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Million Man March brings sense of unity, focus to Charlotte activists

Attendees holding signs rally on the National Mall and West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building for "Justice or Else," a rally held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March on October 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The rally organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan incuded speakers from the 1995 rally and current civil rights leaders.
Attendees holding signs rally on the National Mall and West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building for "Justice or Else," a rally held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March on October 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The rally organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan incuded speakers from the 1995 rally and current civil rights leaders. Getty Images

Charlotte civil rights leaders had planned to take the story of Jonathan Ferrell to Washington, D.C., for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, hoping to spark dialogue about police use of deadly force against minorities.

But the issue of fatal interactions with officers was already a main theme of the “Justice Or Else” rally, and Ferrell’s picture was featured on large screens amid others who had been killed by police, local organizers said.

“Jonathan was not forgotten on that day,” said Jibril Hough, a local activist who helped get Charlotte residents to Washington for the event, which brought several thousand to the National Mall. Six busloads traveled from Charlotte, Hough said.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who spearheaded the original march, in October 1995, called for more responsibility in the black community for inner-city killings and for the government to investigate recent high-profile killings of unarmed black men and women.

Similar themes were discussed in 1995, when black men from across the country converged on the National Mall to confront social and economic issues affecting their communities. But this year’s anniversary featured a more diverse cross-section of America and a more inclusive message.

Farrakhan called for Native Americans, veterans, Hispanics and women to come to the 2015 March. He spoke out against using foul language against women and against domestic violence and abortion.

The rally came just days after the city of Charlotte reached a settlement with Randall Kerrick, the officer who shot and killed Ferrell in September 2013. Local activists have called the move “a slap in the face” to Ferrell’s family.

Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter, but earlier this year, a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, and a judge declared a mistrial.

About a week later, the N.C. Attorney General’s office announced it wouldn’t take Kerrick to trial again, and the charges were dropped. Kerrick was paid about $113,000 in back pay and agreed to resign from the force.

Corey Muhammad, a local Muslim leader and the co-chair of the Greater Charlotte Area Local Organizing Committee, said attending the anniversary event helped strengthen the resolve of some in Charlotte’s activist community.

“Everybody came with the goal in mind of getting justice from the government but also working on the issues within our own community,” Muhammad said. “We got a sense of unity, a sense of accomplishment, but most importantly, a sense of focus for renewed collaboration.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046, @CleveWootson

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