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Rev. Al Sharpton

Friday, March 3, 2000
2 p.m. EST

Last week, the four white police officers who fatally shot un-armed African immigrant Amadou Diallo were acquitted on all charges. In response, thousands of angry New Yorkers staged protests to express their dismay. And still the looming question remains: If Diallo had been white, would the outcome have been the same?


The man leading the cry of outrage against the New York Police Department is Rev. Al Sharpton.

Rev. Sharpton's role in campaign 2000 also is causing controversy. The political pundits who criticized George W. Bush's appearance at fundamentalist Bob Jones University in South Carolina are now questioning the powerbrokering role Sharpton is playing in the African-American community for Democratic candidates.

Below is today's transcript.

dingbat





Washingtonpost.com: I'd like to welcome the Reverend Al Sharpton to our discussion today. Before we begin, I'd like to let the participants know that we've set up a message board where you can pick up the thread of this discussion, or perhaps talk about issues we don't have the time to address in the hour. Click here to participate. The message boards are free.


San Francisco, CA: Hello Rev. Sharpton,
I see the Diallo shooting as a sad, sad tragedy. Two questions: what would you like to see happen to the four officers, if you alone had the power to decide their fate, and why? Also, what specifically would you recommend to prevent reoccurrences of such awful incidents? Thank you.

Rev. Al Sharpton: If I had the power I'd like to see them prosecuted on federal charges because I think they clearly violated the civil rights of Amadou Diallo. Amadou Diallo had the right to stand on the stoop and in the vestibule of his own home. He also had the right to not be assumed a suspect of a robbery as they testified in their trial just because he lived in a high crime area. There was no robbery reported, there wasn't even anyone in sight he could have robbed. So it leaves a legal precedent that a police person can do whatever they want and use unfounded fear to justify that. That's a dangerous legal precendent. What I would like to see done to avoid reoccurences is extensive training of policemen, residency requirements where police must live in the city they serve so they don't harbor unrealistic fears and react in a drastic way to what would be normal occasions if they were more familiar with the community. I'd like to see the elimination of special crime units that are set up solely for the purpose of aggressive policing but with the modus operandi of "the ends justify the means". We need to bring crime down, but not at the risk of taking people's rights. Violating citizen's rights is a crime, and you can't commit crimes to fight crime.


Somewhere, USA: Mr. Sharpton,
I read that the officers who shot Diallo followed proper police procedures. Horrifying as the outcome was in this case, don't you think that police officers have a right to protect themselves? Diallo was an innocent citizen. However, the police cannot tell by just looking if that is the case.

Rev. Al Sharpton: The answer is that it is not a question of police just looking; we're talking about 41 shots from semi-automatic weapons, which means police must have had to fire each shot individually and singularly. What type of trained police would keep firing and not realize that there is no one firing at them, and therefor no danger? Secondly it's difficult to understand how police can be trained to deal with hostage and terrorist situations and yet use that force against an unarmed innocent man. I can't recall in the battlefields of Vietnam or Bosnia when that kind of firepower was used on an individual.


Newport News, Va: Rev. Sharpton, Will you ever apologize publicly to the family of the falsely accused in the Tawana Brawley case, or are you above apologizing when you have wrongly persecuted innocent people?

Rev. Al Sharpton: I have not persecuted anyone. I was asked by Tawana Brawley, by her family and her attorney to speak on her behalf and I spoke what I believed. She identified who she claimed had violated her. A grand jury did not believe her. I did. Many people disagree with the jury on O.J. Simpson, but a jury did believe him. Should they apologize to him because they viewed the evidence differently? I don't think so. If Mr. Pagones felt we could not prove her statements he had the right to go to civil court and sue, and we have the right to appeal that suit. But he does not have the right to say we should apologize for what we believed, any more than O.J. Simpson had that obligation. I remember when I started in the Abner Louima case, and people said it was outrageous to say that a policeman would stick a plunger up a man's rectum in the precinct, and surely Abner and I were lying. I lived to see the day that Justin Volpe was not only convicted but admitted his guilt. I am in a field where claims are always denied; I can only go by what I believe. I'm not above apologizing if I'm wrong, but I shouldn't be in a different position from anyone who questioned O.J. or any other case. It's interesting that in 20 years of cases, from Bernard Goetz to now, my critics only point to one case rather than deal with the totality of my career.


Germantown, MD: Are you not disgusted by the lack of support from Bill Clinton and Al Gore in investigating the most glaring miscarrige of justice in modern U.S. history? At least Rodney King was a criminal that lived through his brutal treatment. Diallo was an innocent man who posed absolutely no threat to the officers and now he is DEAD. When do you say, Clinton-Gore - No More?

Rev. Al Sharpton: I am absolutely challenging both Clinton and Gore, and for that matter the Republican candidates who have not addressed this in a forthright manner. Clearly, this is one of the most vicious acts that we have seen. And for people to tiptoe around it makes on wonder what would make them come forthright. If people in the African-American community misspeak, everyone from the President down condemns them. Here's an act of overkill, and most seem to have political laryngitis.


Mitchellville, MD: Rev. Sharpton, excuse me for jumping off subject for a moment. However, I would love to know who your tailor is and where you buy your suits? Being a big man myself, I admire the clothes you wear. Thank you for your time.

Rev. Al Sharpton: I do some shopping at Brooks Brothers. There's a young man named Woody Wilson in Los Angeles who a board member of NAN referred me to to tailor some suits.


Mineral Wells, WV 26150: Why haven't you spoken out and denounced the three murders that took place in Pennsylvania this week? Would it have anything to do with the race of the victims? Being a white person, I feel that you hate me and you have never met met. I believe most whites feel the same way.

Rev. Al Sharpton: First, I DID speak out on Fox News this morning -- I condemned the shooter and will continue to do so. It happened just a little over 24 hours ago and the race and the racial messages were just revealed yesterday, so I think it's hypocritical to ask me to come out on something that I'm unaware of. I did when I heard it and have even said that if the victims had reached out to me, as Blacks and Whites have reached out to me in the past, I would come forward. I am a supporter of the Gary Busch family, a young man killed by police in New York. If I hated Whites, certainly when a White man stabbed me and almost killed me in 1991 for leading a peaceful march in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, I would not have gone to court and publicly forgiven him and visited him in jail subsequent to that.


Mt. Vernon Square: Just curious and not that it matters - I love free speech and you practice it better than most people I know - what is your educational background?

Rev. Al Sharpton: I went to public schools in New York and Brooklyn College where I majored in political science. I also started preaching in the Pentecostal church as an adolescent. I was ordained at age 10 in the Church of God in Christ, and at age 14 was appointed youth director of Operation Bread Basket by Reverend Jesse Jackson.


Alexandria: Recently on a news show, you said that McCain voted against, or did not support, a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. When was this vote, and why hasn't anyone else commented on it?

Rev. Al Sharpton: He ultimately voted for it after opposing it. It's a matter of public record that he opposed it and when his home state of Arizona was the last state to recognize it, he did nothing about it. He also has apologized for calling Vietnamese people "gooks", so he clearly should not be in a position to talk about who is tolerant. Whether one agrees with me or not, I fought for civil rights cases all my life with multi-racial support. Where has McCain been on the issues of civil rights? How many Blacks has he hired on his Senate staff? Where has he been in the critical debates around bigotry?


Fairfax, Va: What do you think of Jesse Jackson's protest in Illinois?

Rev. Al Sharpton: I think that Reverend Jackson raised a critical issue of how far do we go with zero tolerance. To suspend students for two years for a fight seems disproportionate and counterproductive. Students should be punished when they're wrong, but their lives should not be destroyed.


Laurel, MD: Much respect Reverend. I was disapointed when I heard the verdict and think this is just a slap in the face to the Black community. Black people and other minorities will continue to be a target of police brutality and this just sends a message to society that it's okay to kill innocent black men without punishment. That could easily have been my father, my brother, my boyfriend, my uncles...Better not pull out your wallet in the presence of police or you could be shot too. Do you think that the marches are effective and what other peaceful measures are you proposing in order to protest police brutatity against minorities?

Rev. Al Sharpton: Marches are designed to raise attention to a problem, not to solve a problem, but unless someone raises the attention no one will seek the solution. The marches ARE effective because they have made everyone deal with the issue or the problem. Had it not been for the marches, it would have been over and out of the public mindset. We must also mobilize politically to put people in office that will use their power against police brutality, and we must use economic boycotts to force the corporate world to deal with this.


Silver Spring Md: Rev Sharpton,

I commend your efforts on Bro. Diallo's case, however I heard Eric Holder on Pacifica radio say that proving a civil rights case will be very difficult. Given this and if the Department Of Justice refuses your offer to take on his case, what will your next step be?

Rev. Al Sharpton: One, we would continue in the civil courts to pursue a civil trial and damages, and secondly we would continue to pressure the DOJ to continue with a "practice and pattern" case against the NYC police department. Practice and pattern means that they can say that there's a pattern of injustice and brutality on the NYPD and they can recommend that the federal government take over the department and implement reforms.


Brooklyn, NY: Reverend Sharpton,
Do you think the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association is complicit in instances of police brutality? If so, how do you think the PBA could continue to protect officer's labor interests without supporting the atrocities committed by certain individual officers?

Rev. Al Sharpton: Because the PBA can make it clear that they will not support officers that clearly violate the rights of people as they claim that they do. Just because one is a policeman does not mean that they deserve the support of fellow officers no matter what they do.


Yonkers, NY: Rev. Sharpton,

What is your opinion on the latest police shooting in the Bronx?

Rev. Al Sharpton: My initial opinion is that we must fight brutality no matter what the race of the policeman; in this case he's supposed to be Latino. Or the so-called character of the deceased. Even if the deceased is a drug dealer, he should be arrested, not shot in the back of his head.


Washington, DC: Mr. Sharpton,
As demonstrated by your disgraceful participation in the Tawana Brawly case you have consistently been negative agitator. Once again, you see the Diallo tragedy as merely an issue to be exploited.

Dec 1995, When you called the Jewish owner of Freddy's Fashion Mart on 125th St a “white interloper” during a protest over the store's lease dispute with a black-owned subtenant. Spurred by your words, a racist torched the market murdering seven people. You didn’t even bother to attend the funeral of those who were killed.

In April of 1999, despite an invitation to participate in healing with other leaders in an ecumenical prayer service at St. Patrick’s in New York, you stayed away in order to generate more media attention for yourself.

At a rally here in Washington, DC, you led the crowd in a chant of , “Let's stop the Klan in blue.” and “NYPD are killer cops."

When Officer Kevin Gillespie was gunned down on the streets of Harlem,you were absent. Because there were no cameras, because there was no opportunity for self-promotion, there was no Al Sharpton. You are not a healer. You inflame and divide. You make easier for people to hate.

Rev. Al Sharpton: When I called the owner of Freddy's an interloper, we didn't know if he was Jewish or what. We did know from his own employees that he had been paying people below minimum wage off the books and had been cited by the city several times for fire safety violations, and was trying to cancel tbe lease of a black store owner next door who we had known in the community for over 20 years to expand his business. That was the basis of my supporting the efforts to try and get him to leave that store owner alone. I was criticized by some in the community, as I am now, for calling for peaceful protests against this man. One of my critics was the man who later torched the store, even though re-writers of history claimed he was some follower of mine. If we were going to torch a store, we wouldn't picket it for a year, where we would obviously be the suspects, and everyone in Harlem knew this person was critical of non-violent protests. The fact is that the Freddy's incident had as much to do with me as saying that becaue I oppose Ronald Reagan's presidency, I incited David Hinckley to shoot him. That's absurd.

RE: St. Patrick's. The most healing and ecumenical and non-denominational events in NY have been our marches and protests. To act as if I'm required to attend a service that you choose sponsored by people who had nothing to do with the Diallo issue is arrogant at best. I attended the services of those who were actively pursuing justice, not those who were seeking media attention, and for the most part hadn't met the Diallo family. It was I who brought the Diallos to meet with Cardinal O'Connor, and had the Cardinal speak at my headquarters, but I'm not required to attend services that I feel were being sponsored by clergymen not involved in the justice movement. You can't have healing without excluding the wounded.


Raleigh, NC: Reverend Sharpton, How come you are not doing everything in your power to get Alan Keyes a primary victory in NY? Don't you think that a victory in NY by him would force open the presidential races in both parties for more blacks, or do you think supporting white candidates is the best way for the black people to advance themselves?

Rev. Al Sharpton: If I were a racist I would support Alan Keyes simply because he's Black. He's Black, but in my judgement he's also mostly wrong. I do not think Alan Keyes represents policies that are in the interest of African-Americans, or for that matter, any Americans, and therefore would not support him, just as I did not support Clarence Thomas as he claimed he was suffering a "high-tech" lynching.


Dale City, Virginia: Reverend Sharpton:

What do you think about the book written by Michael Dyson, "I Might Not Get There With You." Do you deem it character assassination? Was it necessary to unearth old mess?

Stay on the Wall Brother.

Rev. Al Sharpton: I think Rev. Dyson's book was provocative and interesting, and did expose how Dr. King was a lot more pro-active and progressive than people who misuse his name would like to admit. I think the real Dr. King would be just as controversial today as he was when he was alive, but people tend to forget that. Dr. Dyson reminded them of that, notwithstanding his references to Dr. King's personal life.


Chicago, Il: As an African-American male, I have to ask you this question. Sure racism exists and we should oppose it wherever it surfaces, but shouldn't out number one responsibility be to minorities who suffer from poverty, crime, and lack of access to proper education?

Rev. Al Sharpton: Certainly that should be among our priorities, but at the same time, we're not in an either-or situation. We must still fight racism. If Amadou Diallo had a Ph.D. and a six figure income, he still could have been the same victim that night. So while we must wrestle with the issues you raise, and we here at National Action Network do that every day, we should not do that at the expense of dealing with the racism that still exists.


Greensboro, NC: Rev. Sharpton, don't you find it curious that when the NAACP calls for a boycott of South Carolina, we are told they will only hurt Blacks, yet when various groups threatened Sears about Benetton, no mention is made of hurting Italians, Sears' employees or any number of people working for Benetton?

Rev. Al Sharpton: I think that is a very astute observation, and I think that it shows how people try to use excuses to support what is not right and correct.


Washington, D.C.: Reverend Sharpton: What do you have to say to the five African Americans -four women and one male as I recall- who served on the Diallo jury and who also voted not to convict the officers charged with shooting him? If the jury were all white I could see where the protest would stem from, but clearly here was a case with a very multi-racial jury and yet they were still acquitted.

Rev. Al Sharpton: It was four Black women, no Black men, and we have said that the judge charged them improperly, and the Black D.A. presented a less than effective case. That's why we didn't criticize the jurors, they dealt with what they were given. But that still does not solve or even address the federal crimes committed, such as Amadou Diallo had the right to stand on his stoop and not be assumed a suspect because of the color of his skin. Even the jurors admitted they never considered that because that was not brought before them. So I would say to them to admit that they never were asked to consider racial profiling, Amadou Diallo's civil rights, and that they were charged 18 times by the judge on a justificiation defense by the police.


Washington, DC: The tragic killing of a six year old white female by a six year old black male while at school in Michigan was horrifying. In the paper the black child when asked by his father why he was fighting in school and he stated "I hate them". Where does a six year old learn to hate? And who do you think he was referring to when he said I hate "them"?It was stated that the other children at school refered to him as a bully. How does a six year old learn to be a bully? How can a six year old be influenced to hate at that young of an age?

Rev. Al Sharpton: The same way any six year old is taught to hate: by his environment and by those older than him. It is wrong and it is definitely a wake up call to everyone. Rather than demonize those of us who fight hate, we'd all better collectively deal with hate, because it's polluting our babies.


Washingtonpost.com: Unfortunately, our time's up. Thanks to Reverend Sharpton and all the participants. Remember that you can continue the discussion on our free message board by clicking here.


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