Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Resurgence of Al Sharpton: Good or Bad?

I was standing in line at a deli in downtown Atlanta today when I overheard a middle aged white gentleman admit jokingly to a group of his peers, "I'm not sure how serious the situation is... all I know is that Al Sharpton's gotten involved." Not to my surprise, the gentleman's comment was met with great laughter.

By now, most of you have heard about Sean Bell, the 23 year old brother from New York City who was shot down by undercover NYPD officers last Saturday. I'm not a journalist and so I'll leave the detailed reporting to the professionals (check out the links below), but, in a nutshell, Mr. Bell was allegedly approached by undercover cops, who, without identifying themselves, opened fire on Mr. Bell outside of a popular New York strip club. Mr. Bell was gunned down while leaving his bachelor party and, according to reports, was to be married that same day. Needless to say, Mr. Bell was unarmed.

While my heart goes out to the Mr. Bell's family and fiancée, I think the most personally frustrating element to this incident is its familiarity. And by familiarity, I'm not alluding to the all too common shooting of yet another unarmed, innocent black man, but the predictable, ineffectual response from the "black leadership" - in particular, the response by Rev. Al Sharpton.

Before I criticize the good Reverend, let me begin with a few words of praise. There are few black public figures in America today with more courage than Rev. Sharpton. While some of our more polished, "politically savvy" elected officials back down from issues like welfare, affirmative action, and police brutality, Rev. Sharpton is always eager to step up to the plate. He's not a politician and I mean that as a compliment.

And so, it didn't surprise me in the least bit when I picked up the New York Times this morning and saw Rev. Sharpton's image adorning the front cover with the subtext "Appeals for Calm After Convening of Black Leaders" beneath him. For better or worse, he is one of our "black leaders".

But while I respect Rev. Al Sharpton's contributions to the community, I believe that it is time someone asked the Reverend to step back. TO MOST AMERICANS REV. AL SHARPTON IS A JOKE and any honest member of the black community would admit this fact. Whether it be his love of the camera, his hair (I'm sorry I had to go there but you know I'm right), or his preachy, often excessively flowery rhetoric, Rev. Sharpton cannot help but embarrass himself. I honestly wish I could take Rev. Sharpton seriously. Right when I think I'm on board with the Reverend he pulls a stunt like his appearance on Saturday Night Live. And I'm not the only person who feels this way. Professor West once remarked that Al Sharpton is characterized by "one-note racial analyses and sentimental practices". Professor West's assessment couldn't be more on point.

Like the ambulance chasing lawyer, Rev. Sharpton, by not being selective in picking his battles, has LOST CREDIBILITY. And even worse, his love of celebrity has chipped away at the MORAL AUTHORITY that once accompanied the title Reverend.

Let me re-emphasize that I DO RESPECT Rev. Sharpton. I'm not submitting this posting to put Rev. Sharpton down. This posting is an appeal...it's an appeal to men and women of my generation (35 and under) to stand up and be counted. To add wisdom and a servant-leader attitude to the courage and boldness of men like Rev. Sharpton.

As will soon become tradition, I direct this challenge first to myself and then to you.


Professor Shakes

Links to the Sean Bell Shooting Story:
BBC's Coverage: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6186808.stm
CNN's Coverage: http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/11/27/nyc.shooting.ap/index.html