Take Your Knee Off African Necks! - Al Sharpton

Published on 9th June 2020

George Floyd did not die of common health conditions. He died of a common American criminal justice malfunction. He died because there has not been the corrective behavior that has taught this country that if you commit a crime, it does not matter whether you wear blue jeans or a blue uniform, you must pay for the crime you commit.

Let me ask those of you that in the traditions of eulogies need a scriptural reference, go to Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, To everything there is a time and a purpose and season under the heavens. I’m going to leave it there.

I saw somebody standing in front of a church the other day. He held the Bible in his hand. I’ve been preaching since I was a little boy. I’d never seen anyone hold a Bible like that, but I’ll leave that alone. But since he held the Bible, I would like him to open that Bible and read Ecclesiastes 3: to every season there’s a time and a purpose.

I think that it is our job to let the world know when we see what is going on in the streets of this country and in Europe, around the world, that you need to know what time it is.

First of all, we cannot use Bibles as a prop. For those that have agendas that are not about justice, this family will not let you use George as a prop. If you want to get your stuff off, don’t use him. Let us stand for what is right. I got a call from Attorney Crump. Usually, when he calls me, it’s not to find out how I’m doing, It’s usually because something has happened that he wants National Action Network and I to get involved. He explained to me what was happening with this case. I had already heard about it in the media. I said, “Well, let me know what you want me to do.” He said, “Whatever you need to do.”

Critics say that all Al Sharpton wants is publicity. Well, that’s exactly what I want because nobody calls me to keep a secret. People call me to blow up issues that nobody else would deal with. I’m the blow up man and I don’t apologize for that because you get away too much with hiding things. Funny. It’s talked about, y’all putting clothes in the oven to have your clothes dried. Well, I didn’t grow in the third world, but I grew up in third ward. I grew up in Brownsville and we had roaches.

Now I know Kevin Hart and some of the rich Hollywood folk don’t know where the roaches are but we had roaches. One thing I found out about roaches is that if you keep the light off, if you’re in the dark, a roach will pull up to your dinner table and have a five course meal. So I learned that one of the ways to deal with roaches is if you cut the light on, I could run them roaches and track them down and I’ve spent all my life chasing roaches all over this country.

Soon as I talked to the family and got the details and heard that among George’s last words was, “I can’t breathe,” with a knee on his neck, I immediately thought about Eric Gardner. I did the eulogy at his funeral and I called his mother. I said, “I know we’re not going out because of the Coronavirus but this is so much like Eric. If we could arrange some private way to go to Minneapolis, would you go?”  She said, “Reverend Al, I’m already packing. Let me know.” Tyler Perry said, “I’ll give the families, the plane, whatever y’all need, because this is wrong.” Robert Smith said, “Don’t worry about the funeral costs.”

People across economic and racial lines started calling and getting in and we flew here. 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 dreamed to being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter. 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 happened 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. That’s the problem no matter who you are.

Michael Jordan won all of these championships, and you kept digging for mess because you got to put a knee on our neck. White housewives would run home to see a black woman on TV named Oprah Winfrey and you messed with her because you just can’t take your knee off our neck. A man comes out of a single parent home, educates himself and rises up and becomes the President of the United States and you ask him for his birth certificate because you can’t take your knee off our neck.

The reason why we are marching all over the world is, we were like George, we couldn’t breathe, not because there was something wrong with our lungs, but that you wouldn’t take your knee off our neck. We don’t want no favors, just get up off of us and we can be and do whatever we can be.

There have been protests all over the world. Some have looted and done other things and none of us in this family condones looting or violence. But the thing I want us to be real cognizant of is there’s a difference between those calling for peace and those calling for quiet. Some of y’all don’t want peace, you just want quiet. You just want us to shut up and suffer in silence.

The overwhelming majority of the people marching wasn’t breaking windows, they were trying to break barriers. They weren’t trying to steal nothing, they were trying to get back the justice you stole from us. Those that broke the law should pay for whatever law they broke, but so should the four policemen that caused this funeral today.

We don’t have a problem denouncing violence. We don’t have a problem denouncing looting, but it seems like some in the criminal justice system have a problem looking at a tape and knowing there’s probable cause and it takes a long time for you to go and do what you need to do.

I did speeches and eulogies at most of the funerals that we’ve had in this space in the last couple of decades and led the marches and did what we had to do.

Reverend Jackson always taught me, stay on your text. I go back to my text, Ecclesiastes. There is a time and a season. 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. When I look 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 come to tell you America, this is the time of building with accountability in the criminal justice system.

