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Thousands March Across U.S. Protesting Police Brutality


In cities across the country yesterday, tens of thousands of people gathered to draw attention to several high profile deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. People marched in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, D.C.


PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hands up, don't shoot. Hands up, don't shoot. Hands up, don't shoot.

MARTIN: Here in Washington, protesters of all ages began their march at Freedom Plaza near the White House. NPR's Laura Sullivan followed demonstrators as the march got underway.


PROTESTERS: (Chanting) I can't breathe. I can't breathe.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Thousands of people have flooded onto Pennsylvania Avenue here in Washington, D.C. to march from the White House to the U.S. Capitol about a mile here up the road to protest what they believe is excessive police violence. There are hundreds of posters with the names of unarmed black men that have died in altercations with police. And even more posters that say black lives matter.


PROTESTERS: (Chanting) ...No justice, no peace, don't trust the police. They shot Mike Brown in the middle of the street. No justice, no peace...

SHENICA ODOM: This is a group of kids from Brooklyn, New York. They're from two high schools.

SULLIVAN: Shenica Odom came down from New York with these 21 high schoolers.

ODOM: And they're ready. These chants that they're saying are chants that they came up in their group because it resonates with them. And it's not just rhetoric for them, this is the life that they live. This is the next generation of civil rights and social justice activists.

SULLIVAN: For as many young marchers like these students as there were, there were just as many older marchers - men and women, black and white. Some said they want Congress to act, others said they want the Justice Department to investigate. Many said they want to ensure police treat black men the same as white men. The protest comes just weeks after several high-profile incidents - police shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy in a park in Cleveland who was holding an air gun, and after police fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 19-year-old in Ferguson, and killed Eric Garner, an unarmed man in New York. Millions have watched the video of Garner in a chokehold saying over and over, I can't breathe, before he died. Just in front of the students were two Vietnam War veterans - John Taylor from Miami and Berley Hanna from Somerset, New Jersey.

BERLEY HANNA: What brought me down is I don't want to see my kids keep - they're all my children, doesn't matter what color they are. So I came out to support everyone.

SULLIVAN: Hanna said it filled him with pride to see young people like the students from New York chanting behind him, marching and protesting, believing in a cause just as he and Taylor did decades ago.

HANNA: It's been a long time, so something needs to be done. And it seems like the youth of today wants it to stop, and I'm here with them.

SULLIVAN: The day's events were organized by Al Sharpton and his National Action Network. And many civil rights activists took to the stage along with some of the parents and children and relatives of those who died. Dawn Caldart is a white woman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was in the audience holding a sign that said white silence equals white consent. Her daughter is African-American and was devastated when a grand jury did not indict the officer in Eric Garner's death.

DAWN CALDART: I came home the day that the grand jury decision came out for Eric. And my daughter, who's 12, was sitting on the couch and she had tears streaming down her face. And she was watching the news and she said to me, another one mom, another one. And it just hit me in that moment. I was filled with this rage and I can't sit by anymore and not try to make change.

SULLIVAN: Thousands of other marchers weren't sitting either. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.
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