Lucky Al

In his Wall Street Journal column titled The Race Card, Football and Me, Rush Limbaugh noted the absurdity of reporters’ seeking comment on his involvement in a potential NFL owners’ group from Al Sharpton:

In 1998 Mr. Sharpton was found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay $65,000 for falsely accusing a New York prosecutor of rape in the 1987 Tawana Brawley case. He also played a leading role in the 1991 Crown Heights riot (he called neighborhood Jews “diamond merchants”) and 1995 Freddie’s Fashion Mart riot.

Sharpton promptly claimed that he had been libeled by Limbaugh and demanded a retraction, threatening to sue:

The Rev. Al Sharpton on Saturday threatened to sue conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for writing in a column that the civil rights leader played a role in two New York race riots.

Note that Sharpton quietly omitted any mention of his disgraceful role in the Tawana Brawley affair. What is striking about the linked Associated Press account, however, is how the AP carries water for Sharpton. Note how carefully parsed the AP’s defense of Sharpton is:

Sharpton was not present for or involved in the rioting in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section in August 1991, during which hundreds of blacks were involved in attacks on the neighborhood’s Jewish residents. He did deliver a eulogy at the funeral of the youth whose death in a traffic accident triggered the violence, but that didn’t happen until the violence ended.
Sharpton also wasn’t present on Dec. 8, 1995, when a lone, black gunman burst into Freddie’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned business in Harlem, started shooting and set the building on fire. Seven people died. There was no riot.
Sharpton’s organization had, like other black groups, been involved in picketing the business over its plans to expand into space occupied by a black-owned business, but he said he couldn’t be blamed for the madman’s rampage.

One might get the impression that poor, aggrieved Reverend Al did nothing worse than deliver a eulogy and march in a picket line. The actual facts are quite different. As to Crown Heights, it is true that Sharpton arrived on the scene after the traffic accident that killed Gavin Cato and after the murder, just hours later, of Yankel Rosenbaum. But his role hardly ended with a eulogy, nor was the eulogy as innocent as one might assume from the AP’s account:

At Gavin Cato’s funeral, Sharpton criticized the Jewish community and thereafter organized a series of massive, angry demonstrations. He declared that Cato’s death was not merely the result of a car accident, but rather “the social accident of apartheid.” The contentious activist then challenged local Jews–who he derisively characterized as “diamond merchants” –to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score. Finally he claimed, without proof, that the Jewish driver had run over the Cato child while in a drunken stupor.
Stirred in part by such rhetoric and false accusations, hundreds of Crown Heights blacks took violently to the streets, pelting Jewish homes with rocks, setting vehicles on fire, and shouting “Jew! Jew!” The riots continued for three days and nights. Sharpton’s response: “We must not reprimand our children for outrage, when it is the outrage that was put in them by an oppressive system.” Five days after the original car accident that had triggered the violence, Sharpton led 400 shouting protesters through the heart of the Crown Heights Jewish community, shouting “No justice, no peace!” The relentless Sharpton even traveled to Israel to search for the driver who had run over Gavin Cato. When angry Israeli onlookers taunted Sharpton with shouts of “Go to hell,” he replied: “I am in hell!”

It is true that the worst of the violence occurred before Sharpton’s eulogy, but given his role then and thereafter, it is certainly fair to say that he had a “leading role” in the riots. [UPDATE: A reader points out that Sharpton was fanning the flames before the funeral, when the riots were beginning, as well: “The Rev. Al Sharpton led a group of hundreds of demonstrators and called for the arrest of the driver.”]
The AP’s treatment of the “Freddie’s Fashion Mart riot” is even more misleading. Again, it is true that Sharpton didn’t personally murder the seven employees at Freddie’s Fashion Mart. But the AP’s suggestion that he had no involvement with the “rampage”–but “no riot!”–of a “lone gunman” is a perversion of the truth, as described by Jeff Jacoby:

1995: When the United House of Prayer, a large black landlord in Harlem, raises the rent on Freddy’s Fashion Mart, Freddy’s white Jewish owner is forced to raise the rent on his subtenant, a black-owned music store. A landlord-tenant dispute ensues; Sharpton uses it to incite racial hatred. “We will not stand by,” he warns malignantly, “and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business.” Sharpton’s National Action Network sets up picket lines; customers going into Freddy’s are spat on and cursed as “traitors” and “Uncle Toms.” Some protesters shout, “Burn down the Jew store!” and simulate striking a match. “We’re going to see that this cracker suffers,” says Sharpton’s colleague Morris Powell. On Dec. 8, one of the protesters bursts into Freddy’s, shoots four employees point-blank, then sets the store on fire. Seven employees die in the inferno.

The best one can say of Sharpton is that he doesn’t commit murder himself, he only incites it. Lucky Al! He is never personally present when the blood starts to flow. And yet the Associated Press is happy to run interference for him. It is a sad world we live in: Rush Limbaugh, not Al Sharpton, is too controversial for polite society.

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