I write this piece after preaching at the New Testament Church of God in the Brixton section of London, England. Over the last two days, I had meetings, rallies and exchanges with people all over London who were interested in our fight for social justice in Staten Island, Ferguson, Cleveland and elsewhere. But they were just as interested in telling me how they face similar problems here in England. Equal protection under the law and law enforcement accountability are challenges that plague both of our nations. One fight; two continents. While both societies have made tremendous advancements, we must tackle these modern-day civil rights obstacles if we are to continue progressing forward. Whether it is England or the United States, or anywhere else for that matter, we must win the global fight for criminal justice reform.
It was 1991 when I first came to London as an activist to lead a march protesting the killing of Rolan Adams, attacked by a gang who shouted the “N word” as they stabbed him in the throat. This time I returned at the request of the Oxford Union at Oxford University (where I opted to speak at a Q&A with students along with other speakers rather than deal with pundits at a debate). Because young people are often the victims of police brutality, I wanted to get a sense as to what these students felt was going on and their reactions to it. With at least 197 unresolved deaths of civilians while in police custody (an overwhelming majority of which are Black), London and its residents have much work ahead of them in order to see justice prevail. Unfortunately, we do not hear about most of these cases because there is no movement to underscore them.
My message to these students and others at various gatherings was simple: you must raise attention that will lead to judicial and legislative change. When you hear people say ‘oh, Al Sharpton likes publicity’, well that’s exactly what I like—publicity that gives a spotlight to issues because reform only comes if an injustice is highlighted. No one comes to me to keep a grievance a secret; they come to me for publicity (I only engage in battles when asked by victim’s families). Too often, those in power would like to sweep things under the rug hoping that people will forget about a grave miscarriage of justice and move on. It is our job to make sure that does not happen.
In the movie “Selma” Dr. Martin Luther King discusses the idea that you must dramatize issues in order to create a climate of change. I tried to pass that lesson on to the people in England.
In December, my organization, National Action Network and I led hundreds of thousands in a ‘Justice for All’ march in Washington, D.C. calling for legislation establishing a judicial threshold in police-citizen incidents and a division within the Justice Department to deal with police-involved deaths. We must remain focused on these goals. We must not waiver or get weary in our efforts, but continue to protest until we can change the law that determines threshold, and guarantees police are respected and honored – but not above the law. They must be subject to the law they are sworn to uphold.
As we unite hand-in-hand across the Atlantic, let us come together knowing that what we do is not based on hate, but based on love for our respective nations and citizens. When I first came to London 24 years ago for a march, I heard of another case, the brutalizing racially-charged murder of Stephen Lawrence. On this trip back, I met his mother as I spoke at Parliament. She is now a member of the House of Lords.
This brave, strong and steadfast woman turned her pain into power, and her power into legislative change. If we faint not, we will prevail. And if we continue raising awareness, pushing for judicial reform and uniting around our common goals, the global fight in criminal justice can and will be won.
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