Speaking at the opening forum of Harvard Law School's Black Law Students Association's (HBLSA) 17th annual spring conference Friday, New York City civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton urged students to commit to the national fight against police brutality and racial profiling.
The forum, entitled "Discussion of Justice in Our Streets," was the first event in the three-day HBLSA conference.
Relatives of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Guinean man who was shot 41 times by plainclothes police officers last February, were scheduled to participate in the forum. But, second-year law student and forum organizer Alexis M. Coppedge said, the Diallo family contacted the forum's organizers early last week to cancel their appearance, without giving any specific reason.
Instead, Sharpton took center stage as he discussed his personal experiences with the Diallo case, as well as other cases of police brutality in New York City, including the 1997 Abner Louima case and last month's shooting of Patrick Dorismond.
"We are in a very strange way at a critical juncture in terms of policing in New York City and nationwide," Sharpton said.
Sharpton talked about the action his organization, the National Action Network, has taken in response to the incidents, including recent rallies protesting the Diallo case verdict and upcoming plans for civil disobedience. He detailed specific items on his agenda: police training and testing, police accountability, residency requirements for police officers and a national mechanism for policing the police.
"We have buried four young men in 14 months who had no weapons but were killed by police. This is absolute insanity," he said, referring to the deaths of Diallo, Richard Watson, Malcolm Ferguson and Patrick Dorismond--all unarmed black men who have been killed by New York City police since last February.
Sharpton emphasized that change must come from the federal government, and that the Justice Department should take the lead in investigating and persecuting police brutality cases and in creating national guidelines for police accountability.