Letter from the US: Largest civil rights march insists #BlackLives Matter, #MuslimLivesMatter

Mass Moral March in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8.

Tens of thousands gathered in the North Carolina capital of Raleigh on February 8 for what organisers called the largest civil rights rally in the South since the famous Selma march in 1965.

The Mass Moral March has been held annually to protest the right-wing state government’s attacks on voting rights, education, the environment, healthcare and women’s rights.

Republican-controlled states like North Carolina spearhead the ruling class’ attacks. The Democrats present a more moderate face, but tail the right wing, with the result that capitalist politics overall has moved to the right in recent decades.

The large size of this year’s Mass Moral March reflects the nationwide mass actions against police murders of Blacks that began in Ferguson, Missouri last August and continued through the Martin Luther King demonstrations in January.

Many people at the rally carried signs reading “Black Lives Matter”.

These annual marches are the result of ongoing work of regular actions in North Carolina called “Moral Mondays”. There have been more than 200 such events in local communities around the state.

Two of the featured speakers at the rally were relatives of young people murdered in North Carolina. One was Pierre Lacy, the brother of Lennon Lacy, an African American teenager found hanged to death under mysterious circumstances last year in Bladenboro, North Carolina.

The hanging recalled the lynchings of thousands of Blacks in the aftermath of the 19th century Civil War and Reconstruction. The lynchings, which continued well into the 20th century, were part of the terrorist reaction that following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The terror aimed to help establish and defend the racist Jim Crow system of segregation in the South, including in North Carolina.

A new study has concluded that there were nearly 4000 such lynchings over a period of more than 80 years.

Pierre told the march: “Words can’t really describe the pain that families have to go through, including myself…

“This is not what America stands for. We don’t stand for killing our children. Our children have a future, and we’re supposed to stand up and fight for their future.”

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) State president Reverend William Barber helped organise and lead the rally. Of Lennon Lacy, he said: “He was found hanging, had the wrong shoes on. Our own independent pathologist said there was no way he could have done this to himself.

“We’ve called for an independent investigation. And nationally, the NAACP has also said the federal government ought to step in around the case of these three young Muslim students that were killed.

“These hate crimes are serious, and we need to make sure that they are investigated and that justice occurs and that we say that this kind of hate and violence has no place in our American society.”

The three young Muslim students Barber referred to were Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. They were murdered in Chapel Hill, near Raleigh, on February 10 in what appears to be a hate crime.

Barakat's brother, Farris Barakat, told the rally: “As I was walking here, they said freedom is not free. My brother paid with his life. My sister-in-law paid with her life. Razan paid with her life.

“They paid for their lives because they stood for something that was demonised in the media … and that maybe we haven’t collectively stood up yet to say, that Muslims are Americans, too.”

This was another instance of anti-Muslim violence, which is on the rise in the US. In the same week as the Chapel Hill murders, a mosque was burned down in Texas.

On the same weekend as the North Carolina march, there was a protest of another police killing on the other side of the country in Washington state.

This time it wasn’t an unarmed Black man being gunned down, but an unarmed Mexican-American in the small city of Pasco. Someone recorded a video of the murder, which shows three cops chasing down Antonio Zambrano-Montes as he ran from them.

He turns and swings his hands upward, before he is felled by a spray of bullets, his body slamming into the concrete. The video was widely distributed on the Internet, including in Mexico, prompting condemnation from Mexican President Nieto.

Like many in the Latino community in Pasco, Zambrano-Montes came to the US a decade ago to work as a labourer in the region’s agricultural fields and orchards.

Latinos make up 56% of Pasco’s population, but the city’s power structure remains largely white.

“As with Blacks in Ferguson,” the February 13 New York Times noted, “the killing has intensified feelings among Hispanics that they remain second-tier residents, despite their deep roots here.”

The video “has been a near constant presence here”, the NYT said, “played repeatedly on television news in crowded taco shops and bakeries, each time drawing the gaze of those perched over plates of pupusas or pan dulce. Reyes Juarez, 54, said she has slept little since viewing it, imagining her own son gunned down each time she shuts her eyes.”

The NYT reported Juarez said: “It’s like having the badge gives you the right to take the life of a Mexican.”

Maria Paniagua, who has six children, told the NYT: “They had him like a deer, hunting him. What happens when one of my kids gets in a jam and runs. Will they shoot him down?”

Like in Ferguson, the protests in Pasco reveal anger bubbling beneath the surface.

Alicia Coria, 18, was one of the protest leaders. She was a monitor helping guide “a sea of Latino residents through local streets, signs and fists held high”, said the NYT.

“People are finally getting their feelings out through this whole Antonio issue,” said Coria. “The Hispanic community is finally trying to have the power.”

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