One Police Plaza

Again, the Amazing Rev. Sharpton

August 12, 2013

Whether the subject is racial politics or the fatal shootings of unarmed black men, no one better epitomizes the continental divide between white and black Americans than Al Sharpton.

No one has been better at taking advantage of it; some might even say, exploiting it.

Last Friday, Sharpton achieved a kind of journalistic apotheosis by appearing on page 1 of the NY Times.

Explaining why black New Yorkers appear more forgiving than white New Yorkers of sexual malefactors like Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, Sharpton said: “You can’t think of any major black leader that did not have some kind of legal or other kind of media attack, so we are not as prone to believe the attacks as other communities.”

Sharpton apparently made his remarks with a straight face.

The reporter never asked the obvious: whether Sharpton felt that the legal and media attacks he cited had been unfairly directed at him for his own malefactions [which, just for the record, had nothing to do with sex.]

Perhaps the reporter’s not mentioning Sharpton’s past in light of his comments is testament to how far the Rev has come since he burst upon the national scene 25 years ago.

Or perhaps the reporter was unaware that Sharpton was once an FBI informant [although he says he only informed on drug dealers; never on civil rights leaders.]

Or that he came to prominence as an advisor to Tawana Brawley, the black teenager who falsely claimed she was raped by a group of hooded, Ku-Klux-Klan-like white men, one of whom Sharpton identified as local assistant district attorney Steven Pagones.

Or that, after Brawley’s story turned out to be a hoax, Sharpton refused to pay court-ordered damages to Pagones or even to apologize. [Brawley recently had her wages garnished to begin paying the more than $400,000 in damages she owes Pagones.]

Nor has Sharpton ever apologized for his anti-Semitic remarks and actions during the 1991 Crown Heights riot, which led to the stabbing death of a Jewish rabbinical scholar by a black mob.

“If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house,” was one of his more interesting one-liners.

As late as last year, he had not paid hundreds of thousands in back taxes, both personally and for his political operation, the National Action Network.

Instead, in an only-in-America story, Sharpton has become a national commentator on MSNBC and a White House guest of President Obama.

At the same time, he has led protests over the fatal 2012 shootings of unarmed black teenagers Trayvon Martin in Florida and Ramarley Graham in the Bronx. In Florida, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of Martin’s shooting. Last week, a Bronx jury, which included 12 blacks and six Hispanics, dismissed the indictment against the cop who shot Graham.

Also last week, all the white Democratic mayoral candidates turned up at Sharpton’s National Action Network to pay political homage to the Rev.

It is not clear how one can be a tax cheat and, worse, and remain in the President’s good graces.

Nor is it clear how one can be a commentator on national television and at the same time lead demonstrations and run a political action committee.

And people say Fox News is biased!

In the Times article — which appeared a day after cop’s indictment in the Ramerley Graham shooting was dismissed — Sharpton opined that black voters will ultimately support former city Comptroller William Thompson, who is black, for mayor this year.

“At the end of the day, Thompson will probably get the majority of the black vote,” he said.

So will Sharpton again be a power broker in this year’s mayoral race as he has been in the past? [If you doubt his effectiveness, recall how in 1989 Ed Koch lost the Democratic primary to David Dinkins.]

In 2009, Thompson ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Michael Bloomberg. He actually might have won had Sharpton and President Obama had gotten behind him with more than tepid endorsements.

Sharpton’s spokeswoman, Rachel Noerdlinger, did not respond to this reporter’s email, asking whether Sharpton felt that the legal and media attacks he cited to the Times had been unfairly directed at him.

Nor did Noerdlinger respond when asked whether the Rev had finally paid his income taxes.

The NY Civil Liberties Union will fight the city’s subpoena of Frank Serpico for his correspondence concerning police whistle-blower Adrian Schoolcraft.

“The city is wildly mistaken to think it gets to rummage through Frank Serpico’s e-mails, letters and other personal materials looking for information to further attack Adrian Schoolcraft,” says Serpico’s attorney, the Civil Liberties Associate Legal Director, Chris Dunn. “The abuse of whistleblowers has to end and we will aggressively defend Mr. Serpico’s rights.”

Serpico — whose revelations of police corruption 40 years ago led to the establishment of the Knapp Commission, which changed the course of NYPD history and made him an icon worldwide — has been supportive of Schoolcraft, who in 2009 the police forcibly brought to Jamaica Hospital, where, against his will, he was incarcerated for five days in its psychiatric ward.

While the city maintains that Schoolcraft’s superiors felt he needed hospitalization, Schoolcraft has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city, charging that his forced hospitalization was retaliation for secretly taping his commanders in the 81st precinct in Brooklyn ordering cops to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors so that the precinct would appear to be safer than it actually was.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that an internal investigation substantiated Schoolcraft’s claims.

Besides transferring the precinct’s commanding officer and disciplining other precinct officers, Kelly established a commission to determine whether such downgrading was city-wide. In a recently released report, the commissioners determined that it was.

Serpico’s subpoena seeks his communications about Schoolcraft with governmental agencies, including the police department, the mayor’s office, the city’s Inspector General, the FBI, the Justice Department as well as with Dunn, the late police sergeant David Durk, Village Voice reporter Graham Rayman, and this reporter.

Assistant City Corporation Counsel Suzanna Publicker Mettam explained Serpico’s subpoena, saying in a statement released by the Law Department: “Based on reported comments by Mr. Serpico to media outlets, we have reason to believe that he may have information relevant to Adrian Schoolcraft’s lawsuit. As he is not a party, a subpoena was recently served requesting any relevant documents in his possession.”

Edited by Donald Forst


Copyright © 2013 Leonard Levitt