“You can’t fight for civil rights for anyone, unless you fight for it for everyone,” Rev. Al Sharpton told a crowd Friday evening in Oxford, England.
The reverend addressed a packed hall at The Oxford Union Society, Britain’s second oldest university union. Every year, Oxford Union attracts esteemed international figures to address its members. Past speakers include U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.
Rev. Sharpton used this opportunity to detail similarities between Britain and America in the fight for equal treatment under the law. He highlighted the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and their subsequent protests as examples.
“The challenge, I think, that we face now is that you’ve got to deal with questioning the law enforcement, but at the same time deal with supporting what is appropriate to protect all of us – particularly in the communities where we have a disproportionate amount of crime,” Sharpton said.
Before taking questions, Rev. Sharpton pointed out that he’s definitely witnessed progress in community relations in the U.K. More than two decades ago he led a march there for Roland Adams, a young man who was killed by a self-described white supremacist mob. During that march, he met the boy’s mother and aunt.
“This morning, that aunt reintroduced herself to me. She’s a member of the House of Lords in England. In 24-years she went from just protesting to being in a position of power. That shows the ability to change.” he said.
He says he is ultimately hopeful some of his proposed reformation to the criminal justice system, like special funding for an independent investigator in police-involved shootings and new police training, will help improve community relations stateside too:
“The America under Barack Obama is not the same America that it was under James Madison or Thomas Jefferson, and it will not be the same 100 years from now, if we keep on fighting. So as you wrestle with this question of ‘Is American institutionally racist?’ my answer is: America is in transition. And that transition will occur, and continue to occur.”
On Saturday, Rev. Sharpton holds a rally at the University of Westminster. Sunday, he preaches at a church in London before heading back to the U.S.