Glenn Loury Asks: Why Are Democrats Defending Al Sharpton?

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Written by Ann Brown
Al Sharpton
By Autumn Keiko

When Al Sharpton was recently attacked verbally by President Trump, Democratic candidates for president rushed to stand up for the New York City reverend.

And New York Times writer Glenn C. Loury is wondering why. 

Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “@TheRevAl has dedicated his life to the fight for justice for all. No amount of racist tweets from the man in the White House will erase that — and we must not let them divide us. I stand with my friend Al Sharpton in calling out these ongoing attacks on people of color.” 

Kamala Harris posted: Sharpton has “spent his life fighting for what’s right.” 

Even Joe Biden chimed in and said Sharpton is “a champion in the fight for civil rights.”

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“The problem for Democrats is that Al Sharpton actually is, as Trump put it on Twitter, ‘a con man.’ And not just a con man: Sharpton is an ambulance-chasing, anti-Semitic, anti-white race hustler. His history of offensive statements is longer than the current American president’s. And Sharpton’s worst sin — his blatant incitement to violence during the Crown Heights riots of 1991 — leaves no doubt that he is not a leader, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio described him, who has spent his years ‘pushing for justice in the teachings of Dr. King,’” wrote Loury.

Loury lists several questionable incidents during Sharpton’s time in the spotlight, including the Tawana Brawley incident in 1987. Brawley, 15 at the time, was Black girl found lying in a garbage bag, smeared with feces, with various racial slurs written on her body. According to Brawley, she said had raped by six white men and two of them were law-enforcement officers. Sharpton relentlessly championed her cause. But after seven months of investigating, a grand jury found “overwhelming evidence” that Brawley had fabricated her story.

Sharpton still accused the prosecutor, Steven Pagones, as being one of the perpetrators of the alleged abduction and rape. Sharpton (along with Ms. Brawley’s lawyers, Anthony H. Maddox Jr. and C. Vernon Mason Sr.) lost a lawsuit for defamation. Pagones’ life fell apart as a result of the entire episode. Sharpton “refused to pay his share of damages, which was later paid by a number of his supporters, and he has refused to apologize,” Loury wrote.

Then in 1991, a Hasidic rabbi driver accidentally killed a young Black boy, Gavin Cato. Riots ensued in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Following the boy’s death, hundreds of Black men took to the streets, 20 of them surrounded Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year-old Australian yeshiva student visiting the United States. Rosenbaum was stabbed several times in the back and beat by the men. He later died of his injuries. 

Sharpton spoke at  Cato’s funeral, at which there was a banner with the words: “Hitler did not do the job,” In his eulogy, Sharpton blamed “the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights,” and insisted that “the issue is not anti-Semitism; the issue is apartheid.” Sharpton added: “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 kaffeeklatsch, no skinnin’ and grinnin’. Pay for your deeds.”

In 1995, Fred Harari, who was Jewish tenant of a retail property on 125th Street and operated Freddy’s Fashion Mart, tried to evict his longtime subtenant, a Black-owned record store called the Record Shack. Sharpton organized and led several marches against the eviction. 

“Protesters led by Sharpton’s National Action Network picketed outside the store day after day, referring to Jews as ‘bloodsuckers’ and threatening, ‘We’re going to burn and loot the Jews.’ At one point Sharpton told protesters, ‘We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business.’ Never mind that the building was actually owned by a Black Pentecostal church,” Loury wrote.

One of the protesters went into Harari’s store, warned all the Black customers to exit, and then shot several of the remaining customers before setting the store on fire. The gunman killed himself, and seven store employees died from smoke inhalation.

After going through some of Shrton’s history, Loury asks: “Why is a person with such a sordid history — one for which he has offered nothing more than weak apologies for wishing he’d done more to heal rather than harm’ — enjoying the support of such a determinedly antiracist political party? 

Loury thinks he has the answers.

When Barack Obama was first running for president, he found  himself being criticized by Blacks for his moderate race-related policies and for his  disavowing his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Sharpton stepped up as a black “leader” to defend Obama. 

“In short order, Sharpton became a political kingmaker. In 2011, he got his own show on MSNBC. Between 2009 and 2014 he’d visited the White House 61 times. All of this has left the Democrats joined at the hip with an exemplar of failed black leadership,” wrote Loury, a professor of economics at Brown University.

Another answer is the state of  South Carolina. The candidates need the Black vote here and they see Sharpton as a way to get it.

“The third, and most powerful, reason is that Sharpton now has the right enemy: Donald Trump. Democrats seem unable to do two things at once: condemn Trump and refuse to defend ideas and people that are not worthy of being defended. Instead, anything he criticizes, however plausible that criticism, becomes something they feel compelled to rally behind,” Loury wrote.