The man cannot spell the word “respect” — but the Reverend Al Sharpton knows how to leverage it and demand long-due deference in the United Kingdom. He was in the country on a two-day junket to discuss how America’s prolific police brutality issues might cross the pond and inflict the same sorrowful outcomes. The main focus was on systemic racism. And Sharpton warned that without a radical overhaul of the law enforcement climate, there were bound to be more black deaths at the hands of law enforcement.
He made the rounds with national media to denounce the press coverage of Meghan Markle, delivered the keynote at Homerton College in Cambridge, led a roundtable discussion, and attended a private movie screening. Friends in the UK rolled out the red carpet.
Sharpton was on a high coming from a high-profile delivery of Tyre Nichols’ eulogy at the politically charged gathering for the young man who died from the vicious acts of five black Memphis policemen. Reverend Al was righteous in condemning the officers involved as a “disgrace to their race” but went a bit off course by adding: “You know you couldn’t get away with doing that in Tennessee to a white guy. You’ll find out you ain’t getting away with it doing it to a black guy.”
But, hey, a pulpit is a pulpit. And with a new movie out, Loudmouth, chronicling Sharpton’s life of fighting for civil rights, the spotlight was just what he needed.
Sharpton Has Been There Before
An invitation was extended to Sharpton by the UK’s declared non-partisan organization, Operation Black Vote, and Lord Simon Woolley. The group has been around since 1996 and is funded mainly through two charitable entities. The first is the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust: a “Quaker trust which supports people who address the root causes of conflict and injustice.” The other notable donor is the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Both organizations tout a mission to make peace and equality the driving principle behind philanthropic gifts.
Operation Black Vote checks the boxes. Its primary focus is to educate all manner of black people in the ways of politics, democracy, and voter registration. But the demand for Sharpton was two-fold: to stimulate a frank dialogue on racially motivated police brutality and electoral rights in the UK.
Woolley noted, “The Rev. Al Sharpton is coming to the UK at a critical time when simply acknowledging systemic race inequality is proving difficult.”
Sharpton was in London 30 years ago, crusading against color-motivated injustice after 15-year-old Rolan Adams was attacked and murdered: “He and his younger brother were waiting at a bus stop when they were chased by a gang of white teenagers, many yelling racial epithets. Adams was stabbed in the neck with a butterfly knife and died.”
Sharpton Points to Parallels
Two recent incidents in the UK have the veteran civil rights leader drawing parallels to current events in the United States: Chris Kaba, who was shot in the head in Streatham, south London, after a car pursuit in September, and Oladeji Omishore, who was hit with a Taser on Chelsea Bridge and fell into the River Thames. In addition, the UN working group on people of color released a damning report expressing “very extreme concern” about “structural, institutional and systemic racism” against black people in Britain.
The group continued in the statement to demand immediate action:
“We have serious concerns about impunity and the failure to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, deaths in police custody, ‘joint enterprise’ convictions, and the dehumanising nature of the stop and (strip) search.”
Sharpton picked up on the report and told reporters: “I have seen race hate in the US and UK, and the message is the same: no one is free until we are all free.”
Perhaps the Reverend delivered the most important message to the students at Homerton College. He explained that education, without purpose and character, is just ignorance. He paraphrased Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., adding a bit of Sharpton flair: “You can’t have education without character. It’s like when you put on cologne without bathing. It just make you stink worse.” He continued until he hit the nail on the head: “Without character, you become self-impressed. But balanced with education gives you the power to go and do something that learning people do.”
Amen to that, Reverend. And, oh yeah, it’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T. There’s no “I.”
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