Twenty-five years ago, the Reverend Al Sharpton jumped headfirst into the public spotlight to defend a black teenager who accused six white men of repeatedly raping her and smearing her body with dog feces and racial slurs. Even after a grand jury found that Tawana Brawley had concocted an elaborate hoax to deflect punishment by her murderous step-father, Sharpton refused to concede that the truth made any difference. What was important to him then was race-mongering and getting the maximum media play from his histrionic agit-prop. Now, a generation later, he has found another opportunity to foment racial unrest in the case of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager who was killed in Florida by a mixed race Hispanic man serving as a neighborhood watchman.
For almost a week, Sharpton has instigated marches, protests, sympathetic hoodie-wearing - all leading to the temporary resignation of the local police chief, a startling statement by President Obama and many editorials and opinion pieces by members of the press who may soon discover, as they did with the Duke LaCrosse players, that there is no race element to this case at all. In the current rush to judgment, it has taen several days for the Miami Herald to uncover that Trayvon Martin, far from being the stellar student on the college track, had been suspended from school three times for behavior that included truancy, defacing of school property and possession of drugs, burglary tools and 12 pieces of women’s jewelry in his backpack. The police found George Zimmerman, the Hispanic watchman, bleeding from his face and the back of his head, claiming that he had been jumped, punched and had his head bashed on the ground and had shot Martin only in self-defense.
None of us in a position to know the circumstances of this tragic incident, least of all a grandstanding professional firebrand like Sharpton who makes his living out of playing the race card as often as he opens his mouth. The president should have learned his lesson from his own inappropriate condemnation of the police in the Henry Gates affair and refrained from offering any comment at this time. It isn’t necessary to idealize Trayvon Martin or demonize George Zimmerman in order to expect an investigation into what prompted the shooting death of an unarmed person. It’s particularly ludicrous to conclude that this was a hate crime perpetrated by one minority against another but this seems to be the new mantra for all identity politics as we have just witnessed in the Tyler Clementi case - a travesty that hopefully will be reversed on appeal.
The irony is that the election of a half-black president was meant to usher in the golden age of race relations in this country, a signal of fluid possibilities for minorities who had the will and wherewithal to succeed at the highest levels of achievement. Instead, we are allowing ourselves to be dragged down by old-fashioned hate mongers like Al Sharpton, a man who shamefully still enchants the media, gets the support of the democratic party and the attention of the man who holds the highest office in our country.
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