Carrying American flags, chanting and holding signs, hundreds of women, men and children embarked on a march today to the nation’s capital, part of a mass demonstration against the National Rifle Association (NRA) called by the organizers of the Women’s March.
The 18-mile march kicked off this morning in front of the NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va. In scorching heat, the marchers trekked towards their final destination outside the U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C.
On Saturday, a vigil at DOJ is scheduled for 10 a.m.
Women’s March leaders, including Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland spearheaded the demonstration, which organizers said is grounded in the principles of Kingian nonviolence. Many marchers wore T-shorts that said, “No one is safe unless everyone is safe.”
The group, which held a historic, massive gathering in January the day after the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, said their latest Civil Rights march is an effort “to denounce the false and intimidating rhetoric of hatred,” of the NRA.
Mallory, a co-president of the Women’s March, recently penned an open letter to the NRA in which she challenged the organization to speak out about the fatal police-involved shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota during a 2016 traffic stop.
Castile, a licensed gun owner, was reportedly reaching for identification after informing the police officer of his conceal-carry permit. The deadly exchange was livestreamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, as her four-year-old daughter watched. The officer involved stood trial and was acquitted in June.
Mallory’s letter accused the NRA of “repeated actions that have inflicted tremendous harm on America’s most marginalized communities.”
She urged the organization to defend “Philando Castile’s right as a gun owner and demand the Department of Justice indict the police officer who killed him for violating his Second Amendment rights.”
“This call is clearly in line with the mission and purpose of the NRA as an organization that purports to be the lobby and defender of the right to bear arms,” she wrote.
The Women’s March leader also blasted the NRA for backing what the group termed “a vicious and incendiary” advertisement which they and critics say appears to call for “armed conflict against our communities, demonizing people of color, progressives and any of us who exercise our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and exercise our free speech in protest.”
Mallory and others called upon the NRA to remove and apologize for the controversial ad; in turn, they say the organization responded by releasing a new video attacking Mallory and other leaders, personally.
“At a time when our nation is seeing a rise in racially charged incidents and violence motivated by hate speech, it is unconscionable for a powerful organization like the NRA to unashamedly peddle an ‘us versus them’ narrative and call for our grassroots, nonviolent resistance movement to be met with violence,” said the Women’s March in a statement.
The NRA released a brief statement shortly after Castile’s death that did not name him. The organization has previously indicated it would more fully address the police incident after the legal process played out; to date, there’s been no formal public statement.
Today, the NRA Twitter page had “tips” for marchers such as staying hydrated. The group’s website includes videos showcasing African Americans who voice their support for the rights of gun owners. ESSENCE contacted the NRA for comment but did not receive a response by presstime.