Al Sharpton remains one of the driving forces behind the effort to turn the Trayvon Martin case into an indictment of America itself. To earn his daily bread, Sharpton is well aware that he must continuously convince black Americans that they live in a hopelessly racist nation, not because it’s true, but because any genuine progress made by blacks themselves is inimical to his own interests. Forgotten in the controversy surrounding the Martin case are the dark levels Sharpton has stooped to in order to ensure the survival of his public persona, which are worth recalling here.
Sharpton’s involvement in the Martin controversy hews to a familiar tune. Earlier this week, he held a protest with Rev. Jesse Jackson attended by thousands in Sanford, Florida, the town where Martin was shot. Sharpton has been working over-time instigating racial hatred, whipping up frenzied crowds with a false narrative. Presenting a petition demanding the immediate arrest of George Zimmerman, Martin’s alleged shooter, Sharpton warned that if the board does not act swiftly, the town could become “the Birmingham of the 21st century, as a place of racial intolerance and double standards.” He later asserted, “This is America on trial.”
By any reasonable standard, Sharpton’s first brush with national prominence should have been his last. In 1987, Sharpton involved himself with a 15-year-old black girl named Tawana Brawley, who claimed that she had been abducted and raped in Dutchess County, New York. She had been missing for four days, and was found covered in dog feces with racial slurs written on her body. Ms. Brawley claimed that as many as six white men, one of whom carried a badge, had participated in the crime. Brawley refused to cooperate with prosecutors, which Sharpton characterized as “asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler.”
Absent a shred of evidence, Sharpton then went on to claim that a local prosecutor named Steven Pagones “had kidnapped, abused and raped” Brawley on “33 separate occasions.” After Pagones was quickly cleared, Sharpton claimed a local police cult with ties to the Irish Republican Army had perpetrated the crime. When a security guard for Sharpton and the rest of his legal team testified that Sharpton, et al., knew Brawley was lying, the case fell apart. In 1988, a grand jury concluded the entire case was a hoax.
Pagones successfully sued Sharpton and his two accomplices in 1997, winning $345,000. Sharpton’s share came to $65,000, all of which was paid off by a group of supporters, including lawyer Johnnie Cochran of O.J. Simpson fame. During testimony in the case, Sharpton claimed he “couldn’t recall” any of the slanderous statements he made against Pagones. Sharpton remains unrepentant. Asked on a segment of “60 Minutes” why he never apologized for false accusations, Sharpton said, “I don’t know that. I have thought about that a million times. I just don’t believe they treated that case fair,” he added.
Fairness and Al Sharpton are mutually exclusive. 1991, after 7-year-old black boy Gavin Cato was run over and killed by a driver in a Hasidic Jewish rabbi’s entourage in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, Sharpton once again fanned the flames of racial animosity. In a eulogy given at Cato’s funeral, Sharpton, in an anti-Semitic rant, compared Crown Heights to segregationist South Africa. “The world will tell us he was killed by accident. Yes, it was a social accident…It’s an accident to allow an apartheid ambulance service in the middle of Crown Heights…Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights. The issue is not anti-Semitism; the issue is apartheid…All we want to say is what Jesus said: If you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise, no meetings, no kaffe klatsch, no skinnin’ and grinnin’. Pay for your deeds.”
During three nights of black riots targeting Jewish homes and businesses, Jewish rabbinical student Yankel Rosenbaum was killed after being surrounded by a gang of youths and stabbed, while shouts of “kill the Jew” filled the air. Since Rosenbaum was killed the night before the eulogy, Sharpton bears no direct responsibility for his death. Yet there is no doubt about his determination to stoke violence. He took marchers along Eastern Parkway, leading the now-familiar chants, “Whose Streets? Our Streets,” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
In 1992, Sharpton blew off an accusation by the Anti-Defamation League that he helped to incite anti-Semitism during the riots. “You don’t even have a direct quote from me that anyone can call anti-Semitic,” he contended, in yet another apparent memory lapse similar to the one he had during the Tawana Brawley hoax.
This was not Sharpton’s final attempt to immunize himself from accountability. When Fred Harari, the Jewish owner of Freddie’s Fashion Mart, a clothing store located on 125th Street in Harlem, terminated a sublease agreement he had with a black tenant, Sikhulu Shange, who owned The Record Shack, Sharpton once again showed up to foment rage. It was an effort made irrespective of an inconvenient reality: Harari himself was a tenant who leased the space from the real landlord, the United House of Prayer for All People, a black Pentecostal church. The church used Harari to evict Shange instead of doing it themselves.
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