Al Sharpton Calls for National Policing Legislation After South Carolina Killing of Unarmed Black Man

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at the opening of the annual convention of his civil rights group, the National Action Network. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at the opening of the annual convention of his civil rights group, the National Action Network. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Rev. Al Sharpton called for national policing legislation akin to the Civil Rights Act this morning at the kickoff his National Action Network’s annual convention, just 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.”

Mr. Sharpton’s comments, coming on the heels of multiple instances of police killings of unarmed men of color around the country, were met with applause from the crowd—and from the dais, which was packed with elected officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Congressman Charles Rangel, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli

The convention kickoff, which featured a ribbon cutting with the lawmakers, came just hours after it was announced last night that North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael T. Slager would be charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott—who can be seen in a widely publicized video running away from Mr. Slager, while the officer shoots into the man’s back repeatedly. The video offers a markedly different story than the one Mr. Slager first offered up: that Scott had stolen his taser and left him in fear for his life.

Mr. Sharpton praised the city’s mayor and police chief for bringing the charges, but said the nation couldn’t rely on the judgement of local officials.

“We commend them, but we cannot have a justice system that hopes we have a mayor in the right city or a police chief,” he said. “We have to have one policy that is national.”

Mr. Sharpton later noted that the comparatively small town’s officials had been braver than police leaders in bigger cities. He has been vocal about his belief that New York City police Daniel Pantaleo should have been charged with a crime in the death of an unarmed black Staten Island man, Eric Garner. A grand jury declined to indict Mr. Pantaleo, spurring protests throughout the city.

That death, too, was captured in a widely published video. And though the footage did not lead to any charges, Mr. Sharpton said today the national legislation should focus on “cameras” as well as “accountability.”

He compared the fight for police reform to the civil rights struggle, noting that activists did not try to fix discrimination in individual states or cities.

“They fought for a national Civil Rights Act, a national Voting Rights Act. It’s time for this country to have national policing,” Mr. Sharpton said.

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SOURCE: New York Observer‎
Jillian Jorgensen