Who anointed the Rev. Al Sharpton today’s Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Sharpton delivered the eulogy at George Floyd’s memorial service, broadcast by major television networks, on June 4. Floyd’s asphyxiation by Minneapolis police—caught on video—ignited national and global protests.
Now, in conjunction with the Floyd family, the reverend and his non-profit National Action Network (NAN)—known for grifting protection money from the likes of Walmart, Verizon, Macy’s and McDonald’s—plan a gathering of 100,000 people in Washington, D.C. in late August. Sharpton means to appropriate the 57th anniversary of the Rev. King’s ground-breaking “I Have a Dream” civil rights march.
Sharpton declared “we need to go back to Washington and stand up—black, white, Latino, Arab—in the shadows of Lincoln and tell them this is the time to stop” police brutality and a racist criminal justice system.
Before their conversion from objectivity to advocacy—that is, to public relations—journalists often embraced a saying attributed to turn-of-the-century Chicago editor Finley Peter Dunne: A newspaper “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton is very comfortable. NAN reportedly pays him $1 million a year; his long-running “PoliticsNation” show airs on MSNBC-Television; and though shunned by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the reverend frequented the Obama White House as a civil rights advisor. He now instructs high-profile Democrats including New York City Mayor Bill diBlasio.
He was parodied as early as 1990 as race-hustling Reverend Bacon in Tom Wolfe’s best-selling Bonfire of the Vanities. In 1987, Sharpton had publicized Tawana Brawley’s claim that white men, including a police officer and a county assistant prosecutor, raped the African-American teen and left her covered in feces in a trash bag. The allegations crumbled in front of a grand jury but not before Sharpton leveraged them for national attention. As recently as 2013 he refused to apologize for smearing the reputations of those falsely accused.
Like a match to kindling
Sharpton confirmed Wolfe’s portrayal by his incitement during the deadly Crown Heights riots and Freddy’s Fashion Mart shootings.
In 1991, a car driven by a Chasidic Jew in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights killed a black child, Gavin Cato. Hours later, about 30 African American youths, some shouting “Kill the Jew,” surrounded Australian rabbinic student Yankel Rosenbaum and beat and stabbed him to death. Sharpton’s funeral oration for Cato included:
“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 antisemitism; 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 coffee klatsch, no skinnin’ and grinnin’.”
During three days of black-against-Jew rioting, Sharpton was in the streets, crying “No justice, no peace!”
Decades later, a sanitized recollection by the reverend but no apology.
In 1995, months of increasingly threatening picketing against Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned store in Harlem, resulted in eight dead. Freddy’s—which leased its site from a black church seeking higher-paying tenants—had evicted a black-owned sub-leasee, the Record Shack.
Sharpton let Morris Powell, a Freddy’s picketer, use his weekly radio program for antisemitic incitement. The reverend himself told demonstrators in September that “I want to make it clear to the radio audience and to you here that we will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business on 125th Street.”
In October, Sharpton led another demonstration at which a second speaker warned Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman against criticizing the reverend and threatened “money-loving” Jews with an economic boycott.
On December 8, Roland Smith, Jr., one of the picketers, pulled a gun and ordered all black customers out of Freddy’s. He then set a fire in which he and seven others perished. Sharpton minimized his role but made no atonement.
Never waste a tragedy
After a jury acquitted neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012 for the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin, Sharpton used his MSNBC television show to call for protests across the country. Washington Post media critic Paul Farhi put it this way:
“ … [I]n just a few hours, Sharpton, 58, played several parts in the Martin story virtually at once: national TV host, Martin-family advocate, rally organizer and promoter, and newsmaker.”
Reprising his role as rhetorical undertaker, Sharpton materialized in 2014 at Michael Brown’s funeral. The turmoil sparked by the police shooting of Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, foreshadowed that after Floyd’s murder six years later.
Some news reports portrayed Brown as “a gentle giant” who said, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” after yielding to a white cop who stopped him for walking in the street. In fact, Brown had just strong-armed an Asian store owner. He struggled with Officer Darren Wilson for the latter’s weapon. A county grand jury did not indict Wilson. The Obama administration’s Justice Department investigated but declined to prosecute the officer for unreasonable use of force.
Nevertheless, Brown’s killing not only upended Ferguson, it also spawned the Black Lives Matter! network. At the funeral, attended by thousands, many of whom cheered him, Sharpton noted the rioting that followed the teenager’s shooting and his parents’ efforts to stop it:
“They had to break their mourning to ask folks to stop looting and rioting … Can you imagine? They have to stop mourning to get you to control your anger. Like you more angry than they are. Like you don’t understand that Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for a riot. He wants to be remembered as the one who made America deal with how we going to police in the United States.”
How we remember is tricky enough without Rev. Sharpton’s apotheosis as America’s new Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.—primus inter pares when it comes to those permitted to speak as anti-racists. King insisted on equality for all, on character over color, over religion and over economic status to heal America’s wounds. Sharpton’s made a career of elevating himself by aggravating those wounds.
Nevertheless, as early as 2001 there were important Jewish figures both in New York City and nationally willing to work with the reverend. Some described Sharpton as not an antisemite but rather a man who sometimes played with antisemitism. Does that sort of parsing matter? Apparently, since today Foxman’s successor as ADL head, former Obama administration official Jonathan Greenblatt, partners with Sharpton to rid Facebook of “hate speech” —most likely opinions dissenting from their post-liberal orthodoxies.
Erasing the Jews
In 1965, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously were photographed arm-in-arm crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the historic voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Heschel, one of the leading Jewish thinkers of his time, had thunderingly declared that “racism is satanism!”
Those taking a knee at anti-racism rallies, perhaps especially Jews, might imagine they’re following the path blazed by King and allies like Heschel. So, they may want to compare that 1965 picture with the widely-circulated news photo from singer Aretha Franklin’s funeral in 2018. It shows four men in places of honor on the altar. They are former President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan—probably the country’s most public Jew-hater and an anti-white racist. The Nation’s libel of Jews for leadership in the trans-Atlantic slave trade has been widespread among African-Americans for a generation,
In Ava DuVernay’s highly-publicized 2014 film Selma, the iconic scene of King and Heschel marching together does not appear. DuVernay defended the exclusion, saying “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called the omission an “artful falsehood.” The movie also fails to show any of the other rabbis who participated in the march, though some white Christian clergy are seen.
This summer the FBI investigated placement of a noose in the trackside garage of NASCAR’s only African-American driver, Bubba Wallace. Again, Sharpton nonchalantly stirred the pot. When the noose story broke, the reverend said NASCAR had to find out not only who put it there but why. When investigators determined it had been up months before the garage was assigned to Wallace, Sharpton on MSNBC still was certain “it’s clear what a noose represents.”
News media anointed Jackson to replace the slain King in 1968 as their one-stop civil rights spokesman. Sharpton eventually displaced Jackson. Farrakhan bobs along in Sharpton’s media wake. Both men are too comfortable, too little afflicted by the press, too easily manipulating memory when it comes to blacks, Jews and America.
Eric Rozenman is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C. and author of Jews Make the Best Demons: “Palestine” and the Jewish Question. Opinions expressed above are solely his own.