In the wake of the police killing of an unarmed Black man in North Charleston, S.C., the National Action Network’s annual conference kicked off Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, where the Rev. Al Sharpton was joined by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the Rev. Dr. W. Franklin Richardson, NAN board members and other special invited guests.
Sharpton opened with a few words on the “senseless” acts in South Carolina. He applauded North Charleston’s swift actions regarding the case but also called for national legislation against unchecked police brutality. The call for action includes the need for increased placement of body and dashboard cameras. Sharpton noted, “We simply can’t rely on citizens with video cameras to make sure justice is served.”
Sharpton also touched upon the need for civil rights for people of all races, genders and sexual orientations. “You cannot have civil rights for anybody without having civil rights for everybody,” the reverend poignantly stated. “You cannot condone discrimination against anybody without condoning it for everybody.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sander of Vermont opened up the politics panel, which featured Michael Steele, former Republican lieutenant governor of Maryland, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and others.
Iyanla Vanzant, host of the TV program “Iyanla: Fix My Life”, moderated the panel on police brutality in which victims held a powerful discussion on their experiences. The parents of Sean Bell, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, as well as the wife of Eric Garner, spoke about their lives since the loss of their loved ones to police brutality.
Vanzant asked the panelists to talk about themselves, soliciting such details as favorite colors, favorite cooking utensils and favorite travel destinations. The point of this exercise was to show the panelists that they were more than just the pain brought on by the loss of someone they loved dearly and to focus on healing.
When asked how attendees of the convention could help with the grieving process, Esaw Snipes, widow of Eric Garner, simply answered, “Just keep doing what you are doing.” The panelist unanimously agreed that the simple act of good thoughts and prayers has meant and continues to mean the world to them. Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, stated that what she needs is for everyone to “continue to fight” because “we are in a war out here.”
Although huge issues like the one at hand cannot be solved within the confines of an hour and a half panel, both panelists and audience members were encouraged to feel that they could walk away from the event with steps in the right direction—toward progress.