John Perazzo: The Nine Lives of Al SharptonRoundup: Media's Take
By now everyone knows about the recent idiotic remarks that longtime broadcaster Don Imus made last week about some black members of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, to whom he referred as “nappy-headed hos.” Imus’ words require no comment; their stupidity is clear to all.
What is not at all clear, however, is why Al Sharpton has become Imus’ de facto confessor in this case. On Monday, the shock jock contritely appeared on Sharpton’s radio program and apologized for his stupid statements. Sharpton, for his part, slid into his customary moral preening routine and denounced Imus’ comments of last week as “racist” and “abominable,” adding that the broadcaster “should be fired” for what he had said. “I accept his apology,” Sharpton later elaborated, “just as I want his bosses to accept his resignation.” Moreover, Sharpton vowed to picket Imus’ New York radio home, WFAN-AM, unless the broadcaster was fired within a week for having “use[d] the airwaves for sexist and racist remarks.”
When one considers the multitude of hurtful, malicious, deceitful things Al Sharpton himself has said and done over the years—chiefly for the purpose of justifying his own existence as a proverbial shepherd dutifully shielding black Americans from the white racist wolves that supposedly surround them all times—it is beyond incredible not only that he hosts his own radio program, but that anyone on earth should take seriously anything he has to say.
Sharpton’s career as a public liar and racial arsonist began in earnest two decades ago when he injected himself into the case of 16-year-old Tawana Brawley, who in November 1987 claimed that she had been repeatedly raped and sodomized for four days by six white kidnappers, at least one of whom was wearing a police badge. She further alleged that her assailants had chopped off some of her hair, forced her to perform oral sex on them, urinated into her mouth, smeared her clothing with feces, and covered her chest with racial slurs before finally depositing her in a wooded area of Wappingers Falls, a town in Dutchess County, New York. It was among the most disturbing tales in living memory.
Al Sharpton quickly assumed the role of special adviser to Miss Brawley and thereafter worked closely with the girl’s attorneys, C. Vernon Mason (who, later in his career, would be convicted of 66 counts of professional misconduct and disbarred from the legal profession) and Alton Maddox (who has publicly expressed his profound hatred for white people). Lamenting that their client had fallen prey to “certain elements that have constantly antagonized the black community, including the Ku Klux Klan and law-enforcement personnel,” Sharpton and the Brawley lawyers demanded that New York Governor Mario Cuomo appoint a special prosecutor to the case and publicly charged that “high-level” local law enforcement officials were involved in the crime—an allegation that led to numerous death threats against members of the Dutchess County police department. Sharpton further demanded that New York Attorney General Robert Abrams be removed from the case because of an alleged “relationship” between Abrams and the Dutchess County sheriff who was, according to Sharpton, “a suspect in this case.” Sharpton insisted that there was “absolutely no way” that his client would talk to Abrams. “That’s like asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler,” he said.
So the case dragged on, week after week, with Brawley refusing to speak to even a single investigator—ostensibly because she feared that as an African American she would be unable to get a fair hearing.
Then at a March 1988 news conference, Sharpton and the attorneys fingered Stephen Pagones, Dutchess County’s assistant district attorney, as one of their client’s attackers. Further accusing district attorney William Grady of trying to cover up Pagones’ involvement in the crime, they demanded that Governor Cuomo immediately arrest the two “suspects.” When asked what evidence they could provide to substantiate their charges, Sharpton and his cohorts were evasive, saying only that they would reveal the facts when the time was right.
Three months later something very important happened: a Sharpton aide named Perry McKinnon stepped forward to make a remarkable series of disclosures. A former police officer, private investigator, and director of security at a Brooklyn Hospital, McKinnon revealed that “Sharpton acknowledged to me early on that ‘The [Brawley] story do sound like bull---t, but it don’t matter. We’re building a movement. This is the perfect issue. Because you’ve got whites on blacks. That’s an easy way to stir up all the deprived people, who would want to believe and who would believe—and all [you’ve] got to do is convince them—that all white people are bad. Then you’ve got a movement.” Explaining that Sharpton was methodically “building an atmosphere” for a race war, McKinnon continued: “Sharpton told me it don’t matter whether any whites did it or not. Something happened to her...even if Tawana done it to herself.” To prove his truthfulness, McKinnon submitted to a lie detector test administered on camera and passed all questions.
In the autumn of 1988, after conducting an exhaustive review of the facts, a grand jury released its report showing beyond any doubt that the entire Tawana Brawley story had been fabricated, and that at least $1 million of New York taxpayers’ money had been spent to investigate a colossal hoax.
Sharpton, however, would concede nothing. He continued to reiterate his claim that Brawley had been brutalized by a gang of whites. In February 1989, he told a Spin magazine interviewer, without the barest shred of proof, that Stephen Pagones had privately confessed to the crime. Sharpton further asserted, falsely, that Brawley’s gang-rape allegations had been confirmed by medical tests whose results were—conveniently—in C. Vernon Mason’s exclusive possession. And finally, for good measure, he lamented that Miss Brawley had tragically fallen prey to a barbaric “white supremist [sic] cult ritual.”
When Pagones sued Sharpton for defamation of character in 1997, the latter portrayed himself as a wrongly persecuted man of honor who, mysteriously, could “no longer recall” having made a number of his slanderous accusations against Pagones and other law-enforcement officials years earlier. When asked whether he had made even the slightest attempt to verify Brawley’s allegations about Pagones before going public with them, Sharpton self-righteously retorted, “I would not engage in sex talk with a 15-year-old girl.”
