Lights! Camera! Reverend Al!
By Michael M. Bates
It was what we've come to expect. A fatal police shooting in New York and the Reverend Al Sharpton is on the case faster than you can say the television crews are here.
That concrete information wasn't available didn't dissuade Al from swiftly concluding that this "watershed case," as he described it, was a continuation of the systematic abuse of police power.
The deceased was shot at about 3:30 am after leaving the strip club at which his bachelor party was held. Sharpton somberly intoned that the victim "should be on his honeymoon with his wife this morning." No disrespect for the departed intended, but since the victim's fiancé had already given birth to two of his children, it seems to me they had their honeymoon a while ago.
At any rate, the circumstances of the shooting are suspicious enough to warrant an investigation, with or without Al repeatedly leading a crowd in counting to 50, the number of bullets believed fired in the incident.
Twenty years ago, the answer to the question "Who you gonna call?" was Ghostbusters. Now it seems to be either Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or, for particularly egregious situations (just ask so-called comic Michael Richards), both.
In the middle of the New York police shooting imbroglio, relatives of a North Carolina inmate who died in jail last Sunday called Al Sharpton and asked for him to investigate. Naturally, he agreed.
Last month, comedian Chris Rock's mother called on the Rev. She was distressed because of how she was treated at a South Carolina Cracker Barrel restaurant. Rose Rock says last April she and her daughter had to wait for more than 30 minutes to get waited on. Complaining, she was offered free meals by the manager. That was insufficient compensation for the trauma she endured.
So Al Sharpton rose to the occasion, and the cameras, once again. Saying he'd heard similar stories from around the country, he questioned if the restaurant chain has a systemic problem with serving black customers. The query was strictly rhetorical. His organization will finance a lawsuit against Cracker Barrel.
Perhaps a reader could kindly explain to me why Sharpton is considered a moral authority. The minister who's never pastored a church is viewed as a religious leader, a racial healer and a uniter.
Two years ago on a "Meet the Press" segment, Reverend Sharpton and Reverend Jerry Falwell appeared together. Mr. Falwell noted that his church runs a home for unwed mothers, a facility for alcoholics and drug addicts, and an AIDS hospice. When he asked Mr. Sharpton if he's involved in comparable worthy projects, Al changed the subject. Of course, he's been darn busy with so many other pressing matters over the years.
In the 80s Sharpton became a spokesman for a black teen who alleged she'd been raped by several white men, including police officers. When the charges were discredited, Al adamantly refused to disavow his role in the hoax, including his declaration that an assistant DA was one of the rapists.
A 1991 tragedy saw a young black child killed in a car accident by a Jewish driver. In a not-so-veiled reference, Sharpton denounced "diamond merchants" at the boy's funeral.
A few years later he organized protests against a Harlem store owner for passing on a rent increase to a minority business. Reverend Sharpton denounced "white interlopers." One of the protesters got his message; he shot four employees and set the store on fire. Seven employees died.
For a man who portrays himself as the voice of calm reason and reconciliation, there are instances when Mr. Sharpton just can't cloak his true feelings. One time he stated that "White folks was in caves while we (black people) was building empires. . . We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it." If they taught grammar, Al must've cut class that day.
The calm reason and reconciliation of Sharpton's observations make it evident how, less than a year before the 2004 presidential election, he was ahead of both John Kerry and John Edwards in polls of Democratic primary voters.
Or possibly it's because of his palpable piousness. Despite his highflying lifestyle, the Reverend must have taken a vow of near poverty. In a 2000 legal deposition, he declared that he doesn't even own a suit. He only had "access" to a dozen or so. He said he had no money in the bank or in stocks or bonds or any other possessions other than a wristwatch and a wedding ring. Al must use the same accountant as O. J. Simpson.
How such a divisive agitator, charlatan and shakedown artist is accepted as a credible civil rights leader speaking with spiritual and moral authority is beyond me.
That weaklings cave in to his bullying tactics and threats is more understandable. The Reverend definitely knows how to get his message out. And after it's out, the cash starts flowing in.
So the next time Wendy's messes up my drive through order, I know who I'm gonna call. And it's not Ghostbusters.
This Michael M. Bates column appeared in the November 30, 2006 Reporter Newspapers.