More than 10,000 protesters from New York City and around the U.S. converged on Washington Saturday, marching to the Capitol to call attention to the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police and call for legislative action.
"What a sea of people," said Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in August. "If they don't see this and make a change, then I don't know what we got to do. Thank you for having my back."
The "Justice for All" march marked a "history-making moment," said Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who gasped "I can't breathe" while being arrested and placed in a chokehold on Staten Island in July
"It's just so overwhelming to see all who have come to stand with us today," she said. "I mean, look at the masses. Black, white, all races, all religion. ... We need to stand like this at all times."
Marchers carried signs reading "Black Lives Matter" and "Who do you protect? Who do you serve."
Organizers have said the marchers are calling on Congress to hold hearings and pass legislation improving the state grand juries that choose whether or not to indict police officers who kill civilians.
At Freedom Plaza, the rally was interrupted briefly by more than a dozen protesters who took the stage with a bullhorn. They announced that they were from the St. Louis area — where Brown died — and demanded to speak.
Organizers called the interruption unnecessarily divisive. But some in the Missouri group said they were disappointed and said they found the rally staid and ineffective.
"I thought there was going to be actions, not a show. This is a show," Johnetta Elzie of St. Louis said.
St. Louis protester Leon Kemp said he is glad the movement is gaining momentum, but he's worried that the message is watered down. He said he was upset that the phrase "black lives matter" was changed in some cases to "all lives matter."
"It's not about 'all lives matter.' That goes without saying," Kemp said. It's about 'black lives matter.'"
Another protester from the area, Murry Edwards, said that he made the trip from St. Louis because he wants to make sure the momentum from the movement in Ferguson reaches a national stage.
"This is the national march," he said. "We have to get behind the national movement."
Protests — some violent — have occurred around the nation since grand juries last month declined to indict the officers involved in the deaths of Brown, 18, and Garner, 43. In the aftermath, politicians and others have called for better police training, body cameras and changes in the grand jury process to restore faith in the legal system.
Saturday's march was sponsored in part by the Urban League, the NAACP and the National Action Network, which is headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
"Members of Congress, beware we're serious ...," Sharpton said in Washington. "When you get a ring-ding on Christmas, it might not be Santa; it may be Rev. Al coming to your house."
One marcher, 52-year-old Terry Baisden of Baltimore, said she is "hopeful change is coming" and that the movement is not part of a fleeting flash of anger.
She said she hasn't protested before but felt compelled to do so now because "changes in action, changes in belief, happen in numbers."
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the march was peaceful. She mingled with the crowd and said she wanted to show solidarity with the marchers.
"This is one of the most well organized events I've seen," Lanier said.
While some rallied in Washington, other groups including Ferguson Action planned similar "Day of Resistance" actions all around the country. In New York City, protesters participating in the Manhattan "Millions March" gathered in the afternoon at Washington Square Park for a march through midtown and Lower Manhattan.