Al Sharpton

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The Reverend Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. (born October 3, 1954) is an American politician, Pentacostal preacher, and civil rights activist. A Pentecostal and Democrat, Sharpton was the first major black presidential candidate of the 21st century, running for the 2004 Democratic Party nomination.

Contents

Early years

Sharpton was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He was ordained and licensed as a Pentacostal preacher at the age of ten in 1963. At the 1964 New York World's Fair Sharpton belted out sermons, billed as "The Wonder-Boy Preacher." After his parents split Sharpton experierced profound poverty and life in a housing project.

As a child Sharpton took an interest in preaching, going on tour with Mahalia Jackson and others. In school Sharpton would sign his school assignments as "the Reverend Al Sharpton". Sharpton's first attempts at protest were in high school, where the Reverend protested cafeteria food and the dress code. In 1969 he was appointed as youth director of Operation Breadbasket by Jesse Jackson, a group that focused on the promotion of new and better jobs for African Americans through negotiations and community-wide boycotts.

In the 1970s after two years at Brooklyn College, Sharpton dropped out to be a tour manager for James Brown, where he met his future wife, Kathy Jordan, a backup singer for James Brown, who he married in 1983. In 1971 Sharpton founded the National Youth Movement to fight drugs and raise money for impoverished youth.

Later years

Sharpton rose to prominence as a civil rights activist in New York City in 1986 after a black man was runover by a car while fleeing a white mob. Sharpton launched protests in Howard Beach (where the incident occurred) and called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Newspapers such as the New York Times loved the brash and outspoken Reverend, and wrote glowingly of his exploits.

Sharpton's most controversial appearances in the news came in 1987 when he, C. Vernon Mason, and Alton Maddox acted as advisor for Tawana Brawley. Brawley was a black teenager from Wappingers Falls, New York who claimed that she was raped and sodomized for several days by six white police officers before being covered in excrement and placed in a trash bag. These claims were later challenged. Following the incident, although Brawley refused to speak to the media or authorities, Sharpton and other advisors decided to speak up for her. Sharpton said that to cooperate with the state Attorney General Robert Abrams, a Jew, would be "to sit down with Mr. Hitler". All three implied that Mario Cuomo was tied to organized crime. Sharpton has never recanted any of the allegations he made surrounding the incident and maintains that he has always believed Brawley.

In 1998 Sharpton was ordered to pay Steven Pagones $65,000 in damages for slander for explicitly implicating the prosecutor in the rape of Tawana Brawley. Before the trial, Sharpton had said, "We stated openly that Steven Pagones ... did it ... if we're lying, sue us"[1]. Sharpton refused to pay. In January 2001 after Pagones had collected only $15,000 from Sharpton's garnished salary, a group of wealthy African Americans stepped in to pay.

In 1991, a Hasidic Ultra-Orthodox Jew, Yoseph Lisef, ran a red traffic light and hit a young black child, Gavin Cato, in Brooklyn's Crown Heights. A private ambulance from a Jewish association evacuated the lightly-injured driver on the orders of the police officer at the scene, who feared that Lisef would be attacked by the angry bystanders. Only later did a city ambulance arrive to treat Cato. In the violence that followed on that night, Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jewish rabbinical student, was stabbed to death.

At Cato's funeral, Sharpton spoke out against "diamond merchants", which is the occupation of many of the Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights. Sharpton mobilized hundreds of demonstrators to march through Crown Heights, chanting, "No justice, no peace." Sharpton flew to Israel to personally serve papers to Lisef for a civil suit.

On January 12, 1991 Sharpton was stabbed while organizing a demonstration in Bensonhurst. At the hospital when Sharpton learned the doctors intended to cut off his leather jacket Sharpton, "made them stop and hauled myself off the gurney and took my coat off". The event was turning point for Sharpton who saw first hand the violence that "loose language" could incite. Years later Sharpton met with his attacker and reflected "what poison am I putting in my environment ... where a kid feels he'll be a hero if he kills somebody".[2]

In 1995 Freddy's Fashion Mart, a Jewish owned store, was picketed by Sharpton's National Action Network when it raised the rent on a black subtenant. Sharpton proclaimed that "We will not stand by, and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business." On December 8, one of the protesters entered Freddy's, shot four employees, and set the store on fire, killing seven. Sharpton denied his involvement had anything to do with the incident.

