Obama marks 50 years since ′Bloody Sunday′ in Selma | News | DW | 07.03.2015
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Obama marks 50 years since 'Bloody Sunday' in Selma

Speaking in Alabama, US President Barack Obama has said civil rights was just "one leg in our long journey toward freedom." Thousands gathered in Selma to mark an important milestone in the nation's civil rights history.

On the 50th anniversary of a police assault on civil rights protesters, the first black US president said demonstrators had "proved that nonviolent change is possible - that love and hope can conquer hate."

During the "Bloody Sunday" protest march of March 7, 1965, many in a crowd of 600 were beaten bloody by state troopers as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge leading from Selma, Alabama, toward the state capital, Montgomery.

"There are places and moments in America where this nation's destiny have been decided," Obama said Saturday, including the bridge on that list. "It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills," he added.

Shocking scenes of the brutality on the bridge - named after a Confederate general who led the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan - helped galvanize the nation against racial oppression in the South. Months after the police assault in Selma, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it more difficult for states like Alabama to restrict registration through violent intimidation and bureaucratic racism.

John Lewis, a Democrat and one of the country's few black legislators, reminded those assembled that "there's still work left to be done: Get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America."

"John Lewis is one of my heroes," Obama said on Saturday.

Those present included Obama's wife, Michelle, and daughters, Sasha and Malia; former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura; about 100 members of Congress; and the daughter of George Wallace, the governor who in 1965 had ordered Alabama state troopers to attack the peaceful protesters.

'Black lives matter'

New light has been cast on racial tension in the US in the wake of the recent killings of several unarmed men of color by white police officers. In January, the holiday honoring the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was marked by nationwide protests. Demonstrations have continued since last summer, when such killings began receiving renewed widespread attention.

While hundreds came together in Selma on Saturday, dozens also gathered at the police headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, a college town and state capital where police killed an unarmed 19-year-old black man on Friday night. "Black lives matter," read the familiar placards, a familiar sight at similar protests over the last half year.

In December, New York protesters chanted "I can't breathe" after a grand jury declined to prosecute an officer for the July killing of Eric Garner with a disallowed chokehold. Despite viewing a lengthy video in which Garner, unarmed and black, said the three words over and over again as the white officer choked him from behind with a nightstick while a gang of police wrestled him to the ground, and a coroner ruling the death a homicide, the jury decided it did not have enough evidence to send the case to trial.

'Sustained racial profiling'

On Thursday in Ferguson, Missouri, the parents of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old killed by a white officer last August, announced a suit against the city after US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he wouldn't prosecute Officer Darren Wilson.

However, Holder did say that police in the St. Louis suburb had engaged in sustained racial profiling, with the mostly white city administration raising municipal funds by having the almost entirely white police force repeatedly search, ticket and arrest the largely black population on trumped-up charges.

On Saturday, Obama called the narrative of a report compiled by the US Justice Department on the Ferguson Police Department's civil rights record "sadly familiar." The world was shocked by the near-military police response to protests against the man's shooting.

Of the Selma protesters, Obama said on Saturday, "they didn't seek special treatment - just the equal treatment promised to them a century before." He added: "Our march is not yet finished."

mkg/cmk (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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