The families of three unarmed black men who recently died at the hands of police officers linked arms with the Rev. Al Sharpton on Wednesday and prayed for justice amid days of protests over a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict one of the officers.
The parents of Michael Brown, the Missouri man whose death sparked a wave of sometimes violent demonstrations, were joined by the family of two New York City men at the Harlem headquarters of Sharpton's civil rights organization, the National Action Network. The mourning families said nothing, allowing Sharpton to describe the common grief that suddenly thrust them together.
"On this Thanksgiving eve, this is a very painful time for these families," Sharpton said. "As you see, they share each other's pain and understand what we don't understand."
He said he hopes that, as the national spotlight is trained on these families, that people on both sides of the legal outcomes would remember that "these are real human beings and the value of the lives of their sons and husbands should not be minimized by anybody."
Sharpton is also a talk-show host on MSNBC, which is owned by NBC 4 New York's parent company, NBCUniversal.
The attorney for the Brown family, Benjamin Crump, said that they had watched Tuesday's television interview with Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown and said his conscience is clean over the shooting.
"They thought he had no regard for their child and that was hurtful to them," the attorney said.
The Missouri family was joined by the wife and mother of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in a police chokehold in July after being confronted by officers for selling loose cigarettes. That case has been sent to a grand jury. The girlfriend of Akai Gurley, who was shot to death by a rookie police officer in a dark Brooklyn high-rise hallway last week, also attended.
Sharpton said she had just returned from the morgue where she identified Gurley's body. Police Commissioner William Bratton said Gurley had been "a total innocent" when he was shot. That shooting is under investigation.
The civil rights leader had traveled to Missouri, where he voiced his disappointment in the lack of charges against Wilson. But in his prayer he said he hoped that the men will "not have died in vain, but that we all make sure that their deaths become beacons of a new way that we deal with law enforcement and community responsibility in this country."
Ten people were arrested in New York on Tuesday during protests over the Missouri case that closed several bridges and snarled traffic on a busy travel day just two days before Thanksgiving. Those protests, unlike some in Ferguson, have remained peaceful. Sharpton made clear that he does not condone violence but said it's important to separate those looting and causing trouble from those demonstrating.