defense of Al Sharpton

I keep hearing about Al Sharpton is supposedly scum of the earth by GOP partisans desperate to rationalize their support of a political party that embraces racism and social oppression.

Ok, then. educate me. What did Sharpton do that was so evil? Give me the details. I found one reference to "diamond merchants" in an eulogy he gave for a black boy who was killed by a Hasidic rabbi's motorcade - and Slate does a fine job of explaining the context:

Quote: At a funeral on Aug. 26, 1991, Sharpton complained about "the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights," a disparaging reference to the Brooklyn neighborhood's Orthodox Jewish population.

Charge: Many people viewed Sharpton's comment as anti-Semitic. On Oct. 3, 1991, a liberal Orthodox rabbi wrote a column in the Jewish Advocate titled "Why Anti-Semitism Lingers in the African-American Community." The rabbi called Sharpton an "agitator" and urged the black community to repudiate "its extremists."

Context: Sharpton delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Gavin Cato, a black boy from Crown Heights who was killed when a car in a Hasidic rabbi's motorcade accidentally veered off the road and hit him. In retaliation, a gang of black youths stabbed a rabbinical student to death, and black-Jewish tensions ran high. Sharpton said of Cato's death: "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."

is there more? I await edification.

UPDATE: Several commentators pointed to the name Tawna Brawley. A cursory search for info reveals this article in Slate:

Charge: In 1987, a 15-year-old black girl named Tawana Brawley went missing and was found four days later covered in dog feces and with racial slurs written on her body. She claimed that at least two and possibly six white men, one of them carrying a badge, had repeatedly raped her in the woods in upstate New York. Sharpton took up Brawley's cause and defended her refusal to cooperate with prosecutors, saying that asking her to meet with New York's attorney general (who had been asked by Gov. Mario Cuomo to supervise the investigation) would be like "asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler." According to the Associated Press, Sharpton and Brawley's lawyers asserted "on 33 separate occasions" that a local prosecutor named Steven Pagones "had kidnapped, abused and raped" Brawley. There was no evidence, and Pagones was soon cleared. Sharpton then accused a local police cult with ties to the Irish Republican Army of perpetrating the alleged assault. The case fizzled when a security guard for Brawley's lawyers testified that the lawyers and Sharpton knew Brawley was lying. A grand jury investigation concluded in late 1988 that Brawley "was not the victim of forcible sexual assault" and that the whole thing was a hoax. The report specifically exonerated Pagones, and in 1998 Pagones won a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton, Brawley, and Brawley's lawyers. Sharpton was ordered to pay Pagones $65,000. Johnnie Cochran and other Sharpton benefactors subsidized the payment.

Defense: Sharpton stands by Brawley's story. In May 2002, when the Associated Press asked whether he would apologize to Pagones, Sharpton replied: "Apologize for what? For believing a young lady?" Referring to his incipient presidential campaign, Sharpton continued, "When people around the country know that I stood up for a young lady ... I think it will help me." In March 2003, when the Washington Post asked whether Sharpton could have expressed sympathy for Pagones after the prosecutor was cleared, Sharpton replied that Brawley "identified Pagones. I was her spokesperson. I cannot turn around in what I said I believed." As to the jury verdict against him, Sharpton told the New York Daily News in July 2003 that "a jury said in the Central Park jogging case � that I was wrong, and it was just overturned 13 years later. Juries can be wrong. I've stood by what I believe. Juries are proven wrong every day."

I've emphasised what I think are the important points. So, Sharpton defended a rape victim, and accused Pagones of being involved based on her statements. Pagones was later cleared. Sharpton believed that the jury was wrong. Since I wasn't on the jury, and neither were you, we have to accept the verdict on Pagones and grant him the benefit of innocence. But also acknowledge that sometimes, juries are wrong. If you disagree, I refer you to OJ Simpson. I don't fault Sharpton for his continued belief in Brawley's statements. And I have to wonder why Sharpton is being held to a double standard - aren't lawyers supposed to defend the views of their client?

No comments: