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."

ADVERTISEMENT

"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.

ADVERTISEMENT

"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 McConnellGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines 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 TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 Republican calls second bout of COVID-19 'far more challenging' Conflicting school mask guidance sparks confusion Biden: Pathway to citizenship in reconciliation package 'remains to be seen' MORE and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law 'CON laws' limit the health care competition Biden aims to deliver 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Several Democratic lawmakers gave remarks including, including Reps. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOmar reflects on personal experiences with hate in making case for new envoy Overnight Health Care: Fauci clashes with Paul - again | New York reaches .1B settlement with opioid distributors | Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of US COVID-19 cases Duckworth, Pressley introduce bill to provide paid family leave for those who experience miscarriage MORE (Mass.), Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson Beatty Rep. Hank Johnson among demonstrators arrested at voting rights protest CBC honors Black women advocates amid voting rights battle Republicans hammer HUD chief over sluggish rental aid MORE (Ohio), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralNYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency The Memo: Harris, Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic divide on immigration House Democrats introduce bill to close existing gun loopholes and prevent mass shootings MORE (N.Y.), Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeBiden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund The faith community can help pass a reparations bill Hillicon Valley: Russian hacking group believed to be behind Kaseya attack goes offline | DHS funding package pours millions into migrant surveillance | Jen Easterly sworn in as director of DHS cyber agency 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.