"When I say 'doctor' you say 'King'!" an activist shouted.
The crowd chanted the name as it marched up Lexington Parkway in St. Paul. Then, the activist continued, "When I say 'Black lives' you say 'matter!' "
Racial justice leaders evoked the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday as they linked his civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s to the modern movement for Black lives. On the first King holiday since the police killing of George Floyd ignited a global reckoning about racism and police brutality, organizers, politicians and business leaders reflected on the work left to be done almost 53 years after King was assassinated in Memphis.
"We cannot rest because as Dr. King said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,' " said Chris Majors, a director of food safety and quality at General Mills.
He chaired the 31st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday Breakfast, an event organized by General Mills and the United Negro College Fund, held virtually this year under the theme "Our Rising Voices: A Call for Bold Social Action."
Among the speakers was Bernice King, who was 5 when her father, Martin Luther King Jr., was killed.
She said she hoped the pandemic would bring about what her father called for in his book "Where Do We Go From Here?" — a revolution of values and a reordering of priorities toward people and away from materialism. Bernice King called for educating people to adopt a "nonviolent way of living."
"You don't attack people," she said. "You don't destroy people. You stay focused on the issue. ... At the end off the day, you're trying to find a win-win pathway and win people over instead of win over them."
"Now more than ever the legacy and message of Dr. King continues to offer us hope, encouragement and a bold vision of moving through these challenging times," said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. He urged the audience to join him in "harnessing the resilience and power of our beloved communities and in one voice continue our fight to ensure no one is left behind."
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., noted that King had said, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle."
She added that the pandemic has disproportionately hurt communities of color and that the systemic racism in the justice system was "once again laid bare after the horrific murder of George Floyd. So now is a time for us to respond to systemic racism with systemic change and collectively raise our voices. It is time to heed Dr. King's words: 'The time is always right to do what is right.' "
At noon, a separately organized demonstration outside of Central High School in St. Paul took on a more urgent and at times angrier tone, as activists and loved ones of people killed by Minnesota police called for justice. Marcus Golden. Cordale Handy. Philando Castile. George Floyd. The crowd chanted a string of police victims' names and blocked traffic as they marched and gathered in the streets, at one point dancing to N.W.A.'s 1988 anti-police song as groups of law enforcement officers wielding batons blocked off the nearby entrances to Interstate 94.
Officers stationed at points throughout the march kept a close eye on the group.
Mimi Baxter noticed the demonstration Monday afternoon and decided to join in, still upset about the gentler treatment of the largely white mob at the U.S. Capitol compared with Black Lives Matter protesters.
"Instead of sitting in my home and being terrified and depressed, I thought I would march in the spirit of my parents, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks ... you name it," she said.
Noting the historic violence inflicted by the Ku Klux Klan, Baxter said that racism is like cancer: "You beat it or you get it under control and, no, the same cancer comes back to kill you. Are you going to get up and fight or are you going to lay there and die?"
"The whole damn system is guilty as hell," activist Satara Strong-Allen told the crowd. "... The longer the police walk free, the longer we stay in captivity. Until Black people have liberation, there won't be liberation for anybody!"
They gathered outside the St. Paul Police Western District station.
Civil rights leader Nekima Levy Armstrong noted that King — in 1967 — had said that police "make a mockery of law."
"He saw how they claim to be about law and order but they're going out breaking up peaceful protests ... and just like they were a mockery of the law in the '50s and '60s, they are a mockery of the law in the 21st century," she said. "Say, 'That ain't right!' "
"That ain't right!" the crowd exclaimed.
Levy Armstrong disputed that police brutality — including the circumstances of Floyd's killing — was a matter of a few bad apples.
"So we are here to rise up, continue to take a stand against the system and to keep the legacy of those who have come before us alive and keep the legacy of the people whose lives were stolen [in police killings] alive because they deserve justice," she said.
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210