Friends and family gathered Monday to mourn Andrew Brown Jr.‘s life as a steady procession of speakers addressed what they recognized as the root cause of the police shooting: racism.
But it was the Rev. Al Sharpton‘s eulogy that expressed that sentiment in the most urgent of terms, even pointing to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott‘s much-debated claim last week that “America is not a racist country.”
While delivering the eulogy at Brown’s funeral in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Sharpton — who suggested racism is too heavily woven into the fabric of American policing — pointed out the optical and ideological awkwardness of seeing a white president in Joe Biden condemn white supremacy during his address to Congress last week with the denial of racism’s effects on society at large from the only Black Republican U.S. Senator.
Scott delivered the Republican rebuttal to Biden’s speech, during which he declared that “America is not a racist country.”
Drawing on those comments from Scott, Sharpton presented a series of receipts that showed the error in the Senator’s words.
“The practice of America was built on racism,” Sharpton said before running down a laundry list of examples of racist legacies that persist to this day. He added later: “We were brought here to work and never get paid. That’s how the country was founded.”
Sharpton also found irony in Scott’s words by applying them to Brown’s situation.
“In 1847, Black people were chattel in Elizabeth City,” he reminded. “What do you mean America is not racist? It was started off racism!”
Citing the persistent presence of disparities along racial lines when it comes to jobs, education, healthcare and personal finance, for instance, Sharpton’s point was more than made: “We still have racism in a systematic way in America.”
Ironically — or, perhaps, by design — Scott is the Republicans’ lead negotiator on dueling partisan bills addressing police reform in America.
Citing the success of various social justice movements throughout history, Sharpton said it was imperative to take advantage of the moment in order to effect any real change.
“The challenge of these times is how we’re gonna deal with policing in America,” he said.
Addressing the lack of police transparency that been associated with Brown’s shooting, Sharpton compared law enforcement to a street hustler’s card game that’s cloaked in duplicity.
“I know a con game when I see it,” Sharpton said before adding later: “When you break the law, you’ve got to be held accountable.”
The funeral was held on the heels of a weekend of protests demanding justice and transparency from local law enforcement as secrecy continues to cloud any information about the investigation into the shooting from April 21.
Family lawyers contend Brown was driving away from Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputies trying to serve him a warrant and did not pose a mortal threat when they opened fire. They also said shooting at a moving vehicle violates state law. They claim Brown was only holding his car’s steering wheel when he was shot in the back of the head.
It was nearly a week after the shooting when the district attorney claimed police only fired their guns after Brown, 42, struck them with his car — a narrative that was missing from initial law enforcement accounts.
Since the shooting, there has been a nonstop battle over making public all of the video footage, which suggests a possible police coverup, lawyers have said. Family members were finally granted last week the right to view all of the videos recorded during the shooting after only having been previously shown a 20-second “snippet” that was edited by prosecutors.
However, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Jeffery Foster‘s ruling included blocking those same videos from being publicly released for at least 30 days, after which he said he will review that decision based on how much progress has been made in the case.
This article will be updated.