DETROIT, Michigan — Al Sharpton denied any role Wednesday in the events that led to the murder of Jewish religious student Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, in 1991, calling claims to the contrary “fake news.”
Sharpton has a long history of divisive racial and antisemitic rhetoric, which the mainstream media have largely obscured.
In 2008, Sharpton was considered so toxic that then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) “stayed … far away” and made it clear he did not want Sharpton’s endorsement for president, the Daily Beast recalled.
But by 2011, when President Obama faced criticism from within the black community, he turned to Sharpton to offer advice and public support. Sharpton was also given a prime time slot on MSNBC.
In recent days, Sharpton has been one of the most outspoken critics of President Donald Trump, accusing him of racism.
But three decades ago, Sharpton was notorious for inflaming racial tensions in New York — including the riots in Crown Heights.
Breitbart News spoke to Sharpton as he entered the Fox Theatre in Detroit, the site of the second Democratic presidential debate.
Breitbart News: Mr. Sharpton, can I ask you about antisemitism and some of the things you’ve said in the past? People have been talking about Crown Heights —
Sharpton: Well, what did I say?
Breitbart News: — talking about the Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights —
Sharpton: What did I say?
Breitbart: — do you have any responsibility for what happened to Yankel Rosenbaum and those people —
Sharpton: Absolutely not, I wasn’t there until after that happened. Read the Crown Heights report of State of New York. Check your facts. If you do research, you will come out more on the point. If you read the Crown Heights Report, it clearly said that none of us were even there until later in the week. So that is a myth — I believe y’all call it “fake news.”
Sharpton’s recollection of events is somewhat contradicted by the report he appeared to cite, which was prepared by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
According to the chronology in the report, on Monday, August 19, 1991, at 8:20 p.m. a car in a three-car motorcade transporting the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a senior Jewish rabbinical figure, was involved in an accident. As a result, the car veered “out of control” and struck two black children, Angela and Gavin Cato. Seven-year-old Gavin Cato was pronounced dead almost immediately upon arrival at the hospital.
A crowd gathered, enraged by “rumors” that an ambulance run by a Jewish organization had ignored the black children (who were, in fact, transported to the Kings County Hospital by Emergency Medical Service ambulances). By 9:07 p.m., a riot had erupted.
Between 11:15 and 11:45 p.m., the report states, “A Jewish man is assaulted by approximately fifteen black males. Another is beaten and robbed. Yankel Rosenbaum, a Hasidic man, is assaulted by ten to fifteen black youths and stabbed four times.”
At 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 20, 1991, Yankel Rosenbaum died.
Later that day, at 2:00 p.m., Sharpton addressed a crowd of 150 black demonstrators at the site of the accident. A separate demonstration was held by Jews at the rabbi’s headquarters, demanding better police protection for the community. Sharpton then led his crowd, which swelled to 250 people, on a march in which some of the participants “shout racial epithets and throw rocks and bottles at the Jewish demonstrators and the police.”
The violence continued, with Sharpton playing a leading role in whipping up sentiments against the Jewish community and the police. At one point, Sharpton demanded that the police arrest the driver of the car that struck Gavin Cato, threatening to conduct a “citizen’s arrest” if they did not.
Police finally regained control shortly after midnight on Thursday, August 22.
It is true that Sharpton only arrived on the scene after Rosenbaum had been fatally stabbed — but less than 12 hours later, not simply “later in the week.” Furthermore, Sharpton escalated the tensions in the community, according to the account of events in the report.
In the minds of those who experienced the riots, Sharpton played a leading role.
In 2012, Norman Rosenbaum, Yankel’s brother, spoke to Breitbart News and criticized President Obama for working with Sharpton:
Sharpton’s blatant lies, distortions and hypocrisy, particularly in regard to his role in the Crown Heights Riots, continue regretfully, in large part, to be condoned and/or ignored …
In my experience, which no doubt is not as extensive as others, 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.
The fact that Sharpton is made welcome by President Obama is a disgrace and highlights a serious character flaw in the President. The President is wrong for doing so and the message he sends in doing so is dangerous. Make no mistake about it–Al Sharpton is a racist, an old fashioned bigot, who craves the media limelight and will do and say anything to draw the attention of the media to him.
In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, candidates have eagerly courted Sharpton’s support, without criticizing his record.
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.