The Rev. Al Sharpton Occupies the Corners

We caught up with Sharpton during his campaign to tackle rising violence in our streets.

Rev. Sharpton eulogizes Lloyd Morgan Jr. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Rev. Sharpton eulogizes Lloyd Morgan Jr. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(The Root) — It’s 12:15 a.m. in New York City, and nearly 60 people are gathered on the corner of 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem. Rev. Al Sharpton stands in the middle of the group, which includes his National Action Network members and volunteers. Members of the media wield bright camera lights that cut through the darkness.

As he addresses the small crowd of people who’ve been monitoring eight different corners across the city from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the last four weeks as part of his Occupy the Corners movement, it’s clear that the MSNBC Politics Nation host is tired. But, despite preaching two sermons in Detroit and rallying that community for a second activation of Occupy the Corners before flying to the Big Apple for this encouragement speech, Sharpton delivers.

“We’ve got to take that veneer of ‘I want to be a thug, that gets me respect’ to where it doesn’t get you respect,” he says, pausing to speak to The Root.

By involving community members in Occupy the Corners, or OTC, Sharpton aims to decrease the violence with the theory that criminals will not think it is OK to attack their neighbors. With New York as ground zero, he hopes to push the movement nationally, in light of violence in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, the latter which saw 19 people shot in 30 minutes in August. But will this movement be enough to identify and defeat the true catalyst behind the rising gun violence in America?

Attributing the increased violence primarily to gun availability, Sharpton adds that self-hate is also at the root of the phenomenon. Black-on-black crime, in particular, continues in inner-city communities because it’s easier to hurt someone who looks like you. He also says to truly curb gun violence, a showdown with the National Rifle Association is inevitable.

“The solution is we’ve got to get the guns out of the community, and we’ve got to change the attitude of the kids,” he says. “When you talk to 13-year-old children and they know where to get a gun, we have a crisis.”

OTC may not have the deep pockets of the NRA — Sharpton announced in Harlem that one of NAN’s next steps is to secure funding for the cause — but the activist asserts that the OTC movement can apply pressure on politicians seeking re-election to ignore gun lobbyists.

Not that this is only an inner-city problem. Following the recent headline-grabbing Dark Knight shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and the Oak Creek, Wis., massacre in a Sikh temple, many assumed gun control would become a hot campaign topic, but both President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney have mostly stayed quiet.

“Obama’s trying not to wake up the gun lobby against him, which is politically wise,” admits Sharpton. “But he’s got to speak about it. I would hope after the election, he’ll even be more aggressive.”