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Moral Cowardice and Bigotry at the Law School

By Avi M. Bell and Aharon J. Friedman

He's fought against "faggots," "yellow niggers," "white interlopers" and "diamond merchants." His political organization is littered with avowed racists, anti-Semites and bigots. He has on numerous occasions ignited and stoked the flames of racial hatred. Is this David Duke or some other Klansman? No, it's Al Sharpton, who was Harvard Law School's guest last Wednesday.

The gallery of Sharpton's outrages is full. Less than five years ago, Sharpton's organization--the National Action Network--organized a campaign, together with Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, to rid 125th Street (Harlem's main shopping street) of "nonblack"-owned businesses. One such owner was Fred Harari, who owned a clothing store named Freddy's on 125th Street and was--horror of horrors!--a Jew.

Little wonder, then, that when Fred wanted to expand his store and told the owner of an adjacent store that his sublease would not be renewed, Sharpton's organization stepped in. Sharpton sent the matter to his organization's Buy Black steering committee and announced at a rally that "we will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business on 125th Street."

The chair of Sharpton's Buy Black committee, Morris Powell, had sharper words: "We are not going to stand idly by and let a Jewish person come into black Harlem and methodically drive people out of business.... We are going to see that this cracker suffers." He added, "... that cracker got to be insane. We are going to close him down."

The several months of picketing by Sharpton and Powell's protesters were marked by overt racism and violence. According to court documents, the protests were characterized by epithets which included "kill the Jew bastards," "burn down the Jew store and its employees and customers" and "this block for niggers only, no whites or Jews allowed." Some protesters stood in the doorway of the store screaming "bloodsucking Jews," while others made motions of striking matches and throwing them into the store.

No one should have been shocked when one of the protesters actually carried through on with the threats on Dec. 8, 1995. He opened fire in the store and then burned it down, killing seven employees, before taking his own life. Several months of anti-Semitic protests, violence and incendiary rhetoric, organized by Sharpton's National Action Network and its Buy Black committee had reached their logical conclusion.

But Sharpton, typically, attempted to dodge responsibility. He claimed to have no connection to the protests, though he had been caught on videotape leading a protest on Dec. 2, only six days before the fatal arson. Then Sharpton maintained that "we never said we were going after whites or Jews." Unfortunately for Sharpton, his "white interloper" speech had similarly been caught on tape.

This was hardly the first time Sharpton has lied to avoid having to face the consequences of his race baiting. In 1988, Sharpton participated in a fraudulent rape and kidnapping charge with racial overtones (the victim was a young black woman, the accused were a group of white men) and claimed to have evidence to prove that an assistant district attorney, Steve Pagones, had participated in the alleged crime. When it became clear that the accusation was false, Sharpton dug in his heels. He said, "We stated openly that Steven Pagones, the assistant district attorney did it.... If we're lying sue us, so we can go into court with you and prove you did it." Pagones did sue Sharpton for defamation--and won. Sharpton's response? "I didn't believe it to be a hoax then, and I don't believe it to be a hoax now." Oh.

At the time, displeased with then-Attorney General Robert Abrams' failure to prosecute against Pagones, Sharpton angrily compared Abrams to Hitler. But when asked to denounce his ally Louis Farrakhan for Farrakhan's anti-Semitism--Farrakhan called Jews bloodsuckers and their faith a "gutter religion"--Sharpton demurred, explaining, "I don't publicly denounce anyone."Oh.

Lest you worry, Sharpton is an equal-opportunity agitator. The Freddy's protests were an eerie echo of protests Sharpton supported five years earlier of Korean grocery stores. Equally racially-charged protests urged an end to shopping "with people who do not look like us." Disaster was avoided when police discovered and safely removed 19 gasoline bombs on the roof of one of the Korean-owned stores.

Sharpton's record, littered with lies, bigotry and intentional fanning of the flames of violence, has not changed over time. Just last year, Sharpton supported and then spoke on the stage of a hate rally in Harlem featuring Khalid Muhammed, whose bigoted remarks about "faggots," Roman Catholics, their "cracker" Pope and "peckerwood Jesus" and the "hook-nosed, bagel-eating, lox-eating, perpetrating-a-fraud so-called Jew" were too much even for Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, which fired him as spokesperson. The rally ended with--what else?--a riot.

Sharpton's record on violence and bigotry is clear. Yet, last Wednesday, Sharpton took his seat on the dais as an official guest of Harvard Law School, and the overwhelming majority of the student body and faculty was silent. The few who dared challenge Sharpton's appearance were booed and hissed by a crowd packed with Sharpton supporters.

Only two questions remain in the air. Why would anyone think that Sharpton was an appropriate guest at Harvard? And why did so many members of the Law School and others in the Harvard community lack the moral courage to say so?

Aharon J. Friedman and Avi M. Bell are students at the Harvard Law School.

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