(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/03/sharpton-angry.gif)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.
Sharpton organized a picket line in front of the clothing store. On September 9, 1995, during a radio broadcast on station WWRL, Sharpton elucidated his reason for the picketing. “We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother, so that some white interloper can expand his business on 125th Street,” he told listeners. “And we’re asking the Buy Black Committee to go down there, and I’m gonna go down there, and do what is necessary to let them know that we are not turnin’ 125th Street back over to outsiders as it was done in the early part of this century.”
The pickets continued into the fall, and one the participants, Roland J. Smith, aka Abubunde Mulocko, took Sharpton’s message to heart. On December 8th, he entered Freddie’s Fashion Mart with a loaded gun and ordered all black customers out of the store. He shot four people, set the store on fire and killed himself. Eight people were killed and, just as he did after Crown Heights, Sharpton absolved himself of any responsibility for the incident, claiming no one “connected me to the fire,” and that his “only role was in fighting for justice in the same nonviolent manner I have my entire career.”
Sharpton continued his career of inciting animosity throughout the ‘90s and and early 2000s. His last two high-profile encounters prior to the Trayvon Martin case were media-related. He was part of a coalition, including Jesse Jackson and the National Association of Black Journalists, that successfully forced radio shock-jock Don Imus off the air for using the term “nappy-headed hoes” as part of a comic bit aimed at the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Recently he has endeavored to get the FCC to take Rush Limbaugh off the air because the “FCC has the responsibility to set standards to say the public cannot be offended based on their race or their gender in this country,” contends Sharpton.
Such a statement is breathtakingly hypocritical. Here is a sound bite recorded during the Crown Heights riots in 1991, in which Sharpton refers to former New York Mayor David Dinkins as a person who wants to be the “only n***er in the newspaper, the only n***er on television…” Here is another one from a speech at Kean College in NJ in 1994, where Sharpton disparages “Chinamen” and “Koreans selling us watermelon.”
Regardless, Sharpton was hired by MSNBC and currently hosts his own show, “Politics Nation,” airing at 6 PM. Considering the trajectory of his career, that in and of itself is astonishing. Yet Eric Deggans, media critic for the Tampa Bay Times cuts to the heart of Sharpton’s current role, combining racial agitation with his TV gig. “MSNBC has to cover [the Trayvon Martin case] as a news organization and as I said, we’re getting to the point where George Zimmerman is starting to speak up, the man who shot Trayvon Martin,” says Deggans. “He has an attorney. He has a side. Is he going to feel like he can talk to NBC News or MSNBC and be treated fairly when one of their signature on-air personalities has spent weeks talking about how he should be arrested and he should be in jail?”
So how does the network rationalize the conflict of interest? MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines released a statement to Deggans. “When Rev. Sharpton joined MSNBC, it was with the understanding that he would continue to do his advocacy work. We’re fully aware of that work and we have an ongoing dialog. His participation in these events is very public and our audience is completely aware of where he stands on the issues. It’s because of this work and his decades of activism that Rev. Sharpton brings such a unique perspective to our lineup.”
Such a statement strains credibility on its own. Yet that strain is substantially amplified by the fact that conservative commentator Pat Buchanan was fired by the same network. Why? In February MSNBC President Phil Griffin revealed that Buchanan’s suspension was due to the publication of his latest book, “Suicide of a Superpower.” It contains a chapter called, “The End of White America,” and Griffin asserts that he did not think the book belonged in the public discourse, despite the fact that Buchanan did little more than compile publicly available statistics and offer his opinions about the nation’s demographic future.
When American Spectator columnist Jeffry Lord inquired about Al Sharpton’s statement on this video where he issued a challenge to an audience member on the late Morton Downey Jr.s television show, as in, “You ain’t nothing, you a punk faggot. Now come on, do something!“ Jeremy Gaines asserted that MSNBC “didn’t hire the Al Sharpton of 1989, we hired the Al Sharpton of 2011.”
Considering Sharpton’s current involvement in the Trayvon Martin case, which consists of once again putting himself at the center of attention, and fomenting racial animosity without a shred of evidence that any exists, one is left to wonder how they manage to discern the difference.
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