Pagones won a court judgment against Sharpton for $345,000, which Sharpton never paid. Moreover, during the decade prior to Pagones’ long-awaited vindication in court, the former prosecutor had suffered constant stress and anxiety (exacerbated by numerous death threats from Sharpton’s credulous followers) that contributed heavily to the devastating dissolution of Pagones’ marriage and the virtual ruin of his life.
In comparison to what Sharpton did, Don Imus’ recent transgression seems rather minor, doesn’t it? And unlike Imus, Sharpton has never—in twenty years—had the courage or the decency to acknowledge what he did and to apologize for it. Never.
But the Brawley hoax was merely one of the early chapters in Sharpton’s long career as a peddler of racial grievance. Consider his response to the 1989 case of a white female jogger who was raped and beaten nearly to death in New York’s Central Park by a gang of at least 30 black and Hispanic teenagers who later acknowledged that they had specifically set out to target a white woman. Fracturing her skull with a lead pipe and mutilating her face with a brick, the assailants left the woman for dead. She lost three quarters of her blood in the attack and was so badly mangled that even her boyfriend was able to recognize her only by a familiar ring on her finger. When investigators later asked one of the attackers why he had tried to smash the victim skull, he candidly replied, “It was fun.” A multiracial jury convicted several of the defendants on the basis of their own confessions. But Sharpton, who served as an adviser to the boys’ families, said the defendants had been framed by a racist justice system. At one point during the trial, he escorted Tawana Brawley into the courtroom in an attempt to illustrate the alleged inequities of that system. “Those boys aren’t guilty for what happened to the jogger,” Sharpton said. “This is just like the old Scottsboro Boys case.”
Sharpton smelled more blood in 1991, when anti-Semitic riots in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section erupted after a seven-year old black child named Gavin Cato was accidentally killed by a car driven by a Hasidic Jew. Neighborhood residents were enraged by the boy’s death, and within three hours a black mob had murdered an innocent rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, in retribution. 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!”
In 1995, Sharpton led his National Action Network in an ugly boycott against Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned business in Harlem, New York. The boycott started when Freddy’s owners announced that because they wanted to expand their own business, they would no longer sublet part of their store to a black-owned record shop. The street leader of the boycott, Morris Powell, was the head of Sharpton’s “Buy Black” Committee. Repeatedly referring to the Jewish proprietors of Freddy’s as “crackers,” Powell and his fellow protesters menacingly told passersby, “Keep [going] right on past Freddy’s, he’s one of the greedy Jew bastards killing our [black] people. Don’t give the Jew a dime.”
All of this occurred under the watchful, approving eye of Sharpton, who provided some additional sound bites for the media: “We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so some white interloper can expand his business on 125th Street…There is a systematic and methodical strategy to eliminate our people from doing business on 125th Street….[O]ne of our brothers...is now being threatened.” Sharpton exhorted blacks to join “the struggle brother Powell and I are engaged in.” The subsequent picketing became increasingly violent in tone until one of the protesters eventually shot four whites inside the store and then set the building on fire—killing seven employees, most of whom were Hispanics.
One wonders why Al Sharpton’s apparently delicate sensibilities—as evidenced by his current snit over Imus’ comments—were undisturbed by the incessant, ugly rhetoric that accompanied the Freddy’s boycott. Equally inexplicable is how someone with Sharpton’s professed abhorrence for racial insensitivity could have spent so many years as a strong supporter of the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad, whose vulgar diatribes against whites were too incendiary for even Louis Farrakhan to condone.
Perhaps you remember Mr. Muhammad, who publicly referred to Jews as “slumlords in the black community” who are busy “sucking our [black’] blood on a daily and consistent basis”; who said that Jews had provoked Adolf Hitler when they “went in there, in Germany, the way they do everywhere they go, and they supplanted, they usurped”; who said that blacks, in retribution against South African whites of the apartheid era, should “kill the women,…kill the children,…kill the babies,…kill the blind,…kill the crippled,…kill the faggot,…kill the lesbian,…kill them all”; who praised Colin Ferguson, a black man who had shot some twenty white and Asian commuters (killing six of them) in a racially motivated 1993 shooting spree aboard a New York commuter train, as a hero who possessed the courage to “just kill every goddamn cracker that he saw”; who advised blacks that “[t]here are no good crackers, and if you find one, kill him before he changes”; who told a Donahue television audience in May 1994 that “[t]here is a little bit of Hitler in all white people”; and who characterized black conservatives as “boot-licking, butt-licking, bamboozled, half-baked, half-fried, sissified, punkified, pasteurized, homogenized Nigger[s].”
Perhaps you think that an individual who could utter such filth must be a hollow-headed racist. Well, Al Sharpton did not think so, not by any means. In fact, Sharpton actually lauded Muhammad for being nothing less than “a very articulate and courageous brother.”
But such an evaluation makes perfect sense for someone who, like Sharpton, loathes white people and considers them the scourge of humanity. In December 1998, for instance, Sharpton hosted an AIDS forum in Harlem which featured a dozen guest speakers, all but one of whom professed to believe that the disease had actually been engineered by white racists as a tool for genocide against blacks.
At another public event, Sharpton declared: “White folks was in caves while we was building empires...We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.”
Yet today Al Sharpton casts himself as a moral arbiter qualified to pass judgment on the words and actions of an aging broadcaster who recently uttered some stupid remarks that are no more offensive or insipid than a thousand other things he has said during his long radio career. Sharpton contends that Imus no longer has a moral right to hold a job in the industry where he has worked for more than four decades. But if Imus is unfit to be a broadcaster, by what calculus could anyone conclude that Sharpton himself merits a job behind a microphone? The episodes discussed in this article barely scratch the surface of what Sharpton has done to poison race relations for more than 20 years.
If Imus deserves to be fired, clearly, so does Sharpton.