Fifty-five years ago, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to bring attention to challenges and inequalities faced by African-Americans.
Texas activists who gathered Tuesday afternoon outside the state Capitol said the country has come a long way since then, but it still has a long way to go.
About 200 people, many of whom work with organizations like the Austin Justice Coalition and Black Lives Matter Houston, converged at the Capitol steps to call for criminal justice reform on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington in which Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“We’ve got to be loud enough to let the folks in this building and back in their districts know that we are here today, demanding that the administration of justice is applied equally to all people,” said Houston-based activist Steve Brown as he took to the microphone at the beginning of the event.
In the 100-degree heat, speakers kept reminding people to drink water and pointing out that, though they might be different races, genders and ethnicities, they all needed to hydrate.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat from El Paso who is running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, spoke at the event, listing half a dozen policy issues that he and others at the event said were crucial to create a world in which everyone has an equal shot to succeed, including striking down state laws and policies that make it difficult for people to vote, implementing universal prekindergarten, decriminalizing marijuana and replacing the cash bail system in jails.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler also was a speaker. He pointed out at the Capitol on Tuesday that the full name of the historic Aug. 28, 1963, march was actually the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
“Because as MLK told us, there are no civil rights without economic rights,” Adler said, pointing to the city’s “fair chance” hiring provision, which bars any business with operations in Austin from asking about an applicant’s criminal history until the end of the hiring process.
Brown said they gathered Tuesday for the victims of criminal justice inequality.
“Today, they’re asking us to speak for them, to be their advocates and to fight for them. … And as Dr. King said in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, it’s not enough to just say it here,” Brown said. “We have to go back to where we come from when this march is over, and we must continue demanding change in the criminal justice system.”