Thousands Take to the Streets to Advocate for Civil Rights

Thousands of people, including Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, gathered in San Francisco today to honor the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and to continue his fight for racial equality.

People from around the Bay Area came into San Francisco today to participate in a parade and to greet the Freedom Train as it made its final 54-mile trip from San Jose after 30 years.

Freedom Train riders and parade participants comprised of individuals, families with small children, and various community groups, were out championing civil rights and racial equality while paying tribute to King.

The crowd gathered at the San Francisco Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets around 11 a.m. and greeted roughly 1,400 people aboard the Freedom Train, which was coordinated by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley.

Organizers announced that this was the last year for the Freedom Train in the Bay Area, despite selling all 1,400 available seats on board.

The train left Caltrain’s Diridon Station in San Jose at about 9:45 a.m. on the holiday celebrating King’s birthday, Caltrain spokesman Will Reisman said.

The trip was one of about 30 Freedom trains run across the country started by King’s late widow Coretta Scott King after his assassination in 1968 to commemorate the 54 miles marched by her husband and other civil rights activists in Alabama.

The historic 54-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965 helped spur the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and is also being showcased in the Oscar-nominated movie “Selma” in current release.

The San Jose-San Francisco Freedom train is the last of its kind in the nation since the Bay Area train began operating 30 years ago, Reisman said.

Many in the crowd gathering outside the train station today carried posters that read “All Lives Matter,” “Freedom,” “#Reclaim MLK,” as well as some of King’s most inspiring quotes.

One group of parade participants spoke into a megaphone, saying that “Ferguson is everywhere” and that “Black Lives Matter,” chiming in on the national movement to call attention to police brutality against black males.

Bayard Fong, a contract compliance officer who works for the city’s contract monitoring division, took to the streets today along with members of the Human Rights Commission, as he does most years on King’s birthday.

Fong said his division works to support local businesses and ensure equal benefits in the contracts awarded by the city. He said the program helps to build a bridge to close the employment gap in the city and ensure minorities have access to city contracts. He said he is proud the city monitors those contracts, but that more needs to be done for minority workers across the state and the country.

Also in the parade today was Dolores Piper, a South San Francisco resident who held a sign to commemorate her nephew, 15-year-old Derrick Gaines Jr., who was shot at close range by a police officer in 2012.

Piper said she was Gaines’ legal guardian and raised him since he was a baby. She said following Gaines’ death she was reeling with pain and came out today to stand in solidarity with those who have lost their own children to police brutality.

Gaines was fatally shot by a South San Francisco police officer, identified in a lawsuit filed by Gaines’ parents, as Officer Joshua Cabillo, on June 5, 2012 at the ARCO gas station at 2300 Westborough Blvd.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco names the City, Cabillo and Police Chief Michael Massoni as defendants and seeks $10 million in general damages.

The complaint claimed that Gaines did not pull out a gun, yet Cabillo shot Gaines twice. Gaines never reached for his gun after it fell from his waistband, according to the claim.

According to police, Gaines and his friend appeared to be acting suspiciously, and when the officer asked them to stop, Gaines’ friend complied but Gaines continued to walk away and then pulled a gun from his waistband before the officer shot him.

The family was represented by the civil rights attorney John Burris. Piper said the parents and the defendants reached a settlement in the case.

“You don’t get indictments against cops, all you can do is civil suits,” Piper said.

The parade ended at Yerba Buena Gardens with a ceremony hosted by the San Francisco Interfaith Council and featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, as well as local elected officials and numerous religious leaders.

Pelosi said key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which King helped make possible, need to be restored to their full potency.

Pelosi’s senior adviser and communications director, Drew Hammill, said Pelosi was referring to the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which found sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional.

Those sections found unconstitutional required certain states and local governments with a history of discriminatory laws to obtain approval or “preclearance” from the federal government before making changes to their voting laws or practices.

“In Congress, we must strive to honor Dr. King by ensuring that the victories he made possible – for equality, for health care, for justice, for peace, for voting rights and workers’ rights – are not diluted by pernicious legislation or eroded by apathy,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Hammill said the Shelby decision jeopardizes the voting rights of those Americans who remain vulnerable to discrimination at the hands of their local or state governments and removes key protections that King fought for during the civil rights movement.

Hannah Albarazi and Jeff Burbank, Bay City News

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