Your feelings about Al Sharpton aside, the once-scandal-plagued reverend has stood as a community pillar in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Staten Island. “I always knew under those 300 pounds and tracksuits was a refined, slim, dignified man,” Sharpton says of himself in today’s New York Times. “I can call a march and thousands come out, and I happen to have access to the White House at the same time,” he continues. “This is a very unique time. Let’s see where it goes.”
Today, it went to a packed church in St. Louis, where Sharpton delivered a powerful eulogy for 18-year-old Michael Brown. It was at once fiery and respectful, not shying from challenges to both racial injustice and to his audience. “We sit like we have no requirements,” he boomed. “Like it’s somebody else. But all of us are required to respond to this. And all of us must solve this.”
“This is not about you! This is about justice! This is about fairness!” Sharpton intoned to cries and cheers.
“How do we look?” he asked. “America. How do you think we look?” Personal feelings aside, his speech is worth watching in full:
Here’s a transcript, in progress:
To the Brown family, to all of the ministers, to all of the officials that have gathered, I want to go to the book of Micah, sixth chapter, eighth verse. “He has shown you, o men, what is good. What does the lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” There has been a lot said in the last few days. This afternoon, Leslie and Michael Sr. will have to do something that is out of order. They will have to lay their son to rest. Order says that children bury their parents. It is out of order for children to be buried by their parents.
We should not sit here today and act like we are watching something that is in order. In all of our religious and spiritual celebration, let us not lose sight of the fact that this young man should be doing his second week in college.
Religion ought to affirm what we are doing, not being an escapism from what is done. And some of us are so heavenly bound that we’re no earthly good. Before you get to heaven, before you put on your robes, before you walk down the street, you’ve got to deal with the streets in Ferguson, in St. Louis. God is not going to judge you by your behavior in heaven. He’s going to judge you by what you do on earth. He will not judge you by what Moses did at the Red Sea. He will not judge you by what Joshua did at the Jordan. He will say what Michael Brown, 18-year-old boy, laid out in the street, hour and a half before the detective came. Another hour or so before they came to remove his body. Family couldn’t come to the ropes. Dogs sniffing’ through. What did you do? What did I require of you?
We sit like we have no requirements. Like it’s somebody else. But all of us are required to respond to this. And all of us must solve this.
I watched as it went back and forward. I got a call from the grandfather, Reverend Tomb. Called me and said there’s a man, Mr. McSpadden on the phone. Said his grandson was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. I said, ‘Where is Ferguson, Missouri?’ He says, Right outside of St. Louis. He said, ‘You have your iPad with you? ‘He told me what to punch in. And when I saw Michael lying there, I thought about how many of us were just considered nothing. How we were just so marginalized and ignored. Whatever the circumstance an investigation leads to, to have that boy lying there, like nobody cared about him. Like he didn’t have any loved ones, like his life value didn’t matter… I told his grandfather, I don’t care what happened, but whatever we can do I’ll be there to do it.
That night, violence started. We were here Tuesday. And we went in front of that old courthouse with big Mike and the mother, and they had to break their mourning to ask folks to stop looting and rioting. Can you imagine their heartbroken? Their son taken, discarded and marginalized? And they have to stop mourning to get you to control your anger, like you’re more angry than they are? Like you don’t understand that Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot. He wants to be remembered as the one that made American deal with how we gonna police in the United States.
This is not about you! This is about justice! This is about fairness! And America is going to have to come to terms when there’s something wrong that we have money to give military equipment to police forces, but we don’t have money for training, and money for public education, and money to train our children!
America. How do you think we look when the world can see you can’t come up with a police report, but you can find a video? How do you think we look when young people march nonviolently asking for the land of the free and the home of the brave to hear their cry, and you put snipers on the roof and pointed guns on them? How do we look?
How do we look when people that support the officer - and they have a right to do, and an obligation if they feel that - but if they support him, they’re “supporters,” but if we come to support the family, we’re dividing the country?
What does God require of us? In three weeks, we saw Marlene Pinnock, a woman in Los Angeles, laid out on the freeway, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a California highway patrolman hit her 15 times on video, with no weapon in her hand, nothing, no threat to her. Right after that, a man, they said he had loosie cigarettes, and they put an illegal chokehold on him – a man videoed it, eleven times he said he couldn’t breathe - and the policeman wouldn’t let him go. Later that week, we see Michael lying on the ground. America, it’s time to deal with policing! We are not the haters, we’re the healers!
What does it require of us? We can’t have a fit; we’ve got to have a movement. A fit you get mad and run out for a couple of nights. A movement means we’ve got to be here for the long haul, and turn our chants into change, our demonstration into legislation, we have got to stay on this so we can stop this. We need the Congress to have legislation about guidelines in policing. We need to have a fair, impartial investigation. Those that are compromised will not be believed. And we need those that are bad cops - we are not anti-police, we respect police - but those police that are wrong need to be dealt with, just like those in our community are wrong need to be dealt with.
