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Rev. Al Sharpton Reflects After Delivering Andrew Brown Jr.'s Eulogy

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This afternoon the family and friends of Andrew Brown Jr. gathered for his funeral in Elizabeth City, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) When I'm weak, you are my strength.

CHANG: Brown, a Black man who was 42 years old, was shot and killed by Pasquotank County sheriff's deputies in April. His family asked Reverend Al Sharpton to deliver the eulogy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL SHARPTON: We are going to celebrate him, but we are not going to excuse the fact that we shouldn't have to be here to do this. So don't confuse the celebration with the determination to get justice in this matter.

CHANG: Reverend Al Sharpton joins us now from Elizabeth City.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

CHANG: So I understand that you spoke with Andrew Brown Jr.'s son before heading to Elizabeth City. Did he or his family share anything with you about him, who he was or about their thoughts on his service today?

SHARPTON: Well, they said that he was a loving family man - both his oldest sons. And he had young siblings that had problems with the mom but that they knew him as a loving man, and he was a kind guy in the community. He had had trouble with the law, but he was not ever a violent man. And they felt that he did not deserve to be shot. According to the independent autopsy, they shot him. And the fatal shot, according to this autopsy, was in the back of the head. What we've said - the family and National Action Network and others that are supporting them - is release the videotapes so we can see exactly what happened.

CHANG: Right. Now, during your eulogy, you said the way that these recordings have been handled in this case reminded you of a shell game, and you called for their release. What more do you plan to do to keep pressure on local authorities to release all of these recordings?

SHARPTON: We're going to keep pressing it with our daily protests, but we're also going to be appealing to the Justice Department to intervene. There's no reason to withhold the tapes from the public if there's nothing to hide. For a judge to say, I'll release it in 30 to 45 days because I don't want a potential grand jury to be biased - if a grand jury is convened, they're going to see the tape anyway. So what is going to be the difference between the tape they see today or a tape they see 45 days from now?

CHANG: Have you personally reached out to county authorities? And if so, I'm curious. How have they responded to you?

SHARPTON: The attorneys - Ben Crump and Sellers, attorney Sellers - have gone and met with them. And they've only allowed 20 seconds of the tape to be shown to the family, which is outrageous. The purpose of having body cams is so you have transparency. Delayed transparency is not transparency at all.

CHANG: Let me ask you - you know, family members of other Black people who have been killed by police were at your side today, including two of George Floyd's siblings, Eric Garner's mother. What message were you hoping to send with all of these people gathered with you today?

SHARPTON: I wanted to send a message that this is a problem that we have not dealt with in this country in terms of legislation and in terms of dealing with policing and that even after a landmark case of Derek Chauvin being convicted of murder three, murder two and manslaughter, we saw this case happen after that conviction. We see the situation right 10 miles from the courthouse where we were with George Floyd in Brooklyn Center, Mass. - I'm sorry; Minnesota.

So clearly we are seeing the need to have this country deal with policing on a legislative matter. That's why we're pushing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act because if we can see a continuation of cases - which is why we had, as you said, the family of George Floyd, two of his siblings. We had Eric Garner's mother. But we also had Daunte Wright's family here. There's a systemic problem, and we need to correct it by the system having laws that will put accountability and transparency in place by law.

CHANG: You mentioned the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. President Biden has called for Congress to pass it this month, but this bill has stalled in the Senate. How optimistic are you that this bill will actually become law any time soon?

SHARPTON: Well, I always remain hopeful, but I also keep continuing to fight. And I think when you see climates like this, when you're seeing a state like North Carolina facing this kind of situation and you see Black and whites out there marching every day here in this city - Elizabeth City is not a, quote, "activist" town. They've been marching every day. I think it will put pressure on senators that something has to be done. People do not want to live in a society where every two or three days or every week, they're hearing about an unarmed Black person killed by police.

CHANG: May I ask you in just the 30 seconds we have left - I mean, here you are eulogizing another Black person killed by police. The last time you and I spoke, you talked about feeling hopeful about this moment we're in. Do you still feel that way? Is it hard to hang onto that hope?

SHARPTON: It's hard to hang on. But sometimes, you just have to tighten your grip because as much as despair is approachable and sometimes close, when I look at the fact that we didn't think we'd win all three convictions in the Chauvin trial, every once in a while, the sun peeks through the clouds. So you keep going, hoping that you break through all these clouds and have sunshine, and that would be federal legislation. So I can't let setbacks make me give up.

CHANG: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you very much for joining us again today.

SHARPTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.