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Wisconsin Activists Prepare For March On Washington After Long Journey On Foot

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Thousands of people march on Washington today. It's the anniversary of a march in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. said he had a dream. Today's follow-up comes during a summer of protests, and those marching include 50 activists from Milwaukee, Wis. They've come on foot. If you're wondering, that walk takes more than 20 days, and the route led past a lot of people who did not approve. Here's Teran Powell from member station WUWM.

TERAN POWELL, BYLINE: Along the way, marchers say they'd been called the N-word and had food thrown at them from car windows. And when marchers chant Black Lives Matter, they say some onlookers have yelled Trump 2020. But Milwaukee activist Tory Lowe, who helped organize the march, says nothing will top the moment a man in Bedford County, Pa., shot at their group one night. Marchers didn't even see him coming.

TORY LOWE: He actually came firing at us. I mean, we have children, women on this trip. We have older people, young people. And that was just something I'll never forget - that this guy had so much hatred in his heart that he would fire on a group of people that are unarmed - just out of the blue, shooting at people.

POWELL: One of the marchers who works as the group's security was struck by birdshot from a shotgun. He was treated at a nearby hospital and later rejoined the march. No charges have been filed. The Bedford County District Attorney's office and state police are investigating. Lowe says instances like this have energized the group more. What's also helped are those who have shown support. He says some have joined the march for a while, walking or in their cars. And people have offered supplies.

Still, the racism they've experienced has been eye-opening, says another marcher, Kenneth McNair (ph).

KENNETH MCNAIR: You think you see it on TV. But you know, part of you doesn't really want to believe it. And then when it actually happens like that, it's, like, wow. It's true, you know? And that's pretty much every day. Every day, it's been something.

POWELL: Since they've been on the road, Jacob Blake was shot by a policeman in Kenosha, Wis. He is now paralyzed from the waist down, says his family. McNair says when he heard the news, it hurt his heart.

MCNAIR: I mean, after everything that's going on and they still feel that they can do something like that, it's heartbreaking. And that's what keeps us out here. That's what keeps us going forward and not going back.

POWELL: The marchers have been stopped by police along the way. In Indiana, state police arrested Lowe and fellow organizer Frank Nitty on charges of obstructing traffic and disorderly conduct but released them within a couple of hours. Two nights ago, marchers in their caravan of vehicles continued their journey along the right lane of a two-way Pennsylvania highway, and state patrol officers stopped them, saying they were violating the law. Lowe recorded the exchange between an officer and Nitty on Facebook Live.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK NITTY: We're not breaking the law because our amendments...

(CROSSTALK)

NITTY: Our amendment rights trump your state rights. Look it up.

UNIDENTIFIED PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE OFFICER: I cannot permit you to...

NITTY: Look it up. Look up the law. You show me the law that shows that it trumps our First Amendment rights.

UNIDENTIFIED PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE OFFICER: Mr. Nitty, we've talked here for about five minutes. I've kept you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE OFFICER: Mr. Nitty, one second...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE OFFICER: ...I just want to make sure - again...

NITTY: Please don't touch me again.

UNIDENTIFIED PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE OFFICER: I'm not trying to touch you, but I want to get your attention. I just want to make sure you understand...

POWELL: Sandy Solo (ph) and her fellow marchers understand that this is the time to demand an end to racial injustice. Solo says growing up and experiencing racism in Mississippi prepared her long before this moment.

SANDY SOLO: And this time, we're hoping to get it done with this generation and stop saying next generation, next generation. Now is the time to do it. We don't want to see our grandkids go through the same things that we've gone through already, so we're trying to stop it right now.

POWELL: For her and others, this is a way to help prevent another Jacob Blake, another George Floyd, another Breonna Taylor, another hashtag.

For NPR News, I'm Teran Powell in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT GLASPER'S "F*** YO FEELINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.