The Rev. Al Sharpton visited Maryland Tuesday to drum up support for a march on Washington planned for the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Sharpton addressed about 60 faith leaders at the Radio One building in Woodlawn, and made a personal appeal that they attend the One Thousand Ministers March for Justice on Aug. 28.
“Y’all are right here in Baltimore, y’all are an hour away from the King memorial, and you’re a city under consent decree,” said the civil rights leader. “Y’all have more reason than most to stand up as faith leaders.”
No one left the event without signing up, said Ebonie Riley, DC Bureau Chief of the National Action Network, which is convening the march. The Baltimore-area clergy will join a couple thousand other faith leaders of all denominations as they go from the Martin Luther King memorial to the Department of Justice.
“The world needs to see that 1,000 ministers went to Washington on the anniversary of King’s dream to raise the dream to this administration,” Sharpton said. “We’re not coming to call folks names — we’re faith leaders. We’re coming to exult the dream.”
The march will focus on voting rights, healthcare access, criminal justice reform and economic justice. Organizers say they want to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions accountable for recent spikes in hate crimes and discrimination.
“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last 50 years,” Sharpton said. “We can not allow that to be turned around.”
Issues faced by Baltimore are at the center of what the march is about, Sharpton said. He said the city was “targeted by the administration early” when Sessions “questioned” the consent decree between the city and justice department, which mandated broad police reforms.
“Baltimore must help lead this, because your city is one of the critical points of reference of how we’re seeing a retreat of civil rights in this country,” he said.
In April, Sessions said in a statement that while he supports reform, he has "grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city." He said the agreement was rushed by the previous administration.
Sharpton also addressed the historic level of gun violence in Baltimore, which has seen more than 200 homicides so far this year. He commended organizers of last weekend’s “ceasefire” efforts, which encouraged everyone in the city to go 72-hours without killing anybody.
The Rev. Arnetha Bowens, a chaplain with the Baltimore police department, said she’s attending the march because “you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.”
“Our land is in need of healing — there’s too much strife and too much division,” she said. “We really need everyone to come together to make a difference.”
For Bishop William Hawthorne of West Baltimore, the march is an important way to show he is against the rollback of rights afforded to people of color.
“The people need to be given that reinforcement of the moral compass we have lost due to our political echelon,” he said.
Sharpton agreed that it was important for children to see their faith leaders marching.
“Jesus was not in the church,” he said. “He was in the streets.”