Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Beware of Using Extremists to Settle Old Political Agendas

Jan 12, 2015

Following the horrific attacks in Paris, France, the world was quick to condemn the tragedy and unite as one human family. This cowardly act against freedom of speech and freedom of expression is reprehensible to all sane people, but sadly, some have used it to exacerbate their already biased views. There is nothing that even hints that the vicious incidents in France are endorsed or embraced by most Muslims in the world. In fact, a police officer who was stationed outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo when he was gunned down was himself a Muslim. The murderous madmen who took his life and the lives of the other innocent souls are nothing but that -- madmen. But those who have become peddlers of Islamophobia use this catastrophe to try and justify their odious views already held against Muslims. They use other people's pain and suffering to justify their own bigotry and bias. It is the same sort of twisted logic that some apply when incidents of police brutality and excessive force take place. Instead of addressing the root of the problem, they would rather attack those that raise awareness about the issues at hand. They use the terrible actions of a few bad apples to justify their own blatant bias against advocates for reform. Thankfully, people can spot their hustle from a mile away.

Michael Brown's body was in the street for hours in Ferguson, Missouri after he was shot and killed by police this summer. A 12-year-old child by the name of Tamir Rice was shot and killed by cops in Cleveland, Ohio after playing with a toy gun. In Staten Island, NY, there is clear videotape of officers using a brutal tactic that is banned by the police department itself on a father of six. He died. But instead of addressing these specific cases or looking at the policies/practices that led to these tragic incidents, some would rather spend time criticizing those of us that push for answers and accountability.

A former Mayor of NYC who quarreled with me the entire eight years he was in office, goes on national television not to discuss methods of bringing police and communities together, but instead to attack me, Mayor de Blasio and even President Obama. Adding to this outrageous scenario is the fact that the reporter interviewing this former Mayor never challenges him, or asks him what we did to quote "poison the atmosphere." It is nothing short of slander, vitriol and outright lies. But then again, that's what many of us had to deal with during his tenure in office. I suppose the message they are sending is that we don't have the right to ever question police even as we discuss freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, a prominent right-wing group has tried to get major corporations not to support my organization, National Action Network (NAN), because they claim that we are somehow 'anti-police'. It's a good thing that many of our board of directors are chief executives in corporations and they know clearly what we represent. At the same time, a national conservative columnist recently stated that I somehow led the case against the Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of rape back in 2006. I of course had no involvement in that case. But I suppose facts don't matter when you are cynically using an agenda that has nothing to do with the issues being raised.

When some sort of devastation takes place, there are two kinds of responses we see: those who unite to work towards healing and reform, and those who use the tragedy to settle old political schemes. In France, we saw millions gather in peace from all kinds of religious and ethnic backgrounds yesterday as they denounced the recent attacks and called for unity going forward. Unfortunately, those who have made entire careers out of peddling Islamophobia also took to the airwaves to criticize a religion comprised of billions who had nothing to do with the actions of a few.

Following the tragic Garner, Brown and Rice cases here at home, we witnessed thousands marching peacefully against police misconduct, and calling for reform. But again, those that like to stir things up, sell books, get more ads for their radio or TV show, or just hinder the work of advocates pushing for change have spent extensive time trying to smear my organization, the Mayor of NYC and even the President. To them I say: beware of using extremists to settle old political agendas; people are smarter than you think -- they can see through the sham.