandemic.
By allowing people from across the country to tune in digitally, NAACP officials hope to reach those who cannot make the trip or safely participate in a crowd of thousands.
“It is the intention of the NAACP to do no harm and not place our members and others at risk,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. “The march isn’t the end goal. It’s the pause, a stopping point, a symbolic gesture of what tomorrow could bring.”
Sharpton will be joined at the rally by Martin Luther King III; the families of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner; and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who has represented several families that have lost loved ones at the hands of law enforcement.
Speeches and entertainment will begin at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m., the group will lead a march along the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Johnson said he sees the march and its concurrent digital events as an opportunity to channel people’s frustration, anger and grief into other forms of civic engagement, including encouraging participants to respond to the 2020 Census and organizing people to vote in the November election.
Johnson said the timing of the march — set to take place after the Democratic and Republican conventions — is fortuitous.
He said he hopes members of both parties will pay attention to the rally and the movement that has led to it.
“This is not a partisan issue: What does it mean for this nation to affirm all its citizens? What does it mean for the citizens of this nation to clarify how this democracy should work?” he said. “This is an opportunity that the people can speak to their interests.”
Activists with Black Lives Matter D.C. have criticized the rally for not including speakers from the city, which is 46 percent black.
In a permit application filed with the National Park Service last month, organizers described their plans: 1,000 buses, a line of Jumbotrons and a mass procession down the sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool as protesters gather along the Mall.
The permit application, which has not yet been approved by the Park Service, also calls for the closures of several roads to accommodate the march and related events.