Fifty-seven years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington, hundreds of people rallied in Denver on Friday for the same causes the civil rights leader and thousands of others demanded for Black people that historic day in the nation’s capital.
The anniversary of the one of the largest human rights rallies in American history this year comes amid a national reckoning on racial justice and police brutality, ignited again this week by the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by Kenosha, Wisconsin police.
“We, as Black men, are an endangered species,” Alvertis Simmons, a longtime Denver civil rights leader, told the crowd gathered in City Park. He made his comments in front of a memorial for King, who cast his shadow over a series of speakers, including Black mothers who lost children to gun violence and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.
“Yes, we are human,” Simmons said, “If we break the law, we should be cuffed and taken to jail — not beaten upside the head. We should be treated like human beings.”
The speakers invoked the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain, who died a year ago, after Aurora officers put him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with a heavy dose of ketamine.
“One of the reasons we say the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain,” Bennet, a former presidential candidate, told the crowd, “… is because you know and I know that what happened to them would never have happened to me. It would never have happened to my three daughters.”
Metra Bell took the microphone Friday morning, asking the audience to pray with her because today would be rough. Her 19-year-old son, Darrell Mitchell, was shot and killed last year in broad daylight in Denver — a city that has seen a disturbing increase in youth violence.
“This park should be flooded every time a Black juvenile is killed,” Bell said through intermittent sobs.
She knows the usual tropes and made a point of repeating that her son wasn’t in a gang and he wasn’t killed by another Black man. Justice, the mother has found, remains out of reach.
“If you don’t got money for a lawyer,” Bell said, “then you have no say so over the justice system.”
Rick Martinez watched the speakers from afar. As he faced King’s statue, the Denver resident lamented the lack of purple in a country that’s increasingly dark red or dark blue.
“It’s been a long time since we had someone bring inclusion like Martin Luther King,” he said.
Just over two miles away, hundreds more people carrying signs and bullhorns marched from Civic Center past Denver’s police headquarters, jail and courthouse, chanting “enough is enough” and “no justice, no peace; no racist police.”
Speakers outside police headquarters urged protesters to remain nonviolent and deescalate conflict, as a small group of officers clad in helmets and anti-riot shields stood 100 feet behind a chainlink fence.
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