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 McConnellAs Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year 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 John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation 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 BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Biden can rebuild trust in our justice system by prioritizing prosecutorial reform Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence 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 PressleyGOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' Pelosi faces caucus divisions in Biden era Record number of Black women elected to Congress in 2020 MORE (Mass.), Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyTrump's controversial diversity order expected to see swift reversal under Biden Companies start responding to pressure to bolster minority representation Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry MORE (Ohio), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralLawmakers call for small business aid at all levels of government The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy On the Money: Administration to ban TikTok, WeChat | House moves toward bill to avoid government shutdown | Coronavirus relief bills boosted GDP, CBO says MORE (N.Y.), Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeePocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death Hillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime 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.