Rev. Al Sharpton and a group of civil rights leaders announced Thursday that they are organizing a march on Washington to call for the federal government to intervene in prosecutions of police officers facing criminal charges.
“We’ll be in Washington, demanding redress,” Sharpton said, speaking at the headquarters of the National Action Network in Harlem. He was joined by representatives of the NAACP, the National Urban League and 14 other groups.
Sharpton compared the march to previous marches on Washington in 1964 and 1965 that led to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Next week’s march, he said, will advocate for a new policy that would strip local and state prosecutors of the ability to prosecute police.
The march is part of a “series of efforts that will lead to how we redo the grand jury review of policing in this country,” Sharpton said.
One idea Sharpton suggested was to have the Department of Justice create an office specifically for prosecuting police. He pointed to previous cases in which the DOJ convicted police officers on civil rights charges. The NYPD officer who brutalized and sodomized Abner Louima 17 years ago, Sharpton said, is “eating lunch in a federal prison right about now.”
He said local and state prosecutors are “conflicted” when they have to prosecute police because they often work so closely with police. The federal government, he said, has a “higher conviction rate of police.”
Sharpton’s announcement comes one day after a grand jury in Staten Island declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner in July. Pantaleo put Garner into a chokehold during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes. The arrest was caught in a viral video that shows Garner screaming ‘I can’t breathe!’ numerous times until his body goes limp.
“I can’t breathe!” became a rallying cry at large protests Wednesday night in New York City and across the country.