Sharpton, police reform take center stage at National Mall

The Rev. Al Sharpton headlined his new March on Washington on Friday, delivering a fiery speech in which he demanded more legislative action to address police brutality and racial inequality in the country.

"Enough is enough," Sharpton told a large crowd of demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, the same spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech 57 years ago to the day.

"We didn't just come today to have a show. Demonstration without legislation would not lead to change," he said. "We come to let you know, if we will come out in these numbers in the heat, and stand in the heat, that we will stand in the polls all day long."


"They keep telling me about how it's insane that Black parents have to have the conversation with our children, how we have to explain, 'If a cop stops you, don't reach for the glove compartment, don't talk back,'" he said. "We've had 'the conservation' for decades. It's time we have a conservation with America. We need to have a conservation about your racism, about your bigotry, about your hate."

Sharpton announced the event on the National Mall earlier this summer when he eulogized George Floyd, a Black man who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The civil rights activist and Baptist minister used his speech Friday overlooking the National Mall to call for Senate Republicans to take up a sweeping police reform bill that passed the House in June largely along party lines.


"We have passed in the House of Representatives the George Floyd Policing and Justice Act. Now we need to pass that act in the Senate. We need [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now MORE and the U.S. Senate to meet on the George Floyd Policing and Justice Act, or we're going to meet [them] at the polls on Nov. 3," Sharpton said.

The bill, which the Democratic-led House passed on June 25, proposes broad efforts to stop racial profiling and police brutality, including by prohibiting police chokeholds. The bill would also create a national registry of police misconduct and would make it easier for police officers to be prosecuted and sued in cases of alleged misconduct and abuse.

Republicans have declined to take up the measure and have advocated their own police reform bill, which they also unveiled in June.

Floyd's death earlier this summer re-galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement, with many demonstrators gathering in cities across the country to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

"We didn't come to start trouble, we came to stop trouble," Sharpton said Friday. "You act like it's no trouble to shoot us in the back. You act like it's no trouble to put a chokehold on us, while we scream 'I can't breath.' You act like it's no trouble to hold a man on the ground, until you squeeze the life out of him."

Friday's event comes after several days of protests this week in Kenosha, Wis., that have at times turned violent following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man.

Graphic cellphone footage showed Blake walking away from a pair of police officers toward his vehicle. As he attempted to get in his car — where his three children were — an unidentified officer could be seen pulling Blake back by his shirt before firing off several rounds into his back.

It has been a grim summer in the U.S. between the coronavirus pandemic and boiling racial tensions.

In June, a white Atlanta police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, in a Wendy’s parking lot, further fanning flames of unrest and anger that had been reignited by the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black women shot to death in her own Louisville, Ky., home.

Looting, violence and property damage have been fitful by-products of protests that have escalated around the country.

The Trump administration has taken an aggressive stance towards demonstrators in general. At the peak of the Floyd protests, President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE, who has sought to claim the mantle of a "law and order" president, controversially deployed federal troops to Washington, D.C., and threatened to send more to additional American cities if local governments couldn’t control demonstrations.

At one point, Trump made use of the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” rhetoric that can be traced to the wrong side of the Civil Rights movement.


“All of the families have denounced looting, what we haven’t heard is you denounce shooting,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton didn’t hold back on Trump, comparing him to Bull Connor, a former Birmingham, Ala., city official who vigorously fought against civil rights.

“We’ve gone from a mean-spirited sheriff to a mean-spirited president,” he said. “How do you speak while this young man Jacob lies in a hospital and you won’t call his name?”

Trump on Thursday night officially accepted his nomination for reelection during the last night of the Republican National Convention. Other than prayers, Blake and the unrest in Kenosha was largely omitted from the four-day event.

Blake’s father said on CNN’s “New Day” Friday that while he had spoken to former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Biden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren To unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE (D-Calif.) — the Democratic presidential ticket — he had yet to receive a call from the president. Julia Jackson, Blake’s mother, told the network earlier in the week that she “missed a call” from the Trump. 

Family members of Blake, Floyd, Taylor and more were all present, making appearances at the end of Sharpton’s speech.


Several Democratic lawmakers gave remarks including, including Reps. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPressley says image of Black custodial staff cleaning up Capitol after Jan. 6 riot 'haunts' her DeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes DeJoy set for grilling by House Oversight panel MORE (Mass.), Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head Harris holds first meeting in ceremonial office with CBC members On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (Ohio), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralLawmakers remember actress Cicely Tyson Over 40 lawmakers sign letter urging Merrick Garland to prioritize abolishing death penalty The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (N.Y.), Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip Obama says reparations 'justified' MORE (Texas) and Harris, who addressed the crowd through a video.

President Obama on Friday called for “peaceful, sustained” demonstrations for racial justice amid protests in Kenosha, while also urging "overwhelming participation at the ballot box" in November.

—Updated at 3:47 p.m.