In his eulogy for George Floyd at a memorial service in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Thursday, civil rights activist Al Sharpton declared that now is the right time for the United States to reform its criminal justice system and promised to march on Washington come August to get it.
“There is a time and season,” the 65-year-old Baptist minister said, referencing Ecclesiastes 3:1. The Old Testament verse reads: “To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Recalling his history of activism over several decades and comparing it to protests that have been sparked globally by Floyd’s death, Sharpton said he felt hopeful because he believes the cry for justice today has been different.
“When I looked this time and saw marches where, in some cases, young whites outnumbered the blacks marching, I know that it’s a different time and a different season,” Sharpton said to a crowd of mask-wearing members of Floyd’s family, politicians, friends and well-wishers at The Lindquist Sanctuary of the Trask Word & Worship Center at North Central University.
“When I looked and saw people in Germany marching for George Floyd, it’s a different time and a different season. When they went in front of the Parliament in London, England and said it’s a different time and a different season, I’ve come to tell you, America, this is the time of dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system.”
“I’ve come to tell you that [they’re] sitting in Washington talking about militarizing the country thinking that you can sell Wolf tickets to people who’s had enough of abuse,” he added.
“I come to tell you that you can get on the TV but you on the wrong time. Time is out for not holding you accountable. Time is out for you making excuses. Time is out for you trying to stall. Time is out for empty words and empty promises. Time is out for you filibustering and trying to stall the arm of justice. This is the time. We won’t stop. We’re going to keep going until we change the whole system of justice.”
Derek Chauvin, 44, a former Minneapolis police officer who was previously charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, had his charge upgraded to second-degree murder on Wednesday.
In an approximately 10-minute video, a handcuffed Floyd is shown lying face down begging for his life and crying for his mother while Chauvin kneels into his neck.
Chauvin kneels into Floyd’s neck until he begins to bleed from his nose and becomes unresponsive. Even after Floyd becomes motionless on the ground, Chauvin is shown pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for several more minutes as bystanders begged him to have mercy.
Sharpton used the imagery of Chauvin kneeling into Floyd’s neck as he died to drive home the experience of America’s racial inequality.
“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks. Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dream to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” he said.
“We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. What happens to Floyd happens every day in this country in education, in health services and in every area of American life. It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks.”
Sharpton also announced that he is working with major civil rights organizations and faith leaders to protest in Washington, D.C. on August 28. The day marks the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963.
Over 200,000 demonstrators participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. The march pressured the Kennedy administration to initiate a federal civil rights bill in Congress that would become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The March on Washington is where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“That’s where your father stood in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial and said ‘I have a dream,’” Sharpton said, acknowledging the presence of Martin Luther King Jr. III in the audience.
“We going back this August 28th to restore and recommit that dream, to stand up. Because just like at one era, we had to fight slavery. [In] another era, we had to fight Jim Crow. [In] another era, we dealt with voting rights. This is the era to deal with policing and criminal justice.”
Sharpton declared that people of all races “need to go back to Washington and stand up ... in the shadows of Lincoln and tell them this is the time to stop this.”
Sharpton noted that leading the charge will be families like Floyd’s and Eric Garner’s who have been directly impacted by police brutality. Garner died in 2014 after being put in a chokehold by a New York City police officer.
“It’s going to be getting us ready to vote, not just for who is going to be in the White House, but the State House and the city councils that allow these policing measures to go unquestioned,” Sharpton said. “We are going to change the time."