The “Rev.” Al Sharpton opened this year’s National Action Network annual convention with a speech calling for “national policing legislation” similar to the Civil Rights Act after the arrest of a white South Carolina police officer for murder in the shooting of an unarmed black man.
“There must be national policy and national law on policing,” Mr. Sharpton said. “We can’t go from state to state, we’ve got to have national law to protect people against these continued questions.”
Sharpton’s comments were warmly received by the crowd and those on the dais including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Congressman Charles Rangel, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The opening of the convention coincided with an announcement last night that North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael T. Slager has been charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott – a killing caught on video showing Scott running away from the officer as Slager pumped eight shots into Scott’s back killing him instantly.
Prior to the revelation of the murder caught on video, Officer Slager said that he shot the youth because Scott had stolen his Taser and that he feared for his life.
Sharpton praised the city’s mayor and police chief for bringing the charges but upped the ante by saying that the time had come for the nation to move beyond the judgement of state and local law enforcement and turn over policing to a national force – a concept more at home in totalitarian states like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia not the United States. Sharpton said:
“We commend them, but we cannot have a justice system that hopes we have a mayor in the right city or a police chief,”…“We have to have one policy that is national.”
Readers will recall that Sharpton was outspoken in his protest in the police shooting death of Eric Garner of Staten Island, NY saying that New York City police Daniel Pantaleo should have been charged with a crime in the death. A grand jury declined to indict Mr. Pantaleo.
Like Scott’s death, Garner’s death was caught on video that was widely distributed and used by Sharpton to incite crowds a protests held in response to the Garner “choke hold” death as he resisted arrest in a black market cigarette sales scheme. Sharpton said the national legislation he had in mind would focus on “cameras” and “accountability.”
Unable to help himself and longing for the romantic glory years of the civil rights movement in the age of Jim Crow, Sharpton compared the reformation of police relations with “people of color” to the civil rights movement saying state and local solutions to discrimination and bigotry did not work. Sharpton exclaimed:
“They (civil rights protesters) fought for a national civil rights act, a national voting rights act. It’s time for this country to have national policing.”
Following Sharpton’s speech, Mayor de Blasio, whose first year in office was consumed by the job of reforming police practices in the aftermath of Garner’s death, said a set of national policing standards should be enacted. Talking to reporters, de Blasio said:
“It’s a broad point he (Sharpton) is making, and I think the way he made the analogy to the Voting Rights Act is the right one. We’ve got to figure out how to create the right relationship between police and community…”
“The vast majority of police do their job well and want to work more closely with the community. Obviously, community residents want to work more closely with the police. But we have to create more of a national standard that says we all have to be on the same page.”