Sharpton on Rodney King: ‘He was a symbol of civil rights’

NEW YORK – On the day he planned to lead a march against a controversial police practice in New York, Rev. Al Sharpton commented on the death of Rodney King, a man he called a “symbol of civil rights.”

King, who was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool by his fiancee early Sunday, was the central figure in the police beating trial that sparked the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

King was an often troubled man, who battled with alcohol dependency and had several arrests after his brush with fame. King was engaged to be married and had recently written a book. But his iconic status as a figure who brought the issue of police brutality into America’s living rooms was his legacy.

Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, civil rights activist and MSNBC host, reacted to King’s death on Sunday, releasing the following statement:

“Rodney King was a symbol of civil rights and he represented the anti-police brutality and anti-racial profiling movement of our time,” Sharpton said. “It was his beating that made America focus on the presence of profiling and police misconduct. I recently spent time with him on the release of his new book just a couple of months ago and he did my radio and TV show. Through all that he had gone through with his beating and his personal demons he was never one to not call for reconciliation and for people to overcome and forgive. History will record that it was Rodney King’s beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement.”

King’s death comes on the day Sharpton led a march against New York’s “stop and frisk” policy, which civil liberties advocates say overwhelmingly targets black and brown young men. Sharpton was scheduled to speak at a predominantly black church in Harlmen Sunday, responding to similar addresses by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who defended the police policy at a predominantly black church one week earlier.

The National Action Network and “a coalition of more than 299 organizations” planned a silent march Sunday at 3 p.m. down New York’s Fifth Avenue, to demand an end to “stop and frisk.”

A statement from NAN read: “Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policy, hundreds of thousands of innocent people are stopped, interrogated and humiliated by the NYPD each year simply for walking down the street. The police employ racial profiling on a daily basis, and the large majority of those stopped are black or Latino.”

According to the New York American Civil Liberties Union, which also planned to participate in the march, New York police made 685,724 stops under “stop and frisk” in 2011, and of those, 605,328 88 percent) were innocent of any crime, 350,743 (53 percent) were black and 223,740 (34 percent) were Latino.

In the first three months of 2012, New Yorkers were stopped by police 203,500 times, of which just 9 percent were white, 54 percent were black, 33 percent were Latino, and 51 percent were between the ages of 14 and 24.