Jewish World Review August 21, 2001 /2 Elul, 5761
While doing a lot of reading behind bars, he had a revelation. He noticed that all serious leaders put aside their vanity in the interest of the principles for which they are fighting.
"I have to admit," he told me in an interview, "I have not always been as concerned about the cause that I represented as I was with whether or not something would do my career some good. I'm as guilty as the next guy. But I don't have to stay guilty. Men like Dr. [Martin Luther] King had egos, but they knew how to keep them out of the way.
"We are now at the other end of the tunnel. That is why there is no one that my children look at in the way that I looked at King. We have lost the emotional commitment of the masses."
Sharpton said that part of this comes from civil rights leaders being too involved in deal-making as opposed to policy-making: "What we have reduced ourselves to is a version of the gangster lifestyle. We might not be out there cussing and all that madness, but when we embrace the idea that you are no more than what you own and that materialism is a
ll, why should anyone look up to us?" He was on point when he said, "We break our necks to run and support celebrities in trouble with the police, but when a family like the Herreras lose three people and an unborn baby due to a drunken cop, nobody from the civil rights leadership goes to comfort them. When I went to see them, I was shocked no one else had."
Skeptics will say that this is no more than disguised self-celebration. There is surely something to that. But there is also something to this: "I support what [Police] Commissioner [Bernard] Kerik is doing with the drunken cop and how he moved to clean up that precinct and all the drinking. I also support the mayor's stand on the matter, even though he and I have had many disagreements and will probably have many more."
"Absolutely. Now is the time to move beyond camps to principles. We have to stop demonizing cops and make it clear we're against only those who are out of line. While speaking for our constituency, we have to go beyond tribalism and support anyone who represents our principles, even just one principle."
How does that apply to other issues?
"In politics, you go round by round. You can't strategize before the bell rings. Or you can't hold one strategy if what happens during the round calls for something else. If [President] Bush made the first Spanish speech by a President, why are we, who are supposed to be more farsighted than right-wing conservatives, still failing to reach out beyond narrow categories as we seek support that will do all of us some good?"
If Sharpton moves forward on any of these ideas, he will not
remove the Tawana Brawley hoax from his past - but he will
remain extremely interesting in the
JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy
of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994, Always in Pursuit: Fresh American
Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.
08/03/01: A writer misuses the great Louis Armstrong