Years ago, I went to march. I remember a young white lady looked me right in the face and said, “N*****, go home.” But when I was here and Ms. Carr and I was headed back to the airport, I stopped near the police station, and as I was talking to a reporter, a young white girl, no older than 11 years old I think, tagged my suit jacket, looked at me and said, “No justice, no peace.” It’s a different time. It’s a different season.

Time goes forward. If you don’t move your watch, you going to find yourself an hour late. Not because your watch was wrong, but you had your watch 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 going to keep going until we change the whole system of justice.

Our experts that know the legal field have outlined a legal process that we must enforce, everything from residency to dealing with police backgrounds. Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York says, “We got to change 58, where the backgrounds stop of policemen.” We need to know if they stop you, they find out everything you ever did. Why don’t we know when policemen have a pattern?

We got to go back to consent decrees. Under the Obama administration, they had put certain cities with patterns and practice under consent decrees. One of the first things that happened in the next administration was they stopped the consent decrees. We have specific policies that need to happen.

I’m glad Martin the third is here today, because on August 28, the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, we’re going back to Washington, Martin. That’s where your father stood in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial and said, “I have a dream.” Well, we’re going back this August 28th to restore and recommit that dream to stand up because in one era, we had to fight slavery. In another era, we had to fight Jim Crow. Another dealt with voting rights. This is the era to deal with policing and criminal justice. We need to go back to Washington and stand up black, white, Latino, Arab in the shadows of Lincoln and tell them, “This is the time to stop this.”

We’re going to organize in the next couple of months in every region, not only for a March, but for a new process. It’s going to be led by the Floyd family. It’s going to be led by the Gonda family. It’s going to be led by families that have suffered this and know the pain and what it is to be neglected. It’s going to be getting us ready to vote, not just for who’s going to be in the White House, but the state house and the city councils that allow these policing measures to go unquestioned. We are going to change the time. Let me say this to the family who has shown such great grace and real level and balanced thinking.

You all don’t know what time it is. You all are operating like it is yesterday. The reason you’re late catching up to what these protests means is because you didn’t turn your clock forward, talking about make America great. Great for who and great when? We are going to make America great for everybody for the first time.

I was a little embarrassed when I heard that George, at this point of suffering, this brutal attack, called for his mama. I said, “Well, I appreciate talking to his brothers and them on the phone, but I want to talk to his mother.”

His mother passed? But he was calling for his mother. I thought about it because I was raised by a single mother. Sometimes the only thing between us and our conditions was our mothers. Sometimes the only thing that we had that would take danger away was our mothers. The only one that would make sure the food was on the table was our mother. I know why George was calling for mama.

But then as I had got that all placed in my mind, I realized why I was always calling and my mother died eight years ago. I still try to talk to her. Sometimes just dial her cell phone to hear the voicemail on her phone that I never cut off. I still want to reach out to mama.

Talking to Quincy, one of his five children, Quincy said, “I was thinking maybe he was calling his mother because at the point that he was dying, his mother was stretching her hands out saying, ‘Come on, George, I’ll welcome you where the wicked will cease from troubling. Where the weary will be at rest. There’s a place where police don’t put knees on you George. There’s a place that prosecutors don’t drag their feet.’ Maybe mama said, “Come on George.”

There’s a God that still sits high, but he looks down low and he’ll make a way out of no way. This God is still on the throne. Grieving, we can fight. I don’t care who’s in the White House. There is another house that said, “If we’ll fight, he’ll fight our battles. If we stand up, he’ll hold us up.”

Years ago, Reverend Jackson told us, “Keep hope alive.” Then President Obama wrote a book about hope. In my life, there are times that I lost hope. Things can happen like this that will dash your hope, but there is something that is sister to hope called faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Faith is when you got a pile of bills and no money, but you say he will provide all of my needs. Faith is when you got no medicine in the cabinet and you’re sick in your body, but you say he’s a doctor that never lost a patient. And he’ll dry tears from my eyes. Faith is when your friends walk out, when your loved ones turn their back. But you say, “I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me now.”

We didn’t come this far by luck. We didn’t come this far by some fate. We came this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in his Holy word. He never, he never, he never failed me yet. From the outhouse to the White House, we have come a long way. God will. God shall. God will. God always has. He’ll make a way for his children. Go on home, George. Get your rest, George. You changed the world, George. We’re going to keep marching, George. We’re going to keep keep fighting, George. We’ve turned the clock, George. We’re going forward, George. Time out, time out, time out.

By Reverend Al Sharpton,

American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, talk show host and politician

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