Sharpton's Sins

by Kevin Carmody | 2/19/02 6:00am

On Sunday evening, the Rev. Al Sharpton gave a lecture in Rollins Chapel as part of the Tucker Foundation's "Social Justice and Leadership" program. I sent repeated BlitzMail messages asking the Foundation why it invited Rev. Sharpton to address the issue of social justice. The messages have gone unanswered, and understandably so, since his record of race-baiting and anti-Semitism make him an unworthy spokesman for the Tucker Foundation, an institution committed to furthering "the moral and spiritual life of the College." For years, he has fanned the fire of racial hatred and has shown no remorse for the consequences of his irresponsibility.

Al Sharpton first gained national notoriety in the infamous Tawana Brawley hoax. The teenage resident of Wappingers Falls, a small community two hours north of New York City, claimed to have been kidnapped, physically abused and raped. Found in a trash bag, covered with feces, Brawley seemed at first quite compelling when she told her story and Sharpton soon appeared by her side. It soon came to light, however, that Brawley had been seen at parties in the days during which she claimed to have been in captivity and had, in fact, been observed stepping into the trash bag in question. Medical evidence proved she had never been sexually abused, had sustained no injuries and that her physical condition was generally devoid of any reason to believe she had been kidnapped for four days. A grand jury excused everyone she accused of attacking her, after concluding that her claims were utterly without merit and that all of the whereabouts of the accused over the course of time in question were verifiable.

Yet the truth can't stand in the way of Al Sharpton. He took the opportunity to appear on "Phil Donohue" and "The Morton Downey Jr. Show" to plead his case. Two of his associates actually resigned in disgust because they said Sharpton knew from the beginning she was lying but just didn't care. He continued to accuse the police of a massive cover-up and forced well-respected District Attorney Steve Pagones to resign from his office. And when Brawley's mother was subpoenaed, Sharpton took her to a church in New York instead of encouraging her to obey the law and appear in court.

In 1998, Pagones brought Sharpton to court for defamation -- and won. It took two years and another court injunction to get Sharpton to begin paying installments of the $85,000 he owed Pagones, because Sharpton claimed he didn't have the money. Going broke was the unsurprising result of Sharpton's decision to transfer all of his assets to his wife's name, including his Brooklyn house and his six-figure book advance.

Sharpton has busied himself by fanning the flames of racial hatred and anti-Semitism in New York. In 1995, Sharpton and several of his cronies were displeased that there were Jewish shop-owners in Harlem. In protest, they established a boycott of non-black stores and held rallies denouncing "white interlopers." At a radio protest against Freddy's Clothing Store on 125th Street, Sharpton stood by while one of his cohorts declared, in a speech littered with racial and anti-Semitic slurs, that he wanted to see the owner "suffer." When Freddy's was burned to the ground, killing eight people, Sharpton admitted to no part in the tragedy.

In a BlitzMail message announcing his speech, the Tucker Foundation described Sharpton as a leader for civil rights who fights "economic injustice, political inequality and corporate racism." Yet his history as a race-baiting anti-Semite stands in stark contrast to his claims to be a community leader. He is clearly more concerned with getting the attention of the national media than he is with social justice. To this day, Sharpton says he believes Tawana Brawley. He absolutely refuses to apologize to Pagones. And he maintains that the burning of Freddy's had nothing to do with his rallies. Is this really the brand of social justice the Tucker Foundation wants to promote?

The Tucker Foundation has long been a positive force on campus, espousing volunteerism and fostering good relations between religious groups on campus. It stands for the worthy principles of community service and social justice on which the religious and non-religious alike can unite. Yet they have made a big mistake.

Sharpton ought to take honors such as this one to own up to the error in his ways and to apologize to all those who have been victims of his relentless pursuit of the spotlight.