Rev. Al Sharpton invited the family members of young black men who died at the hands of police officers to address the thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C., early Saturday afternoon.
Sharpton, whose National Action Network organized the Justice for All March, told the demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Capitol that God gave him a light to shine on these deaths.
“You thought you’d sweep it under the rug. You thought there’d be no limelight,” he said. “We are going to keep the light on Michael Brown, on Eric Garner, on Tamir Rice, on all of these victims because the only way — I’m sorry, I come out of the 'hood — the only way you make roaches run, you got to cut the light on."
First, Sharpton introduced Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., the parents of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
“Man, you all kept this alive for all of the families. We love you all. We really do. We love you all so much,” Brown Sr. said.
“What a sea of people,” McSpadden said, looking at the enormous crowd. “If they don’t see this and make a change, then I don’t know what we got to do. Thank you for having my back.”
The family of Eric Garner, 43, addressed the crowd next. In July, a police officer choked the father of six to death.
“It’s just so overwhelming to see all of you have come to stand with us today,” Garner’s mom Gwen Carr told the protesters. “Look at the masses: black, white, all races, all religions. This is just a great moment. This is a history-making moment.”
Carr said that their deceased sons may not be here in body, but they are here in spirit in every person in the crowd.
“You brought them here today and I thank you. I thank you so much,” she said, “because without you we would have an empty podium.”
Her son’s widow, Esaw Garner, took the microphone next. She said that her husband was a quiet man but he is making a lot of noise right now — and his voice will be heard.
“We are all fighting for everybody, not just for him. For everybody’s future, for everybody’s past, for everybody’s present,” she said, before asking everyone to say, “I can’t breathe,” in unison.
A video of Garner’s death shows that he told police he could not breathe many times while New York Police Department officers wrestled him to the ground. “I can’t breathe” has become a slogan in the recent demonstrations.
One of Garner’s children said that he was a family man who would do anything for his kids and did not resemble his portrayal in the media.
Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, spoke the same day his autopsy was released — ruling his death a homicide.
Cleveland police killed her 12-year-old son in November while he was holding an airsoft replica gun.
“Let that officer get arrested and bring him in front of a criminal jury so he can get the opportunity to prove his innocence and we can prove our justice,” she said. “My son was 12 years old, just a baby, a baby, my baby, the youngest out of four.”
She thanked the nation and the world for its support because that’s “the only way I’m standing up right now.”
Rice said that boys of all colors like playing with toy guns but that is no reason for her son to have been robbed of a promising future.
She was followed by John Crawford Jr., the father of John Crawford III, who was killed in a Walmart in August after picking up a pump air rifle that the store was selling.
“I’m here today to support the rest of these families in this wall of shame,” he said. “I’m here today to let everyone know that my son’s name along with the rest of these families will be vindicated.”
He said the United States has prosecutors that are not doing their job and that the biggest injustice of all is that people in office are not doing their jobs.
Kimberly Ballinger also thanked the protesters for speaking out. A police officer killed her domestic partner, Akai Gurley, with whom she has a baby, at a public housing complex in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Akai was killed by a police officer for no reason, walking down the stairs on his way home,” she said. “All I really need right now is justice. How do I explain to his 2-year-old that Daddy is not coming home?”
Sharpton vowed to come back in the nation’s capital “over and over again” until legislative action is taken so there is "justice for all."