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Black men gathering on National Mall to celebrate Million Man March’s 20th anniversary

By Jesse J. Holland



WASHINGTON _ Thousands of African-Americans crowded on the National Mall Saturday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March and call for policing reforms and changes in black communities.

Waving flags, carrying signs and listening to speeches and songs, the crowd gathered at the U.S. Capitol and spread down the Mall on a sunny and breezy fall day.

Souvenir vendors hawked t-shirts, signs, buttons and posters as people wove their way through security barricades surrounding the Capitol and other buildings on the mall.

Nate Smith of Oakland, California, attended the 1963 March on Washington and the 1995 Million Man March and said he was glad to be at Saturday’s event.

The 70-year-old man said: “It’s something that I need to do. It’s like a pilgrimage for me, and something I think all black people need to do.”

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who spearheaded the original march, was leading the anniversary gathering called the “Justice or Else” march.

“I plan to deliver an uncompromising message and call for the government of the United States to respond to our legitimate grievances,” Farrakhan said in a statement.

Attention has been focused on the deaths of unarmed black men and boys since the shootings of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012 in Florida and 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Deaths of unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement officers have inspired protests under the “Black Lives Matter” movement around the country.

The original march on Oct. 16, 1995, brought hundreds of thousands to Washington to pledge to improve their lives, their families and their communities. Women, whites and other minorities were not invited to the original march, but organizers say all are welcome Saturday and that they expect to get hundreds of thousands of participants.

The National Park Service estimated the attendance at the original march to be around 400,000, but subsequent counts by private organizations put the number at 800,000 or higher. The National Park Service has refused to give crowd estimates on Mall activities since.

President Barack Obama, who attended the first Million Man March, will be in California on Saturday.

Life has improved in some ways for African-American men since the original march, but not in others. For example:

_The unemployment rate for African-American men in October 1995 was 8.1 per cent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In September it was 8.9 per cent.

_In 1995, 73.4 per cent of African-American men had high school degrees. In 2004, 84.3 per cent did, according to the Census Bureau.

_Law enforcement agencies made 3.5 million arrests of blacks in 1994, which was 30.9 per cent of all arrests, the FBI said. (By comparison, they made 7.6 million arrests of whites that year, which was 66 per cent of all arrests.) By 2013, the latest available data, African-American arrests had decreased to 2.5 million, 28 per cent of all arrests.

Anti-Muslim protesters plan to demonstrate at mosques around the nation on the same day.


Jesse J. Holland covers race, ethnicity and demographics for The Associated Press. Contact him at jholland?ap.org, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland.



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