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Rev. Sharpton Hopeful For Justice For George Floyd And Lasting Change

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The attention of much of the country this week has been focused on Minneapolis. That is where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for murder after pressing his knee on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes. Shortly after Floyd's death, Reverend Al Sharpton was asked to deliver a eulogy, and he put what happened to Floyd in historical context.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL SHARPTON: 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.

CHANG: Now as the trial is playing out, we wanted to check in with Reverend Sharpton, who joins us now. Welcome.

SHARPTON: Thank you. Glad to be with you.

CHANG: Glad to have you. I know that you held a vigil with Floyd's family on the eve of the trial and that you have been in touch with them and their legal team throughout all of this. Can you share what some of those conversations have been like? How are they feeling right now?

SHARPTON: They are a strong family. It is certainly very emotional for them, particularly during the trial, to have to see over and over again, repeatedly, the video of their brother, their father, their cousin, narrate his own death. For many of us, it is a cause. For them, it is personal. And they're trying to remain strong. They're a close family, and they're strong. But this is very trying for them. But they are saying they're bearing this pain hoping to get justice and using that to try and seek redress in terms of policing in this country.

CHANG: Well, what about you personally? I mean, we're now on Day 10 of the trial. I'm curious - what have been your thoughts on how it's going so far?

SHARPTON: I think that it appears to be going well, but because I've been at this for so long and been disappointed before, I'm cautiously optimistic. But the things that I see here that I've not seen - I've never seen this amount of policemen, including the police chief, testify against a police officer. If nothing else has happened so far in this trial, the blue wall of silence has certainly been pierced because usually you can get no policemen that would take a stand against a policeman, and you had the police chief saying it was unjustifiable.

CHANG: And why do you think that is? Why do you think this so-called blue wall, as you call it - why do you think it's coming down at this moment for this trial?

SHARPTON: I think the reason that it's coming down is this was so blatant and so obvious that even police said this is a bridge too far. And I also think that the years of people protesting and agitating had, little by little, began to pierce through, and this was the breaking point. You cannot deny what everyone's seeing. Nine minutes and 29 seconds on a man's neck - how do you, if you have any self-respect at all, try to justify that?

CHANG: Well, you have protested and mobilized against police violence for a very long time now. And I'm wondering, when you look back on the arc of your own work, do you think what happened to George Floyd has permanently changed the conversation around policing in America?

SHARPTON: I do. I think that George Floyd permanently changed it. I think this drove it home to everyone. And a lot of it, I think, is because we had Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, then Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Ahmaud Arbery, all within the span of 60 days, while we were in a pandemic, locked down.

CHANG: Yeah.

SHARPTON: So people - they did not have distractions. The timing of it and the viciousness of it, I think, is what really got the public's mind and said, no, this is not something that we should be doing in a civilized society.

CHANG: You know, we began this conversation by listening to part of your eulogy for George Floyd. And I want to ask you about something else that you had said. You talked about feeling hopeful watching all of those protests unfold across the world. How hopeful do you still feel now?

SHARPTON: I'm hopeful because, one, I don't think you can keep fighting unless you hope you're going to win. And you go to every fight saying, maybe this is the one. I'm hopeful when I see that - you're seeing, as I said, multiracial, intergenerational marches. But I've seen people that stood up when synagogues were attacked by masked killers. I see people standing up in all communities around this Asian hate crime wave that we're seeing.

So I'm hopeful because I'm beginning to see what I as a teenager joining the movement becoming a reality. I remember in the '80s, when I was in my late 20s, early 30s, Jesse Jackson had the Rainbow Coalition. I've lived now to see the rainbow. I just want to make sure that we do not see the rainbow fade in the sky before we have real legislative change.

CHANG: Here's to the rainbow.

Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you so much for joining us today.

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