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‘Redeem the Dream’ Rally Draws Several Thousand to Washington

By Cindy Loose and Chris L. Jenkins
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Standing before the Lincoln Memorial, on the spot where his father inspired a nation 37 years ago, Martin Luther King III yesterday told a gathered crowd that America has not yet fulfilled his father’s dream of a new day when racial justice would flow like a mighty river.

Speaking at the “Redeem the Dream” rally organized to protest police brutality and racial profiling, King said he still is awaiting the day “when we can raise our children to respect police first, and fear them last.”

Saturday’s rally, organized by King and New York political activist Al Sharpton, drew several thousand people to the Mall, although it appeared to have fallen short of the 100,000 organizers had hoped for. The rally comes after a string of smaller, mostly local protests of police shootings, such as that of Amadou Diallo, who died in a hail of 41 police bullets in New York City. But rather than a culmination of efforts, the rally was clearly intended as a major first step in a continuing campaign.

The day before the rally, Sharpton and King met with Attorney General Janet Reno and top aides to President Clinton to demand that the federal government withhold funds from any police department that practices racial profiling or shows a pattern of brutality. Reno, according to Sharpton, said that the matter is being studied.

“We intend ... while they’re studying, to create a climate that will push these efforts forward,” Sharpton said.

The rally drew many of the nation’s top civil rights leaders to the stage as speakers. Those who came to listen and cheer were overwhelmingly African American, and represented a broad cross section of that population.

Young men in dreadlocks joined fraternity brothers in chinos and polo shirts. Elderly women rode into town on church buses; suburban families arrived in minivans. Old men in straw hats, young women with Kinte cloth headwraps and men dressed in the distinctive bow ties of the Nation of Islam.

The issue of racial profiling effects all people of color, said organizers, who pointed to studies showing that minorities are often the target of police suspicion for no reason other than the color of their skin.

In New Jersey, for example, one study showed that blacks were five times more likely than whites to be stopped on the turnpike. On a stretch of Interstate 95 in Maryland last year, African Americans were 17 percent of drivers, but 56 percent of those searched.

Standing in the meager shade of trees lining the Reflecting Pool, 75-year-old Thomas Wallace held a yellow sign with red letters reading: “We Demand An End to Police Brutality Now.” It is the same sign he held in 1963, at the march where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.

“The sign was originally white and red, but has yellowed with age,” said Wallace, a retired school teacher. “The AFL-CIO put out truckloads of these that day in 1963, and I held it then as now.

“Other things have changed, but on this issue, nothing has changed,” Wallace continued. “The fight is still the same.”