After enduring blistered feet, arrests, harassment and a spray of gunfire over the course of weeks, dozens of people marching 750 miles to protest police brutality are hours away from their final destination, the nation’s capital, for the anniversary of the March on Washington.
“We’re coming in hot. We’ll be there,” said Tory Lowe, a Milwaukee-based victims advocate, on Thursday morning from his hotel room in Maryland, about 60 miles outside D.C. “Right now – for this time in this moment in this country – this walk represents a civil rights march of historic importance.”
When Lowe and about 20 other men, women and children first left Milwaukee on Aug. 4, they planned to walk about 30 miles a day through Aug. 28, when thousands of people are expected to attend the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington.
Now, their demonstration has become even more necessary, Lowe said.
Just miles from Milwaukee last weekend, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake in the back several times, leaving the father of three paralyzed from the waist down, according to lawyers for his family. The shooting ignited several nights of looting, violence and protests in Kenosha and other cities across the country – the most recent incidents of unrest this summer amid a nationwide movement for racial justice.
“This march was meant to happen because look what’s happening in the state of Wisconsin,” Lowe said. “This is why we’re marching. It brings validation to the fact of why we ever started this march in the first place.”
Activist Frank “Nitty” Sensabaugh and Lowe organized the journey. The first few days went smoothly, organizers said, as police escorted the march to and through Chicago. People began to turn out on sidewalks to offer support as the marchers passed by, and others monitoring their progress on social media began to donate food and pay for hotel rooms.
“Once we got into Indiana and Ohio, it got really intense because the areas with less diversity became our biggest issues,” Lowe said. “Some people were saying go home. People would write things on the ground. They were pissed.”
On the ninth day, Indiana State Police arrested and held Sensabaugh and Lowe for several hours near Warsaw because, police said, the group was blocking traffic.
“We’ve been arrested for walking, and we’ve been shot at,” Lowe said. “A white male just came out of nowhere, and our security was shot.”
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As the march moved through western Pennsylvania on Monday night, the group of about 30 stopped in the parking lot of a private business and gunfire broke out, according to state police. “The property owners confronted the activists. The confrontation escalated, and gunshots were exchanged between the property owners and the activists,” Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Brett Miller said Tuesday.
Sensabaugh’s body guard was injured, Lowe said. He had non-life-threatening injuries and was treated at the hospital, police said.
The Bedford County District Attorney was investigation the incident, and no charges had been filed, Miller said.
As the marchers left Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, a group of residents – some armed – lined the streets and yelled slurs, Lowe said. At the same time, other residents came out to protect the marchers, he said.
“It’s been a spiritual journey, and it’s an eye-opening journey for many of us because we’re seeing outright racism as we walk,” Lowe said. “It’s been 24 days, and every day is something. Not one day have we been out here and someone hasn’t thrown racial slurs.”