Al Sharpton: Get a Job   no comments

This editorial originally appeared on on March 24, 2007.

It’s not a secret that I am no big fan of Al Sharpton. In my view, he’s made a career of championing any cause that would get him in front of a camera, especially if he could blame the police for another injustice rendered to a black man or woman. Sharpton is, in my view, a mean-spirited, narcisisstic opportunist who cares far less about the ideology he spouts as his own celebrity. If he was truly interested in saving the lives of black people, there is another issue he could take up where he could prevent more killings of black people than the police will ever do. And to boot, he is far more well-equipped to address the problem than most anyone else.

Most recently, Al has been trying to orchestrate the prosecution of three NYPD detectives who were involved in the shooting of Sean Bell outside of a New York City nightclub in November. Al has to be a little conflicted about that one, as two of the detectives who have been indicted for manslaughter are black themselves. He had a choice between siding with two gentlemen of color who had no criminal record and a great history of honorable service to their community, or another with a substantial criminal history who had recently made a narcotics purchase from an undercover officer. Every one of us is judged in part by the company we keep.

Note that I don’t refer to Al as “Reverend Sharpton.” Al was “ordained” as a minister at the age of ten, which tells me that any seminary he attended probably included graham crackers and milk, recess, and crossing guards. By Al’s standard, I should probably include my status as a Junior Forest Ranger and card-carrying member of the Huckleberry Hound Fan Club on my vita. But unless someone can produce evidence that chicks dig that stuff, I’ll take a pass.

I can’t speak to the rightness or wrongness of the indictments. I wasn’t there, and the media accounts of the incident are my sole source of information about it. I do believe that it will be close to impossible for the detectives to get a fair trial in New York City, mainly because Al’s grandstanding has hopelessly tainted the jury pool. Al has been quoted as saying, “We will not participate in a trial outside Queens County.” That works for me, not to mention that he has no more to contribute to the trial than I do.

But the Sean Bell matter is only part of the reason I am writing today. I have another project for Al to consider, and that is the matter of homicides of black people. According to numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks are six times more likely to be homicide victims than are whites. Half of the homicides in the United States over the last thirty years have involved black victims, even though blacks comprised only 12-13% of the population over that time. And, of those criminal killings of black people, 94% were done by other black people.

Murder is a crime that mostly doesn’t cut across racial lines. During this same 30 years, 86% of the homicides of whites were by other whites, and you’re far more likely to be killed by someone you know than someone you don’t. White people tend to hang out with white people, and black people with black people, so it stands to reason that the person that kills you will be the same color that you are.

Blacks are also overrepresented in the criminal justice system, but I’m not going to try to either defend that or explain it. I learned a long time ago that complex problems are seldom resolved with simple solutions. Crime is affected by economics, education, environment and a long list of other factors, and fixing any one of them, especially by an outsider, is unlikely to achieve much of a difference. I don’t want to get too Zen here, but this kind of change has to come from within.

Al has the ear of the black community. He has credibility there, although after his faux pas with the Tawana Bradley case and serving as a huckster for a loan company with predatory practices toward blacks, I don’t understand why. Why isn’t Al in the trenches, urging his followers to commit themselves to an education, forsake drugs and alcohol, maintain strong nuclear families, and (since he does claim to be a minister) get more involved with their churches? Why does Al not condemn the “Stop Snitching” campaigns that empower gangs, pimps and drug merchants to victimize the community and keep its members from improving their lot in life? How come Sharpton doesn’t tell the kids at his rallies that they would be a lot better off if they diverted the money they’re spending on bling, basketball shoes and Sean John to buying books and saving for college? This wouldn’t be a new approach. Bill Cosby, who dropped out of high school to join the Navy but later earned a doctorate in education, and who has been very generous in his gifts to traditionally black colleges, has been saying it for years.

It’s not like I have a mission in life to stem the tide of black crime. I do what I can to reduce the incidence of any crime, without regard to the colors of the victims or the perpetrators. I could take my show to the projects and appeal to the hearts and minds there, but I doubt that my pasty white Irish shtick is going to go over real well in that venue. Al has a much better shot at improving this situation than most of us will ever have, but he might not get on TV as often.

This is the Age of Irresponsibility. Nothing is your fault; there is always someone else to blame. Al’s favorite whipping boy is the police, and while I would love to see him change, I’m not going to hold my breath.

Written by Tim Dees on March 24th, 2007