Al Sharpton and the Decline of the Democrats
In recent months, most of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, ever zealous for (bad) new causes, have displayed an oily sycophancy towards the Rev. Al Sharpton that is (or should be) shocking to behold.
Paying tribute to Sharpton has become as much a requirement for a Democratic candidate as repudiation of the Tenth Commandment. For Elizabeth Warren he is the paragon who “has dedicated his life to the fight for justice for all”; for Kamala Harris he “has done so much for our country”; for the finger-wagging Bernie Sanders he merits honorary sainthood among the holies of (Democratic) Socialism.
Had the teaching of history in our public schools already ceased when this trio attended high school? If so, let us have a brief history lesson about Mr. Sharpton, centering upon just one of his saintly crusades: the murderous Crown Heights riots of 1991.
In August 1991 the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn — in which is located (at 770 Eastern Parkway) the world headquarters of the Lubavitcher/Chabad movement, home of its then leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson — witnessed what the eminent historian Edward S. Shapiro called, in his book on the subject, “the only antisemitic riot in American history.” Sharpton was intimately involved.
Among black militants Sharpton was already revered as the mastermind of the spectacular Tawana Brawley hoax, in which the black teenager falsely alleged gang rape and various ghoulish tortures against several men, some of them public officials.
The story of the riot itself can be retold briefly. On August 19 a procession of automobiles including the Rebbe and some of his entourage, as well as a police escort, was on its way back to Crown Heights from a visit to a cemetery in Queens. The third car in the procession, driven by one Yosef Lifsh, having fallen behind the second when about to cross Utica Avenue, tried to catch up by racing through a yellow light or perhaps running a red one.
Whatever the reason, Lifsh lost control of the car, and travelled 75 feet on to the sidewalk. His car knocked over a 600-pound stone pillar and hit two black children, Gavin and Angela Cato, pinning them beneath the car. The boy, ten-year-old Gavin, died of his injuries. Although one of the four Lubavitchers was protected by a nearby black man, Lifsh was being beaten by several black men when the police arrived.
In the aftermath of the accident (as it was ruled), three hours later came murder. A 29-year-old non-Lubavitch Orthodox Jew name Yankel Rosenbaum, with beard, long coat, and tsitsit, visiting NY from Melbourne to do research at YIVO in Manhattan, was set upon by 15-20 young blacks shouting, according to several witnesses, “Kill the Jew,” “There’s a Jew,” “Let’s get the Jew.” His 6’4” stature could not save him from butchery. He was beaten, stabbed, and died in the hospital.
A memorial service for Gavin Cato followed on August 25 at First Baptist Church in Crown Heights. It was addressed by David Dinkins, New York’s mayor, also African-American. Dinkins referred to the murder of Rosenbaum as “a lynching,” a word with considerable resonance for blacks, but hardly one to satisfy that most flamboyant and militant of race-racketeers: Al Sharpton.
Sharpton had already, with characteristic delicacy, denounced Dinkins as an “Uncle Tom” and “that nigger whore turning tricks in City Hall.” At the funeral, he took charge with what one journalist called “a carnival of hatred so obscene that [Gavin’s] bewildered, grieving parents were all but forgotten.”
This had not been just an auto accident, Sharpton said, “It’s an accident for one group of people to be treated better than another group of people. It’s an accident to allow a minority to impose their will on a majority. It’s an accident to allow an apartheid ambulance service [a totally false allusion to the Lubavitcher’s Hatzolah rescue service] in the middle of Crown Heights.” Little Gavin, he implied, had been killed not just by the loathsome Lubavitchers but all the Jews of New York City.
Sharpton never mentioned the murdered Rosenbaum, except to warn against blaming Rosenbaum’s killers: “We must not reprimand our children for outrage when it is the outrage that was put in them by an oppressive system … who sowed violence.”
Sharpton did at one point display his oleaginous side and took care of Gavin’s parents. He assured them that he’d visited with their son in heaven that very morning: “I …called Heaven this morning. The boy is all right. … In fact they told me he was in the playroom.”
Can this Sharpton, who fomented anti-Jewish riots for several days following the murder of Rosenbaum, be the same saintly fellow whose praises are being sung daily by Senators Harris and Warren and Sanders (and let us not forget Mayor Buttigieg) claiming he “has dedicated his life to the fight for justice for all”? The same paragon upon whom a branch of CUNY confers awards for his achievements on behalf of “equity”?
To register the extent to which the Democratic Party has fallen from what it once was, let us recall what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who knew a thing or two about race relations, said of Al Sharpton’s role in poisoning them. He called the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum a “KKK-style lynching,” and suggested New York use the south as a model.
“We got rid of the lynching in the South by a process of … public abhorrence, so the people involved became ashamed, and law enforcement, which took a long time,” he said.
He called the Crown Heights affair a “race riot” and one that “was as bad as … Detroit in 1943 when black workers were dragged from streetcars and killed by white workers.”
He dismissed with contempt the now fashionable progressive view that “people of color” can’t be bigots: “The notion that there is any race that is immune to the failings and sins of other people is itself a racist idea.”
What Democrat would dare say this today?
Edward Alexander is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at the University of Washington.