FACT CHECK: Al Sharpton’s History of Racism, Antisemitism, Anti-Police Rhetoric

Joe Biden and Al Sharpton NAN (Al Drago / Getty)
Al Drago / Getty

Al Sharpton has a long history of bigotry that includes anti-white racism, antisemitism, and demonization of law enforcement.

His record has become relevant for two reasons. First, Democratic presidential candidates have been courting his support — with no criticism of his past.

Second, President Donald Trump tweeted Monday morning that Al Sharpton is a “con man” who “Hates Whites & Cops.”

He did so ahead of a press conference planned Monday in Baltimore where Sharpton and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele — a frequent Trump critic — were to object to Trump’s recent criticisms of the city. (which were nearly universally shared until Trump made them).

Sharpton’s record matches Trump’s claims.

As Breitbart News noted earlier this year (original links):

Sharpton has a long history of controversial racial rhetoric. In the notorious Tawana Brawley case in 1987, Sharpton backed a teenager’s false accusations of rape, stirring racial divisions in New York and across the country. When he was successfully sued for defamation [by a prosecutor whom Brawley falsely accused of being among her attackers], he refused to pay the judgement, and supporters had to step in on his behalf. Sharpton still refuses to apologize for his role.

In 1991, Sharpton helped incite riots against religious Jews in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn after a black child was killed in a car accident. An enraged mob murdered a visiting Jewish religious student, Yankel Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum’s brother told Breitbart News in 2012: “I have never seen a person be able to avoid being held accountable in substantive terms for his various and significant serious otherwise well publicized misdeeds over such a prolonged period of time, as Sharpton. This is truly an indictment on all those who have done so in the past and continue to do so.” (Sharpton acknowledged some of his “mistakes” in Crown Heights, while protesting his innocence, in a 2011 op-ed in the New York Daily News.)

In another riot in 1995, Sharpton led protests against Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned store in Harlem, after it was forced to raise the rent on a sub-tenant, a black-owned record store. (Sharpton called the owner a “white interloper.”) One of the protesters later shot four employees and set the store on fire, bringing the death total to seven.

As of 2008, Sharpton’s NAN had massive debts and owed $2 million in taxes, which it claimed to be paying off. In 2014, the New York Times reported that Sharpton had “more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his for-profit businesses,” which he denied. And in 2009, Sharpton and NAN agreed to pay $285,000 in civil penalties after the Federal Election Commission found that NAN had made improper contributions to his 2004 presidential campaign, when he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party nomination.

In 2012, Sharpton and NAN played a key role in inflaming national division and outrage over the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed during a scuffle with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Sharpton promoted false reports that Zimmerman used what Sharpton called “racial language” in speaking with police. He used his prime-time program on MSNBC to promote the story, including the claim that Zimmerman — whose mother is Peruvian — was “white,” implying racial bias in the killing.

Despite that record, Sharpton has been rehabilitated by the left and the mainstream media. He hosted Saturday Night Live in 2003. He spoke to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 (breaking with his prepared text to aim a racially-tinged attack at President George W. Bush). He was hired as a host by MSNBC in 2011.

But the most important event in Sharpton’s journey from the fringe to the mainstream was President Barack Obama’s decision to embrace him in 2011, even as other black leaders on the left stepped up their criticism of the administration.

As the Daily Beast reported: “Obama stayed so far away from Sharpton during the 2008 campaign that Sharpton, with Obama’s blessing, never even endorsed him. Yet not only did Obama just become the first president ever to appear at the annual conference of Sharpton’s National Action Network, ten top Obama aides, including six cabinet members, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, spoke at various sessions of the four-day event.”

Today, Democratic hopefuls are beating a path to Sharpton’s door, eager to speak at his NAN podium — with the slogan, “No Justice, No Peace” emblazoned behind them.

Sharpton has also played a leading role in the Black Lives Matter movement, which has demonized police.

The left-leaning Daily Beast blamed Sharpton, in part, for inflaming the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 into local riots and a national conflagration:

The narrative thus set, Al Sharpton and the media descended upon Ferguson alongside outside agitators who marched with such slogans as “No Justice, No Peace” or “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” More unrest would follow when the grand jury elected not to indict the officer for the tragic shooting. Riots and looting would ensue—with breathless coverage in the media and little from the President of the United States and the Attorney General to quell the violence.

In 2016, Sharpton was among the defendants sued by a black police officer from Dallas — Sergeant Demetrick Pennie, President of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation — for allegedly inciting hatred against police. (Five officers were previously killed in Dallas by a sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest.)

There is arguably no person in America more responsible for the decline in race relations in recent years. A Gallup poll of attitudes on race relations shows that they were improving until roughly 2012/3 — when Sharpton burst onto the scene with the Trayvon Martin controversy.

Trump’s claim is therefore grounded in a solid foundation of facts — facts that the media, following Obama’s lead, have swept aside for years.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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