Reverend Al Sharpton has called for an end to the use of stop and search in the UK, accusing the police of disproportionately targeting people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
The US civil rights activist said he fears unless urgent reform is instituted in UK policing, Britain will see its own version of the George Floyd case.
Mr Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020 in a killing that sparked widespread protests across the America, and the world.
Speaking on Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews, Rev Sharpton asked: “How do you explain the disproportionate amount of citizens that are black, or people of colour, being stopped and searched to whites in this country?
“How do you explain in COVID, when everybody is locked down, people of colour, and blacks in particular, are stopped and dealt with and arrested, more than whites?”
Rev Sharpton, who has been a vocal campaigner in the US for decades, added: “There is a systemic problem, and I think the studies – the data – has shown that. That is why it is critical that we get ahead of it, and deal with it, before you end up with a George Floyd.
“Stop and search, it is inherently set up in a situation, that we found – when they called it in America ‘stop-and-frisk’ – that it was disproportionately done in areas where blacks and browns were. When you have a disproportionate police strategy, you must eliminate that strategy.”
The reverend also highlighted the issue of police brutality in his home country, citing the recent case of Tyre Nichols – a black man who was beaten by five black police officers in the city of Memphis, Tennessee and died three days later.
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“The thing that was troubling to me about the killing of this young man, is that Tyre was beat to death by five black policemen minutes away from where Martin Luther King was killed,” he said.
“Martin Luther King was in Memphis fighting for black city workers. I could argue the case they may not have even been on an elite squad if it hadn’t been for Dr King.
“So, we are fighting systems as well as race, because I don’t believe those black cops would have beat a white kid like that, because they knew the penalty.”
‘The police are not being policed’
However, Sharpton didn’t view the situation in America as without hope, saying he wanted reforms to US policing at a federal level, with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“I think there is the broader question of police being not policed,” he said. “I think that white and black police have been infested with the same kind of power trips that ‘I don’t have to be held accountable’.
“Which is why the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act makes them accountable. Why does that make them accountable? Because it removes qualified immunity.”
Qualified immunity in the US protects police officers and other officials from civil lawsuits except in very rare circumstances.
“If a policeman knows he can lose his property, his house, his car, for his actions, his family would say, ‘wait a minute, you’ve got to be more careful and follow the letter of the law’. There’s no skin in the game,” Rev Sharpton said.
The reverend believes there is now sufficient pressure on officials in the Senate to pass the act, which failed to pass in 2021.
‘Imagine if Dr King had given up’
Asked if he thought Tyre Nichols’ death could be a catalyst for change in America, he said: “I believe that Tyre’s death can be that. I believe the same with George Floyd, where we did get the executive order. I always have hope, no matter how bad it looks.
“You must remember when the historic March on Washington happened in 1963, when Martin Luther King made his speech ‘I Have A Dream’, two months later, they bombed a church in Birmingham, Alabama – 16th Street Baptist Church – and killed four little girls.
“There’s always going to be a reason to give up. But you have to keep going. Suppose that [Nelson] Mandela had given up – 27 years in jail – but South Africa ended up being a democratic one man, one vote.
“Suppose if Dr King had given up, we never would have had a Barack Obama or Kamala Harris. So every time I get discouraged, I think of people that face greater odds than we have and say if they could hold on, we can hold on.
“Victory is certain. I don’t know the date or the time, but I know we will win, and I won’t stop fighting.”
Asked if lasting change could come in his lifetime, Reverend Al Sharpton responded: “In my lifetime, hopefully. But if not, my children, they’ll say in their lifetime, or my grandchildren in their lifetime, that we won. And my dad or my granddad was part of the victory. They will not say he quit and gave up.”