After the acquittal of the policemen who shot Amadou Diallo in 2000, Sharpton led the marches and rallies. Unlike the Sharpton of old, he moderated his rhetoric and called for nonviolence, saying, "Let us not throw one brick".

Candidacies

Sharpton has run unsuccessfully for the United States Senate seat from New York in 1978, 1992, and 1994. In 1997 he ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City. Some of have criticized Sharpton for only running races he knows he can't win while shunning those he could. He has never held elected office.

On January 5, 2003 Sharpton announced his candidacy for the 2004 presidential election as a member of the Democratic Party. Precisely one year later, days before the Iowa caucus, reports of connection between Sharpton's campaign management and entrenched Republican Party organizers surfaced.[3][4]

Sharpton has been critical of the news media, charging it with ignoring his campaign due to deep-seeded racial prejudice. [5]

Sharpton's platform includes 10 key issues:

  • Increase voter registration.
  • Increase political consciousness and awareness.
  • Stimulate more people to get involved in the political process.
  • Raise issues that would otherwise be overlooked—for example, affirmative action and anti-death penalty policy.
  • Strengthen our REAL national security by fighting for human rights, the rule of law, and economic justice at home and abroad.
  • Fight to ensure women's rights are not stolen from them by the Republican Right.
  • Deliver Universal Health Care for the nation, not hidden benefits to the health care industry.
  • Provide a solution to the current educational crisis in the nation caused by Bush.
  • Help working people by giving them the biggest tax cuts - not the rich.
  • Fulfill American democracy by supporting voting rights or statehood for the 600,000 disenfranchised citizens of the District of Columbia.

To his supporters Sharpton is a loyal defender of the underrepresented poor and disenfranchised who has been supporting his community for 30 years. Critics of Sharpton accuse him of being a profiteering racial agitator, inserting himself into instances of racial tension in order to increase his own popularity, often making situations more tense. Many Jews see him as anti-Semitic.

On March 15th, 2004, Sharpton announced his endorsement of leading Democratic candidate John Kerry. However, Sharpton did not withdraw from the race, continuing instead to campaign and striving to win delegates for the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Celebrity status

Because of his demeanor and personality, Sharpton has become something of a minor celebrity and has been featured in many movies and television shows. He had cameo appearances in the movies Cold Feet, Bamboozled and Mr. Deeds and in episodes of the television shows New York Undercover, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Girlfriends and Boston Legal. He also hosted the original Spike TV "reality" television show, I Hate My Job.

Quotations

"I believe something happened to Tawana Brawley....I think it is absurd that someone would say that a 15-year-old girl could have made all that up, including fooling a hospital."
"I mean, Dwight Eisenhower was never elected to anything before he was elected president....In a time that we no longer have a Cold War, there is no real threat to American security." 
--On Fox News, August 2001
"Now that they have achieved the capture of Hussein, they should appeal to the U.N. to come in with a multilateral redevelopment plan. This is all the more reason this war should come to an immediate end."
"Who defines terrorists? Today's terrorist is tomorrow's friend. We were the ones that worked with Saddam Hussein. The United States worked with bin Laden."
"That's where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the 40 acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres.
"We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us." 
--Address to the Democratic National Convention 2004 referring to Abraham Lincoln's promise of "forty acres and a mule."
"But we believed if we kept on working, if we kept on marching, if we kept on voting, if we kept on believing, we would make America beautiful for everybody." 
--Address to the Democratic National Convention 2004

External links

  • Salon Interview with Al Sharpton
  • 80s Icon Al Sharpton
  • Text of Democratic National Convention 2004 Speech
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