Let us be real clear: The only thing, if you have a bushel of apples, the only thing that messes up good apples is if you don’t take the rotten apples out the bushel. We are not the ones making the cops look bad; it’s the bad apples that you won’t take out the bushel.
What does God require? We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too. We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have to be outraged by our disrespect for each other. Our disregard for each other. Our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other. So that they are justifying trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go. Blackness has never been about being a gangster or thug. Blackness was no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.
Blackness was never surrendering our pursuit of excellence. It was when it was against the law to go to some schools, we built black colleges and learned anyhow. When we couldn’t go downtown to church we built our own AME church, and our church of God and Christ. We never surrendered, we never gave up, and now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we got some positions of power. And you decide it ain’t black no more to be successful. Now you wanna be a nigga and call your woman a ho, you lost where you come from.
We’ve got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America! Rev. Al, you don’t understand what they doin’ to us. I understand. But I understand that nobody gonna help us if we don’t help ourselves. Sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves won’t solve our problems. Sitting around having ghetto pity parties rather than organizing and strategizing and putting our differences aside. Yes, we got young and old. Yes, we got things that we don’t like about each other, but it’s bigger than our egos. It’s bigger than everybody. We need everybody because I’m gonna tell you, I don’t care how much money you got, I don’t care what position you hold. I don’t care how much education you got. If we can’t protect a child walking down the street in Ferguson, and protect him, and bring justice, all you got don’t matter to nobody but you!
We are required to leave here today and change things. Michael Brown must be remembered for more than disturbances. He must be remembered for this is when they started changing what was going on. Oh yeah, there had been other times history that became seminal moments. And this is one of those moments. And this young man, for whatever reason, has appealed to all of us, that we’ve got to solve this. And not continue this. This man, this woman, their spouses, their family, are going to go through some real trials and tribulations. They’re going to call them all kinds of names but their target is all of us. If we cannot focus and do what the lord requires of us, we’ll be right back here again.
Let me say this in closing. The policies of this country cannot go unchallenged. We cannot have aggressive policing of low-level crimes and can’t deal with the higher level. Something strange that you can get all these guns into the hood, but you run around chasing folks selling loosie cigarettes and walking around in the middle of the street. There’s something crazy about that kind of policing.
Policeman are human, yes they are. But they also have a different kind of commitment because once you put on that state badge and that gun that is state backed-up, you cannot react like another citizen. You’re supposed to be trained above that, and we should expect that in our community like they get it in any other community. No community in America would tolerate an 18-year-old boy laying in the street four and a half hours and we not going to tolerate it either. Whatever happened, the value of this boy’s life must be answered by somebody.
I want to say to the family, you got some difficult days. Won’t be long before the crowds’ll be gone. These cameras will go on to another story. But I want you to know that there is a God. A God that I’m told Michael believed in. And he requires of you to believe in him. And if you trust him, he’ll give you strength that you didn’t know you had. There’s a god that sits high, and he ain’t looking at no good bishops and pontiffs up here. God loves those that love mercy and do justice and walk humbly before him. God will make a way. God will guide your feet. How do I know? Because he’s done it for me.
The challenge from here is that you must be committed, that for whatever reason God chose you, and chose Michael. Michael’s gone on to get his rest now. We’re required in his name to change the country.
I sat and thought about this, Bishop Jakes, and thought about where and what was the meaning of all of this. As I was sitting in the room in St. Louis last week, I was trying to figure out what made sense, attorney Crump. There was violence; there were peace rallies; some of the preachers were mad other preachers were in town; all this backstabbing and backbiting. More folk worried about getting on the program than developing a program. But I remembered an old preacher, told me a story that tied it together for me. He said, Al, ‘I was reading a novel one night. The more I read the more I couldn’t put it down.’ He said, ‘It was time for me to go to bed, but I couldn’t, because I had to deal with the plot of the story and I couldn’t figure the plot out.’ He said, ‘I looked at the clock, and it was 12 midnight and I wanted to put it down, but I couldn’t figure out the plot. He said, ‘So, Al, I cheated. I turned to the end of the book and I saw how the story ended, and that’s how I got my rest.’
I want you to know Michael Sr., I want you to know, Leslie, I cheated. I sat up in the hotel and I took out my Bible,a nd I turned to the end of the book. I don’t know how long the investigation will be. I don’t know how long the journey’s going ot be. But I know how this story gonna end. The first will be last. The last will be first. The lion and lamb gonna lay down together. And God will! God will! God will make a way for his children! I been to the end of the Book. Justice is gonna come! Justice is gonna come! Justice gon’ come!