The Sharpton hustle

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When Don Imus sought absolution for his characteristic display of poor taste, he bent his knee to Pope Al Sharpton. How is it that Al Sharpton has become the arbiter elegantiae for matters pertaining to race and etiquette? Though he is accorded an absurdly respected role in the Democratic Party, and even though President Bush hosted him in the White House to celebrate black history month earlier this year, he is easily one of the most vile men active in American public life.

Jay Nordlinger reviewed Sharpton’s record as of early 2000 in his brilliant National Review feature article “Power Dem.” Jay updated his take on Sharpton this past December in his Impromptus column “Words from Pope Al.” From his promotion of Tawana Brawley’s hoax and his defamation of Steven Pagones and Robert Abrams, to his defense of the Central Park “wilding” rapists, to his role in the pogroms leading to the murders of Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights and eight victims in Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem, Sharpton has compiled a record that should result in his excommunication by decent people from civil society.

Writing in the Village Voice in December 2004, Wayne Barrett proclaimed Sharpton to have hit “a new low.” Yet the press has devoted remarkably little attention to Sharpton’s modus operandi. Today’s New York Post article “Rev. Al soaks up boycott bucks” by Isabel Vincent and Susan Edelman is therefore worthy of note. The Post quotes Peter Flaherty describing Sharpton’s method as “a shakedown operation.” Flaherty observes that Sharpton is “good at harassing people and making noise. CEOs give him his way because it is a lot easier than confronting him.” Rev. Al responds:

“That’s the old shakedown theory that the anti-civil-rights forces have used against us forever,” he told The Post yesterday. “Why can’t they come up with one company that says that? No one has criticized me.”

The Post article includes a striking tribute to Sharpton from a witness with first-hand knowledge of his modus operandi:

“His way of doing things was, ‘If we’re going to support you and you’re not going to support us, then we have to focus on telling the African-American community not to spend their money,'” said La-Van Hawkins, a partner in Hawkins Food Group, which owns and operates fast-food franchises nationwide.

Hawkins spoke from the Yankton Federal Prison in South Dakota, where he’s serving time for attempted bribery.

After Hawkins lost an attempt to sue Burger King in 2000 for denying him franchises, he sent Sharpton, attorney Johnnie Cochran and a Miami lawyer to meet with the company’s top execs.

“They ended up settling with me for $31 million,” Hawkins said.

Sharpton did not get a cut, but Hawkins Food Group paid him an annual $25,000 fee, Hawkins said. He said he has donated “over $1 million” to NAN.

(More on Hawkins here.) Some cynics might think that Hawkins’s tribute to Sharpton supports what Sharpton dismisses as “the old shakedown theory,” but the Post merely juxtaposes Sharpton’s self-defense with Hawkins’s tribute and leaves it to the reader to draw his own conclusions.

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