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January 17, 2003

In Defense of Al Sharpton

CalPundit like The American Prospect is denouncing Al Sharpton as dangerous, "a disgusting, race-mongering cretin" in Kevin's words.

Now I am no fan of Sharpton's more outrageous antics, as detailed, but I also question the quality of some of these attacks on Sharpton.

Yes, Sharpton has attacked Jews, such as during the black-Jewish conflicts in Crown Heights, and his rhetoric was unpleasant: highlighting the Jewish "diamond merchants" importing gems from Apartheid South Africa was guaranteed to rub tensions raw. But white politicians use code words for black people every day-- "welfare queens" et al -- so are black politicians singularly barred for life from politics if they appeal to the baser instincts of their constituents in building their political clout? If Sharpton continued to base his political appeal on such antisemitic appeals, I'd have a deeper problem with him on that basis, but his sins on that score have been sporadic-- dramatic admittedly -- but not continual.

But there's a more serious issue here. Yes, on Tawana Brawley, Sharpton pushed the issue long after all reasonable evidence should have made him concede that the girl had made the story up. But given the incredible racist history of police treatment of black victims of crime at the hands of whites, it's not so incredible that he and many blacks distrusted the evidence that whites so easily accepted.

For an example of this, look at this National Review hit piece against Al Sharpton from 2000, rehearsing the usual sins of Tawana Brawley, Crown Heights, Freddy's Food Mart, and, oh yeah, one more sin lately missing from the anti-Sharpton hit parade:

In the spring of 1989, the Central Park “wilding” occurred. That was the monstrous rape and beating of a young white woman, known to most of the world as “the jogger.” The hatred heaped on her by Sharpton and his claque is almost impossible to fathom, and wrenching to review. Sharpton insisted-against all evidence-that the attackers were innocent. They were, he said, modern Scottsboro Boys, trapped in “a fit of racial hysteria.”
But guess what, just a month or two ago, the City of New York prosecutors admitted the boys in question had been framed for the rape of the young woman. The five boys had served a combined 40 years in jail based on coerced confessions and, yes, racial hysteria. And yes, others like Newsday's Les Payne think a comparison to the Scottsboro Boys is quite apt. The young kids in question were not good kids, who probably committed lesser crimes, but the fact remains that they, like countless of the millions of black men thrown into our jail system, were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

And Sharpton was right. And his critics were wrong.

So is every politician who gave into this anti-black hysteria and agreed with the theft of 40 years from the lives of these five youths barred from polite company and progressive political association? Or are those who participate in anti-black hysteria exempt from this rule, and the rule applies only to those who gave in to anti-Jewish hysteria at points in their lives?

All that said, I question Sharpton's judgement and, pragmatically, his viability as a candidate, so I probably won't be voting for him. But where were the rest of the crop of Presidential candidates when black men like Amadou Diallo were being shot down in the streets like dogs by the New York City police (or police in their cities)?

Sharpton was there and they weren't.

And if you want to know why Sharpton will get and deserve many of the votes he receives in the Democratic primaries, that is the answer.

Update: CalPundit responds, saying:

the fact that he was eventually proved right about the Central Park wilding case doesn't make him any less wrong for the racist attacks he's engaged in sporadically over the years.
But there are three points here:
(1) First, it does explain the anger behind the murder of a young black man in Crown Heights, when the expectation is that the police will ignore such a murder because the assailant was white or Jewish. The racial disparity in sentencing when the the victim is black rather than white is stark, and that failure to value black lives in the criminal justice system is pervasive.
(2) The double standard around Sharpton is pervasive since the hysteria over "wilding" was a racist attack on the black community in New York. By the standard applied to Sharpton, almost every politician in New York City and state would have to be barred from polite political company.
(3) CalPundit himself asked for a "Sister Souljah" moment, which itself was one of Clinton's worst race-baiting attacks of the 1992 campaign. Here is what Sister Souljah said in response to Clinton's attack-- a pretty reasonable response for someone made a racial scapegoat in that campaign. It's doesn't seem reasonable to ask that Sharpton be barred for race-baiting while applauding it by Clinton.

Posted by Nathan at January 17, 2003 02:45 PM

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