The Realize the Dream March and Rally, part of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, provided the perfect stage for progressives to push for stronger gun control. In fact, according to many slated to speak at the commemorative ceremony, Martin Luther King Jr.’s original dream cannot be realized as long as Stand Your Ground laws are in place.
Thousands gathered on the National Mall to hear speakers from the Rev. Al Sharpton to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), many of whom spoke out about Stand Your Ground laws. Even Martin Luther King Jr.’s son joined in, denouncing the controversial law that has been blamed by some for the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. As he stood on the very steps of the Lincoln Memorial where his father once infamously addressed the nation, Martin Luther King III urged the crowd to not just commemorate his father’s words and legacy because the “journey is not complete.”
“The tears of Trayvon Martin’s mother and father remind us that far too frequently the color of one’s skin remain the license to profile, arrest and even murder with no regard for the content of ones character,” he said. “Regressive Stand Your Ground laws must be repealed.”
King encouraged those in attendance, who stood between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, to embrace his father’s 50-year-old message of love — along with stronger gun control laws in order to avoid another Newtown or Columbine school shooting.
“No more deadly killings of our young people by our young people on the streets of Chicago and countless neighborhoods across the country,” he said. “We need more gun control, but we also need more love.”
Campos called the laws “racist” and said they “work to kill our young people.”
Eric Holder, the first African-American United States attorney general, also spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the late King by alluding to Stand Your Ground laws, which give individuals the right to use deadly force as an act of defense.
“As we gather today, 50 years later, their march is now our march and it must go on,” Holder said.
The attorney general said that in order for King’s dream to “go on,” the nation must recognize its shortcomings.
“It must go on until our criminal justice system can ensure that all are treated equally and fairly in the eyes of the law,” he said to applause from the audience.
And while many of those speaking at the commemoration of the late King condemned Stand Your Ground laws, civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams tried to turn it into a positive, embracing the literal words ‘stand your ground’ in an awkward comparison.
“I think of one thing that has been played over and over in the past months and it is one that brings great controversy,” she said. “Stand Your Ground. And we can think of standing your ground in the negative, but I ask you today to flip that coin and make ‘stand your ground’ a positive ring for all of us who believe in freedom and justice and equality — that we stand firm on the ground that we have already made be sure that nothing is taken away from us because there are efforts to turn back the clock of freedom.”
Evers-Williams encouraged the attendees to take the three words in an optimistic sense and look forward in their fight for justice and equality.
“If you take nothing else from my heart and what I have said, stand your ground for freedom and justice and do whatever is necessary — that’s legal — to move this country forward because we are on standstill today, standstill that looks toward the back and we must not have that,” she said.
Following the day of speeches, which began at 8 a.m., the rally marched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. From there, the marchers continued on to the Washington Monument.