Organizers Of D.C. March For Reparations Won't 'Cower In Fear Of Terrorist Threats' But Mayor Bowser has asked that all public gathering permits for the next two weeks be canceled.
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Organizers Of D.C. March For Reparations Won't 'Cower In Fear Of Terrorist Threats'

Thousands of people march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr monument during the March on Washington 2020. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

During the Biden-Harris inauguration, local and national organizations plan to lead a March for Reparations in D.C. and other major cities to address gaps in health care, economics, and access to home ownership due to redlining. Organizers of the march hope that their event can still go on despite the temporary public emergency order in place in the District, as a result of armed Trump supporters breaching the Capitol last week.

The insurrection led D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to order a 15-day public emergency extension that overlaps with Inauguration Day. Bowser also sent a letter to the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security asking that the Department of the Interior cancel public gathering permits from January 11 to 24.

The group is still awaiting a permit from the National Park Service, says Tara Perry, lead organizer of the march and founder of Black PACT, a California-based group that organizes reparations movements. Other groups in the coalition organizing the event include Equity Advocates PAC, Black Lives Matter Minnesota, and Concerned Black American Citizens.

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"Terrorist acts like those on January 6 are specifically designed to divide us further and make us live in fear of potential white supremacist violence," she says. "Mayor Bowser, though rightfully ensuring public safety, would rather the American people cower in fear of terrorist threats."

Perry says if restrictions are implemented, she will take them into "serious consideration." Though, she adds, "we stand by our first amendment right of free speech and our rights as citizens to petition our federal government, and we will not allow white supremacy thugs to intimidate us out of exercising those rights." She declined to say whether the march would go on if the group was not issued a permit.

Bowser's office did not respond to a request for comment.

On January 20 and 21, about 500 people each day, Perry says, plan to march from Black Lives Matter Plaza to the Lincoln Memorial. Organizers are planning a march for each day; the second is reserved for attendees who want to avoid large crowds on Inauguration Day due to COVID-19.

At the beginning and end points of the march, leaders of local and national organizations will speak about disparities in Black communities and the H.R. 40 bill in the House that proposes a study to explore reparations payments for African Americans. This march is one of more than a dozen events planned in cities across the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

One local organizer, Marshall Parson, advisory board member of American Descendants of Slavery DMV, says part of the reason he's marching is to hold Biden accountable for mass incarceration.

"We have elected a president that was the chief architect of the 1994 crime bill," Parson says. "But now, here's where reparations comes in. You can't just tell me you're sorry when a generation of Black men and Black women have been tossed away in jail. There are people still in jail for crimes that White Americans [and] states are profiting off of."

President-elect Joe Biden received backlash for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that helped fund and hire 100,000 police officers and funded more prisons to be built across the U.S. Though Biden called the bill a "big mistake" on the campaign trail in 2019, he's also defended the bill by saying it "did not generate mass incarceration," according to the Washington Post.

"There are people still in jail for marijuana offenses from 20 years ago," says Parson.

Activist Sammy Sanchez is speaking at the march and says his message will be "now is the time" to pass the H.R. 40 bill. Dee Dwyer/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Dee Dwyer/WAMU/DCist

Sammy Sanchez, founder of the Reparations Now Coalition, a reparations advocacy organization, agrees with Parson that "the prison system itself is just been an evolution of slavery ... Even though we are one of the smallest percentages of the population in the country, as African Americans, we are disproportionately represented in prisons and the judicial system."

He says that prisoners are "forced to perform free labor for businesses."

The Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply to inmates, making it legal for states to exploit inmates for free or cheap labor, including manufacturing items such as military gear, uniforms, and food products, according to Talk Poverty.

Sanchez is speaking at the march and says his message will be "now is the time" to pass the H.R. 40 bill. The bill establishes the commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African-Americans.

"COVID-19 widened this gap of oppression and suffering and need for our people. In addition to just the embolding of white supremacy [at the Capitol this past week], we have to take action now to avoid any regression," Sanchez says.

The Southeast D.C.-based fitness program WEFITDC also plans to attend. Founder Joe Houston says he's marching to amplify concerns about health equity in the District.

"In wards 7 and 8, we really don't have health resources," says Houston, adding that the area has just one hospital and three grocery stores for 150,000 residents. Ward 8 has also seen more COVID-19 deaths than any other ward in the District. The ward only has one hospital that will close soon and be replaced by a new hospital expected to come in 2024.

Houston says that reparations can help to resolve some health issues in the community.

"We [can] mobilize and bring in more resources to our community ... when you continue to bring more resources to your communities that [creates] financial stability and gives better results ... making the community better," he says. "If we get reparations right now ... I see a new beginning."

On a local level, councilmembers have shown support of a reparations study. In October, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White co-introduced a bill called Reparations Task Force Establishment Act of 2020. It would establish a task force to study the economic impact of slavery, including the economic benefits reaped by slave owners and their descendants and businesses. The research will inform and recommend a proposal to help Black Washingtonians.

The local bill says that the task force will start convening and researching in June 2021, but the bill has yet to have a hearing.

"It is my hope that we'll have this passed by [June]. Anything needs to change in terms of the timeline that is in the bill, I will be happy to make those adjustments [to quicken the process]," McDuffie tells DCist/WAMU.

Another local organization is already starting their research process. Enterprise Community Partners, a local organization seeking to end housing insecurity and create racial equity, has independently selected a task force and will start their research next week.

"Our research can be shared with [the Reparations Task Force], can inform their work, and hopefully will help them speed up their work," David Bowers, the organizations' director, tells DCist/WAMU. Bowers not only hopes that Council moves quickly, but also hopes to speak in support of the bill when it has a hearing.

McDuffie says he hopes that the Biden-Harris administration supports the H.R. 40 bill.

"I am certainly more optimistic that the Biden-Harris administration will take up these issues," McDuffie says. "I certainly will continue to champion these issues on the local level."

McDuffie says that he hasn't confirmed whether he will join the march, due to uncertainty about his schedule that week.

Though the emergency order complicates the planning of the reparations march, organizers say it's imperative to hold it during the inauguration.

"The root word of reparations is repair," says Sanchez. "And I think this is the perfect time now that we have this administration coming in for us to demand as a people that reparation be repaid."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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