The Rev. Al Sharpton has been praised as a civil rights icon by prominent figures in politics, and “60 Minutes” reported that he has become President Barack Obama’s “go-to black leader.”
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Sharpton has been frequently in the media for leading protests against grand jury decisions exonerating white policemen in the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.
But many in the mainstream media have sought to downplay the negatives surrounding the firebrand minister, who has been accused of being a rabble-rouser out for personal gain, including:
1. When Sharpton sought involvement in the funeral of Akai Gurley, an African-American shot dead in November by a rookie police officer in the darkened stairwell of a housing project in Brooklyn, New York, Gurley’s family told him to stay away.
Sharpton held a news conference condemning the cop and promised to deliver a eulogy at the wake. But Gurley’s aunt, who was speaking for his mother, told TMZ: “Al Sharpton came in, put his name on the situation, but has not even made one single call to the parents of Akai,” adding that all Sharpton sees “is money and political gain and he is turning the tragedy into a circus.”
2. Sharpton has more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his businesses. His National Action Network has repeatedly failed to pay travel agencies, hotels, and landlords, records show.
3. Sharpton has allegedly sought to keep his nonprofit afloat with money that was supposed to go to payroll taxes, although he contends that the payroll tax shortfall was not intentional.
4. The reverend accused an upstate New York prosecutor, Steven Pagones, of being part of a group of white men who raped teenager Tawana Brawley in 1987. A grand jury found “overwhelming evidence” that the rape allegation had been fabricated. Pagones sued Sharpton for defamation and won a judgment of $65,000. Sharpton reportedly paid the judgment with money raised by his supporters.
5. Sharpton has frequently sparked controversy with his strident language. During a rally in Brooklyn, he called white people “crackers.”
6. After a car in a Hasidic rabbi’s motorcade killed a 7-year-old black boy in Brooklyn in 1991, Sharpton referred to the Hasidic Jews as “diamond merchants” and said “if the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” Shortly afterward, an innocent Hasidic Jewish student visiting the area from Australia was set upon by a mob and stabbed to death.
7. In 1995, an African-American Pentecostal church in Harlem, New York, asked a Jewish tenant of one of its properties, Freddie’s Fashion Mart, to evict a black-run record store that was subletting part of the property. Sharpton showed up outside Freddie’s vowing to a crowd: “We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business.”
Two weeks before Christmas that year, Freddie’s was attacked by a man in the crowd who shot several customers and then set fire to the building with a flammable liquid, killing seven employees. Sharpton subsequently apologized for his “white interloper” remark, but vehemently denied responsibility for the violence.