A week ago, the NAN offices were busy with activity. We were planning for the Justice For All March that took place on December 13. The march was successful and turned out exponentially more people than we anticipated – some estimates say approximately 40,000. But more importantly, we had the families of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin and Amadou Diallo present. These families know the unfortunate realities of a justice system that may be blindfolded, but seems to always peek from beneath her veiled eyes to prevent her will from finding its way to certain communities – normally communities of color. These families came together under a common banner and with a common request – that Congress act.
Their cries were heard before they even got to Washington, as the calls for justice helped to bring renewed attention to the Death in Custody Reporting Act authored by Congressman Bobby Scott that was sent to the President to be signed into law the day before the march. Members of Congress were present at the march, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY), Rep. Al Green (D, TX) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, NY) and their presence and words echoed the need for legislation. There are several bills that will be introduced in the next Congress in January aimed at providing greater protections.
But amid all of the progressive steps that were taken, there has been an undercurrent of distortions and boldfaced lies that have served to distract too many people from the goal. The stories, tweets and general misinformation have lingered on to the point where they deserve a second (and little more) of my consideration.
A young woman posting about the march drew my attention to a lie that has been swirling, a lie told by a former rapper/TV host (who was not at the march) and repeated by others. The story that we sold VIP credentials is utterly ridiculous.
Throughout my time at NAN, I have worked on large marches like the one last weekend or the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and demonstrations where there is one simple podium and a speaker to amplify sound, like the rally in DC for Trayvon Martin last summer. There are different requirements for both – not just in what is needed to make them happen, like permits, staging, sound systems, etc., but what is requested by the permitting agency. In this instance, a security mechanism was needed for the families – not only at the request of the permitting agencies, but also by our own measure.
We had the task of caring for grieving families who want to thank people for being behind them and fighting for them, but who may not want to, or be emotionally ready to deal with multiple media outlets requesting an interview or photos requests from well-meaning supporters. They need to have a way to escape if that is what the moment calls for and they need a place where that escape can be granted. Because these families were speaking, we used the space behind the stage not only for the immediate family members who took the stage, but the ample extended family members who came by the busloads. And yes, we used credentials that said VIP on them. Whether it said “VIP,” “Family Member,” “Guests” – the intent was the same. But the fabrication that has resulted is that we sold those credentials and it is the furthest thing from the truth.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only lie. Fox News apparently used some sort of splicing method during their airing of the march to erroneously portray marchers at the Justice for All March as having called for “dead police.”
Despite that falsehood, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier called the march, “one of the most well-organized events” she’s seen.
Other distortions include the fact that youth weren’t permitted to speak. We always had youth who were organizing the march. Some of those youth were responsible for outreach to other youth and deciding who would speak on the program.
While there is a big part of me that has wanted to and tried to ignore what people have gotten wrong, the thing within me that has demanded that I write this is simply this: all of it is a distraction. Not all of the intentions are pure and I believe Fox News intentionally misled people with their airing of chants against police and crediting it to NAN.
However, when I think about some of the younger leaders, who felt they were shut out, I know some of them truly want justice for the lost lives. Even if we disagree about the means to get there or how we come together – at the end of the day, if our goal is the same, we should at least respect each other and allow that foundation to get us to our goal.
This moment is bigger than our differences. The opportunity to make change – real, substantial change – is bigger than our differences. The path forward will have obstacles that all of us have to navigate. Even though we might bump into each other, we have to recognize that if we are on the same side, we shouldn’t turn on each other.
We are not each other’s enemies, but if we lose sight of that, we lose for our community.
Janaye Ingram is the Acting National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) and oversees NAN’s action agenda and legislative advocacy work under Founder and President, Rev. Al Sharpton. In this role, Ingram focuses on issues such as education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare, among others.