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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

We Need More Than Just a Conversation on Race; We Need Legislative Action

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This past Saturday, we witnessed a historic moment across this country. In 100 cities from coast-to-coast, people rallied against 'Stand Your Ground' laws and called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether the unarmed teenager's civil rights were violated. With only days to organize, the National Action Network (NAN) spearheaded these demonstrations that proved how people were engaged, visibly frustrated by injustice and most importantly, knew that nothing would change going forward without a demand for substantive action. Discussions about race are good, we need that as well, but unless those conversations are leading to legislative change, they aren't doing much for us as a nation. Many thought organizing a 100-city vigil in four days was unthinkable; many simply didn't believe we could do it. But we did. It was grassroots mobilization that brought tens of thousands out on a Saturday where the weather ranged from pouring rain to sweltering heat in different cities. We watched men, women, children, Black, White, Brown, the elderly, the young and folks from all socio-economic backgrounds join together to rally on the side of truth, fairness and justice. We witnessed celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay-Z lend their support in places like New York. And we saw peaceful protesters in these cities energized to take the battle for equality to the next level. Now we just need the law to catch up.

There are those that try to pull the wool over people's eyes. They try to twist and alter facts so that we may not get a clear picture of reality. That may work sometimes. But sooner or later, the truth shall prevail. And sooner rather than later, the people will demand change. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed 17-year-old. Trayvon Martin committed no crime. Trayvon Martin went to store to buy Skittles and an iced tea. Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a civilian who had no authority to stop him. Trayvon Martin's killer wasn't arrested for weeks until after the horrible incident. Those are facts. And facts cannot be denied no matter how they may be twisted or spun.

In another case in the state of Florida, an African-American mother by the name of Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband. She was denied the ability to use 'Stand Your Ground' in her defense and is currently serving a 20-year sentence. How is that justice? The man who killed Trayvon, George Zimmerman, gets to return to his old life; meanwhile, this mother of three who was protecting herself and her children is rotting in a prison cell. That sort of blatant injustice cannot be hidden. People will see through the hypocrisy and they will accept nothing less than our laws becoming modified so as to protect all of us equally. We cannot live in a society that continues to give preferential treatment to some, while castigating and punishing others. That is not progress; that is where our work remains.

Whenever I speak about the fight for civil rights today, some try to attack me and say this isn't the 1960s. Well on August 24th, NAN and Martin Luther King III will actually be conducting a massive demonstration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'March on Washington'. As we pay homage to his vision, some try to argue that there's no need to rally anymore. To compare today's challenges to those of the '60s is just as disingenuous as comparing the '60s to the days of slavery. Even though sitting at the back of the bus was better than being a slave, it did not mean that segregation should be accepted. Sure, times are much better now overall because so many of us fought tirelessly to make it that way, but that does not mean that we have arrived at a fully equal and fair society. Women today earn more than their grandmothers did, but that doesn't solve the problem of gender income disparity. Every generation makes progress, but every generation must continue the journey. Our next step is making sure we all receive equal protection under the law.

In the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict, we've seen a lot of talk. A discussion on the state of race in America is of course needed, but to reduce the worth of our lives into highbrow intellectual discourse is in itself profiling. When young men of color in places like New York City are disproportionately stopped and frisked by the police, we need more than just talk. When a mother of three fires a warning shot to scare off an abusive husband (whom she had a protective order against) gets 20 years in prison, we need more than just talk. When our prisons and courtrooms are overwhelmingly filled with minorities, we need more than just talk. And when a young boy like Trayvon Martin can be shot to death while simply heading home from the store, the time for talk is over. Now's the time for legislative action.