By Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams
Social justice and human rights activists rallied Monday on the steps of the South Carolina State Capitol Building, calling for full-scale criminal justice reform including national, uniform standards for use of force among all local, state, and federal law enforcement agents.
The demonstration is part of the NAACP’s Journey for Justice March, a historic 860-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. that aims to mobilize racial justice activists while articulating a clear agenda that “protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education.”
When they reached the South Carolina state line this weekend, having covered 456 miles thus far, marchers had already traversed over six times the length of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.
On Monday, the Guardian profiled 68-year-old Middle Passage, a disabled veteran from Colorado who traveled more than 1,300 miles by bus to join the Journey for Justice in Selma on day one.
“We’re from all different walks of life, coming together for one common cause,” Passage told the Guardian, adding that the restoration of voting rights was one of his central concerns. “We’re working together as a unit for the betterment and justice of everybody regardless of race, creed, color, or religion. We’re all in this together.”
Each state along the march route has been the site of a different issue focus. In Alabama, activists spoke about economic inequality, while education reform was at the top of the list in Georgia.
When marchers reach North Carolina and Virginia, their focus will be on voting rights and youth engagement, respectively. And when they arrive in Washington, D.C., they will address the full advocacy agenda that has been put forth under the unifying banner: “Our Lives, Our Votes, Our Jobs, Our Schools Matter.”
In South Carolina, where NAACP national president and CEO Cornell William Brooks will be joined by Dr. Lonnie Randolph of the state NAACP conference as well as other faith, environmental, and political leaders, the call is for criminal justice reform—in particular, national standards for use of force and passage of the End Racial Profiling Act.
As South Carolina’s The State newspaper noted on Monday, “When and how officers use force has become an issue in South Carolina. Three officers have been charged in the past year with felonies in on duty shootings.”
Over the weekend, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke at several South Carolina campaign stops about the importance of ending what he described as “institutional racism.”
According to the New York Times, Sanders also cited political efforts to suppress the minority vote, the white supremacist racism that led to the massacre of nine black church-goers in North Charleston this summer, and how the recent deaths of African-Americans at the hand of police officers underlined the need for police forces that “reflect the diversity of the community they serve.”
Late last week, activists with the country’s growing racial justice movement unveiled a new campaign to end police violence, which included recommendations to “restrict the police from using excessive force in everyday interactions with civilians.”
Follow Monday’s demonstration—and the march as it continues toward Washington, D.C.—on Twitter: #JusticeSummer