By Colleen Long
NEW YORK — Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, often a vocal critic of the New York Police Department, is teaming up with the department to help get illegal guns off the streets as the city tries to stem an increase in shootings.
Sharpton and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Friday announced they would host a summit on gun violence in December, and Sharpton pledged to support the NYPD's Gun Stop program, which offers a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone with illegal weapons. The department, the nation's largest, also gives $100 to anyone who turns in a gun at a police station — no questions asked.
City officials say gun violence remains a serious problem, even with tighter weapons laws, and shootings are up this year. So far there have been 1,590 victims of gun violence reported, about 60 more than through the same time last year.
Kelly said most of the shooting victims are black men, as are most of the shooting suspects.
Sharpton, who's black, said something needs to change and the black community must work together to stop the trend.
"I think that there's almost been a culture of silence that is becoming the partner and co-conspirator to those that make thug and gangster culture seem like it's something positive," Sharpton said. "Black culture has never been about destruction and thugism. It's been about pursuing excellence, even when we have to deal — and still deal — with social inequalities."
So far this year, there have been 3,338 weapons recovered and 5,446 weapons-related charges, which is about the same as last year, according to figures from crime tracker CompStat.
Sharpton said he will use his daily radio show, broadcast on several stations and online, to help push the police department's Gun Stop initiative. Staff at his National Action Network civil rights organization will reach out to the community to help stem the violence. In Harlem, where the network is based, shootings are up slightly over last year.
Sharpton has at times been highly critical of the police department, especially in the late 1990s, after black Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was sodomized with a broomstick by a white officer while handcuffed in a police station. A few years later, two police shootings of unarmed black men by white officers followed — one victim, Amadou Diallo, was shot at 41 times after he reached into his pocket for a wallet. The acquittals of the officers in that case led to days of protests organized by Sharpton and others.
More recently, Sharpton led protests in the wake of the shooting of another black man, Sean Bell, an unarmed groom gunned down by police on what was to be his wedding day, Nov. 25, 2006.
But Sharpton said it shouldn't be considered odd that he'd stand up with the NYPD.
"You must fight for what is right," he said. "You do not have the moral authority to question violence if it comes from police if you don't question violence when it comes in the community."
Sharpton and Kelly, who's white, said next month they will host a gun buyback program at a Harlem church, where people can turn in weapons.
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"I think this is beyond politics," Sharpton said. "If I can tour the country at the request of President Obama with Newt Gingrich about education, I can certainly join Commissioner Kelly, who is not nearly as far from me politically as Newt Gingrich, about saving lives."