Al Sharpton. Mr. Respectable.
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Al Sharpton. Mr. Respectable.

Reintroduce yourself to one of the president's most trusted advisers

The persistent whitewashing of Al Sharpton’s revolting past will always be a mystery to me. But if we’re to trust Politico’s reporting today, Sharpton has emerged as the go-to civil rights guru for the Obama administration. “If anything,” writes Glenn Thrush, “the Ferguson crisis has underscored Sharpton’s role as the national black leader Obama leans on most, a remarkable personal and political transformation for a man once regarded with suspicion and disdain by many in his own party.”

Draw whatever conclusions you like from this development. But if the point of the piece is to detail the revival of a once-reviled public figure, offering a single purified paragraph detailing the events that first made the man famous seems a bit disingenuous. Perhaps a little more context is necessary for those who didn’t live through his violent circus.

So let’s revisit.

Three decades ago, the overweight, track-suited, medallion-bedecked Sharpton led a rally against a white-owned clothing store in Harlem that was subsequently burned to the ground by a deranged black protester, killing eight people.

No, Sharpton didn’t simply show up at “a rally,” he was the host of radio show in New York where for weeks he personally stoked racial animosity over what amounted to a dispute regarding rent. On that show, Sharpton allowed an array of shameless racists and anti-Semites to exacerbate the situation with their own ugly violent language. The venomous protests, fueled in part by his show and presence, soon began to resemble a mob. And Roland Smith Jr. – the deranged murderer – didn’t simply burn down Freddie’s. He went in with a gun and asked all the black patrons to leave and then killed everyone else. So, in the end, the “white interloper,” as Sharpton predicted, “did not expand his business in Harlem.”

Around that time, he was convicted of defaming a white upstate New York prosecutor he falsely accused of raping black teenager Tawana Brawley in the 1980s, an infamous case that made him famous as the caricature of an inflammatory inner-city preacher immortalized by Tom Wolfe in Bonfire of the Vanities. adviser

Sharpton makes Reginald Bacon look like a cherished saint. Sharpton didn’t only accuse Steven Pagones of abduction and rape and destroy his career, he perhaps destroyed a teenager’s life, and generated more racial tension in an already-tense city. When he was successfully sued for defamation, it should also be mentioned, he never paid the $345,000 in damages – allowing others to do it for him. Last we heard, he still claimed that Brawley was right. So who better to offer sage advice to the president of the United States?

Sharpton often, regrettably, played to type: During the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, Sharpton stoked black rage after a Hasidic Jewish driver killed a young boy with his car. At the child’s funeral, Sharpton railed against Jewish “diamond merchants” who bought their wares from apartheid South Africa, then ran down black kids in Brooklyn.

Why “regrettably”? Sharpton doesn’t regret it, why do you. He wasn’t playing to type, as anyone who was in New York in the 80s and 90s could tell you, he was the type. During Crown Heights riots, after helping provoke black rioters and looters, who beat up a couple of religious Jews (“diamond merchants”) and murdered Yankel Rosenbaum to the chants of “kill the Jew”, the president’s top civil rights adviser and tough guy, helped quell the violence by saying: “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

Through all these events Sharpton fancied himself the preeminent leader of New York City’s African-American community, but then always denied his actions had anything to do with the events that  transpired. Thrush imagines that Sharpton’s mere presence remains an irritant to many “white conservatives” ( like Larry Elder and Jason Riley), but you have wonder why he isn’t an irritant to any decent person.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.

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