By Micha Green
D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

August 28 is the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and while honoring the impact and legacy of the historic date, the Rev. Al Sharpton and his organization, the National Action Network, are still emphasizing the need for legislative changes surrounding equity and voting rights almost six decades later. In the same place where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., famously delivered his “I Have a Dream,” speech, which led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, Sharpton and other leaders are pushing for legislators to make major changes at the “Get Your Knees Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington” on Aug. 28.

“We decided to do it on the anniversary because we wanted to say to the national government that there are legislative things that need to be done to deal with this ,” Sharpton told the AFRO in an exclusive interview.

In particular, Sharpton is calling for legislators to pass the George Floyd Police Injustice Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

The Get Your Knees Off Our Neck Commitment March on Washington is on August 28. (Courtesy Photo)

The police injustice legislation is named in honor of George Floyd who was fatally arrested by a police who pinned his knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds (8:46) until he lost consciousness and died. Floyd was heard yelling, “I can’t breathe,” when he died on Memorial Day 2020 –  the same last words Eric Garner famously uttered when arrested and place in a chokehold in July 2014, leading to his death.  The excessive police brutality in chokeholds and pin-downs is exactly what the “Get Your Knees Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington” is about.

Sharpton explained the George Floyd Police Injustice Act “would make it a federal offense to chokehold or put your body as an officer or a law enforcement officer to choke someone to death, which happened to Eric Garner in New York with the police chokehold. It happened to George Floyd with blocking the oxygen and killing him by compressing the knee on the neck.  So it’s a federal offense in that law.”

He also said the George Floyd Police Injustice Act would stop the immense nepotism and secrecy found within police departments.

“It’s a federal offense to give them immunity from lawsuit, it’s a federal offense…where they are not transparent. If you get arrested I got arrested, you’ll know my whole legal background.  Police – they’re sheltered.  This is going to change that.  So it passed the House of Representatives, but has not gone to the Senate,” Sharpton said.

Named in honor of the recently fallen Civil Rights hero, longtime Congressman and American icon the John Lewis Voting Rights which advocates for a clear law making it illegal for states to make changes regarding voting without pre-clearing it with the Department of Justice (DOJ).    

“There was a Voting Rights Act that was signed in 1965.  It was re-signed every five years.  The Supreme Court in 2013 decided that they would take Section 4 and 5 out.  Section 4 out, means that those states that had a record, that had a clear pattern of abusing the right to vote- the Constitution said had a right to vote when we went through the Civil War and the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments- but they would put impediments on that right.  So you’d go to vote in certain states and certain counties.  And they’d say ‘Oh yeah you have a right to vote, but first you’ve got to pass the voting test.  How many jelly beans are in that jar?  What is the 18th President of the United States wife’s name and her mother’s name?’ Stuff that they know you couldn’t pass. Sections 4 and 5 said that you couldn’t put any impediments on the right to vote without those questions or whatever other angles you use- if it’s moving voting sites, if it’s purging voters, you can’t do that without it being pre-cleared by the justice department.  Once they took that section out, those states and counties could move without pre-clearing.”

Sharpton said he believed the 2013 removal of Sections 4 and 5 led to Brian Kemp winning the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election against Stacey Abrams.  Kemp was already serving as Secretary of State, a role that allowed him to move voting sites and change rules for registered voters, which particularly impacted George’s minority communities. 

“Georgia no longer had to get approval, so he started moving voting sites- hundreds of thousands of voters, and I believe that’s how he beat Stacey Abrams.  She’d had won if we still had that.  I think the same happened in Florida and other states.  We’re saying to the Congress, but that back in,” the Civil Rights leader explained.

“So we’re marching to say… that we must have legislation, along with the demonstration,” Sharpton told the AFRO.

Aware that the COVID-19 pandemic is still plaguing the globe, Sharpton assured that the march will be safe by mandating social distancing, wearing and providing masks and checking temperatures at the entrance. To register for Get Your Knees Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington on Aug 28 visit: https://nationalactionnetwork.net/register-for-nans-march-on-washington-get-your-knee-off-our-necks/.

 

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor