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Rev. Al Sharpton: Fanning the flames in Ferguson

Written By | Aug 21, 2014

WASHINGTON, August 20, 2014 — The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri unleashed by the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is being made worse by the involvement of racial demagogues. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton wasted no time making their way to Missouri.

Exactly what happened when Brown was shot is not yet known. Investigations by local police, the FBI and the Justice Department may make it clear. If Police Officer Wilson acted improperly, he will face the criminal justice system.

But the Sharpton-Jackson rhetoric makes things worse; it encourages violence, and is far from the truth. Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal points out that,

There’s this false narrative being pushed out there by folks like Michael Eric Dyson and Al Sharpton and the rest of the hustlers that black men live in fear of being shot by cops in these neighborhoods. That too is nonsense. I know something about growing up black and male in the inner city and it’s not that hard to avoid getting shot by a cop. They pull you over, you answer their questions and you are on your way.

In Riley’s view,

The real difficulty is getting shot by other black people, if you are a young black man in those neighborhoods. That is something we need to talk more about. Cops are not the problem. Cops are not producing these black bodies in the morgues every weekend in Chicago, in New York and Detroit. That’s not cops. That’s other black people killing black people.

Al Sharpton, who now has his own show on MSNBC and by day plays a clergyman, “Rev. Al,” has built his career on denigrating the police. He first became famous in 1987, with his biggest lie about police officers: He falsely accused white police officers of racism and brutality in a rape. Tawana Brawley, 16, was found November 28, 1987, outside an apartment in Wappingers Falls, New York that had recently been vacated by her family. Her body was smeared with feces and had racial slurs written on it.

She claimed she had been held captive for four days and raped by a group of white men, some of whom were police officers.

Sheriff’s deputies took Brawley to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie. After examining her, a female doctor determined that she had not been raped. A rape kit exam later confirmed this.

Brawley, with the advice and encouragement of a group of advisers, Sharpton prominent among them, refused to testify before a grand jury. In October 1988, a grand jury concluded that Brawley had apparently concocted the entire story. The 170-page report said that  there was “no evidence that any actual assault had occurred,” and suggested that the girl herself was responsible for the condition in which she was found after a four-day disappearance.

During the period between November, 1987 and the grand jury report almost a year later, the Brawley family refused to cooperate in any way with the investigation, accusing authorities of engaging in a racially-motivated “cover-up.”

The grand jury declared, “there is nothing in regard to Tawana Brawley’s appearance onNovember 28 that is inconsistent with this condition having been self-inflicted.”

The panel also found that there was no evidence whatever of a cover-up by law enforcement officials. Brawley’s mother, Glenda, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for defying a subpoena to testify before the grand jury, but she defied arrest by living in a church.

For nearly a year, the Brawley case was in the news. The American judicial system, and in particular, law enforcement agencies in New York were accused of “racism.” Without a bit of evidence, the media took the charges seriously and transformed Brawley’s “advisors” — Sharpton and lawyers Alton Maddox, Jr. and C. Vernon Mason — into celebrities and, in New York City, almost household names.

They appeared on the leading TV shows of the day — Phil Donohue, Morton Downey, Geraldo — and were featured in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and every other major news outlet.

Echoing what we are hearing from Missouri at the present time, radical attorney William Kunstler went so far as to say that it really didn’t matter whether the alleged attack on Tawana Brawley ever took place.

It makes no difference anymore whether the attack on Tawana happened. If her story was a concoction to prevent her parents from punishing her for staying out all night, that doesn’t disguise the fact that a lot of young black women are treated the way she said she was treated. The advisors now have an issue with which they can grab the headlines.

What Sharpton and his colleagues proceeded to do was raise a great deal of money to achieve “justice” in the Tawana Brawley case, just as they are doing now in Missouri. Investigating this hoax cost the taxpayers of New York approximately $1 million.

The real story was that there was no story.

Perry McKinnon, who broke ranks with the advisors, said it: “The Tawana Brawley story may be that there is no Tawana Brawley story.”

He said that he went to Newburgh, 15 miles from Wappingers Falls, and found youths who claimed that they had seen Brawley in the neighborhood-partying-at the time of the alleged abduction. Sharpton is alleged to have told McKinnon that, almost from the outset, he believed that Brawley’s story “sounded like bull—-.”

Yet the media and much of the civil rights establishment eagerly embraced the Brawley hoax.

In a New York Times article entitled “The Brawley Fiasco,” Edwin Diamond wrote that “the great paradox” of the entire affair is that it had been “encouraged by the authorities and the media.”  He wrote:

For months, ‘the white power structure’ — as Sharpton calls it — all but propped up the ‘advisors’ shaky scenarios. The governor and the attorney general, their eyes on electoral politics as well as the case, gave the appearance of trying to avoid offense to any constituency, black or white. The New York television stations and the city’s three tabloids, all locked into tight competition, amplified almost every wild utterance from the Brawley camp. Reporters muttered privately about McCarthyite big-lie techniques, but the Brawley family’s spokesmen had access to what the media wanted: the story everyone was talking about.

Al Sharpton’s Tawana Brawley hoax cannot be considered a victimless one. There were victims. One was the truth itself. Another was those who suffer from the real racism which exists in American society and which will be taken less seriously in the face of false cries of a phony case such as this.

Those who embraced the lies of the Brawley case, particularly those in the media who promoted and transmitted them, have trivialized racism in the most extreme manner. Now, in 2014, we have a 24-hour cable news megaphone. Sadly, Sharpton continues to fan the flames of racial division along with his current colleagues.

Many younger Americans may not know that Sharpton’s career was built on the big lie of the Tawana Brawley case. Before they take seriously what he says today, they should review his record. Heat, not light, is his trademark.

Hopefully, justice will be done in Ferguson, Missouri. The racial demagoguery of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the others make the search for the truth more difficult. They would do well to heed President Obama’s words: “Let me call once again for us to seek some understanding , rather than simply holler at one another.”

Hollering, however, is what they continue to do, and they have found a way to make it pay.

It is the rest of us, and truth and justice, who are the losers.

Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.