The Rev. Al Sharpton has been praised as a civil rights icon by prominent figures in politics, and “60 Minutes” reported that he has become President Barack Obama’s “go-to black leader.”
Sharpton has been frequently in the media for leading protests against grand jury decisions exonerating white policemen in the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.
But many in the mainstream media have sought to downplay the negatives surrounding the firebrand minister, who has been accused of being a rabble-rouser out for personal gain, including:
1. When Sharpton sought involvement in the funeral of Akai Gurley, an African-American shot dead in November by a rookie police officer in the darkened stairwell of a housing project in Brooklyn, New York, Gurley’s family told him to stay away.
Sharpton held a news conference condemning the cop and promised to deliver a eulogy at the wake. But Gurley’s aunt, who was speaking for his mother, told TMZ: “Al Sharpton came in, put his name on the situation, but has not even made one single call to the parents of Akai,” adding that all Sharpton sees “is money and political gain and he is turning the tragedy into a circus.”
2. Sharpton has more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his businesses. His National Action Network has repeatedly failed to pay travel agencies, hotels, and landlords, records show.
3. Sharpton has allegedly sought to keep his nonprofit afloat with money that was supposed to go to payroll taxes, although he contends that the payroll tax shortfall was not intentional.
4. The reverend accused an upstate New York prosecutor, Steven Pagones, of being part of a group of white men who assaulted teenager Tawana Brawley in 1987. A grand jury found “overwhelming evidence” that the allegation had been fabricated. Pagones sued Sharpton for defamation and won a judgment of $65,000. Sharpton reportedly paid the judgment with money raised by his supporters.
5. Sharpton has frequently sparked controversy with his strident language. During a rally in Brooklyn, he called white people “crackers.”
6. After a car in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s motorcade killed a 7-year-old black boy in Brooklyn in 1991, Sharpton referred to the Chassidic Jews as “diamond merchants” and said “if the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” Shortly afterward, an innocent Jewish student, Yankel Rosenbaum, visiting the area from Australia was set upon by a mob and stabbed to death.
7. In 1995, an African-American Pentecostal church in Harlem, New York, asked a Jewish tenant of one of its properties, Freddie’s Fashion Mart, to evict a black-run record store that was subletting part of the property. Sharpton showed up outside Freddie’s vowing to a crowd: “We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business.”
That December, Freddie’s was attacked by a man in the crowd who shot several customers and then set fire to the building with a flammable liquid, killing seven employees. Sharpton subsequently apologized for his “white interloper” remark, but vehemently denied responsibility for the violence.
8. When Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was running for president in 2007, Sharpton said: “As for the Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyway.”
9. In 1990, Sharpton was acquitted of felony charges that he stole $250,000 from his youth group.
10. In 1993, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for failing to file a state income tax return.
11. State law bars nonprofits from making loans to officers, but Sharpton admitted that his National Action Network had once loaned him money to cover his daughters’ tuition.
12. Sharpton was jailed for 90 days in 2001 on trespassing charges stemming from his protest against U.S. military target practice exercises in Puerto Rico.
13. Sharpton worked as a government informant. In 2002, HBO aired a 19-year-old FBI videotape of an undercover sting operation showing Sharpton with an FBI agent posing as a Latin American businessman and a reputed Columbo crime family captain.
Sharpton said in 1988 that he informed for the government in order to stem the flow of crack cocaine into black neighborhoods, although The Smoking Gun alleged that he was paid to be an informant.
14. In December 2005, Sharpton agreed to repay $100,000 in public funds he received for his 2004 presidential campaign, because he had exceeded federal limits on personal expenditures for his campaign.
15. In 2005, Sharpton appeared in three TV commercials for LoanMax, an automobile title loan firm that reportedly charged fees that were the equivalent of 300 percent APR loans.
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