Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Silence Speaks Volumes GOP

Nov 02, 2015

Saturday was another somber day for the country. I preached at the funeral for 31-year-old Corey Jones, who was waiting for a tow truck in the early hours of October 18 when he was shot and killed by a plainclothes officer with no badge, in an unmarked car. Jones had a registered gun in his car that he purchased legally and had a concealed-carry permit. Those defending the cop, Nouman Raja, say the officer did not know that the gun was registered, but the fact of the matter is, the gun was never fired. Jones on the other hand had no way of knowing that Raja was law enforcement approaching him in the middle of the night on the side of the road in West Palm Beach, Florida. The question that I have, which I raised during the funeral as well, is what happened to Florida's infamous Stand Your Ground law? Why is it not applicable here? And what's even more striking perhaps is the deafening silence of GOP candidates on the very real issues of police reform and mass incarceration -- even when some of those candidates reside in Florida and others represent that state in Washington. It's time to call this what it is: deafening silence that speaks volumes.

When I led the fight for justice for young Trayvon Martin a few years ago, I (and the rest of the nation) watched in shock as his killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted in the murder of this teenage boy. Zimmerman was not at his car nor at his residence when he took Martin's life, but Stand Your Ground was somehow applicable. Meanwhile Jones, who was right at his vehicle, is now dead. Why is Stand Your Ground only selectively applied? Why was Jones not able to stand his ground when a man in jeans and a t-shirt, who never identified himself, approached him at his car in the middle of the night? Why was he not allowed to defend himself? Why are we always deemed the suspect and not the victim? Officer Raja, according to documents obtained by Yahoo News, apparently wasn't even qualified for his purported undercover surveillance assignment.

As I mounted the pulpit on Saturday, several things weighed heavily on my mind. In addition to trying to console Jones' loved ones, I was outraged at the fact that none of the GOP candidates have addressed criminal justice reform. Two of them, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, a senator representing the state of Florida, have not only been silent on this case, but have failed to discuss policing and mass incarceration in general. Two other Republican hopefuls -- Ben Carson and Donald Trump -- even have residence in Palm Beach County itself, and still not a word out of either one on this incident or the larger problems.

Criminal justice reform is of extreme importance to a large portion of society. It is clear that Republican candidates have let Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and even the sitting U.S. President) debate this issue and answer questions from activists and civil rights organizations like mine, but they themselves have not in any way laid out what they would do around police reform and mass incarceration. Even when the crisis is directly in the state of four of these candidates at this very moment, there is silence across the board. For people who specialize in speeches and addressing concerns of the public, their lack of even mentioning any of these topics should let everyone know just how much they care about the subject and about what matters to us.

Many have tried to act as if raising very real questions about accountability and reform somehow makes you a cop hater -- or even worse -- sympathetic to cop killers. That is simply absurd, offensive and outrageous. The irony is that the same week I spoke at Jones' eulogy, I had agreed to speak at the funeral for officer Randolph Holder in New York at the invitation of his father and pastor for 18 years. When police union leaders and others turned this unifying moment into a controversy, I withdrew because it would have made a solemn occasion honoring this brave officer and bringing New Yorkers together into some sort of spectacle instead. It is clear that we are not anti-police, and that we even want to mourn police, but that sadly doesn't fit the political agenda of others.

Anyone running to lead this great nation must remember that he or she will be in charge of representing all of the American people and must therefore deal with all of our concerns -- not selectively pick and choose what they want. We cannot allow an election to proceed without all of these candidates giving their stance and their solutions on mass incarceration and police reform. In this time of Eric Garner, to Michael Brown to Corey Jones, to a young girl being dragged by a school resource officer in a manner that if a parent dragged a child they would be arrested, we must hear some sort of a response from Presidential hopefuls. Otherwise, we take their blatant silence as a clear indication of who and what exactly they care about.

Apparently, they're not running to govern the United States -- just selective segments of it.