New York Post | June 20, 2000
TEN years ago. Same park. Similar crime. A very different reverend. July 2, 1990. Al Sharpton delivered these words outside the trial of three youths who tackled, raped and savagely beat the woman forever known as the "Central Park Jogger":
"Those boys aren't guilty for what happened to the jogger," Sharpton said. "This is just like the old Scottsboro Boys case.
"What happened to her was ugly, but one crime doesn't excuse the other."
This was Sharpton in Central Park on Sunday, June 18, 2000, speaking about the sexual melee that followed the Puerto Rican Day Parade:
"We need to really deal with the fact that some of our young men think it's acceptable, even fun, to engage in the sort of behavior that we saw here."
You may chalk up Sharpton's dramatic change in attitude - his previous zeal to excuse young sex criminals versus his current acknowledgment that rape is, well, a bad thing - to maturity.
But many of us have no doubt that the answer is simpler. In fact, Sharpton's motivation for defending violated females, black, white and Hispanic, over rampaging hoodlums, might be summed up in a single word: Videotape.
For those with a cloudy memory of civil-rights history, the "Scottsboro Boys" refers to nine black youths charged with raping two white girls in Scottsboro, Ala., in 1931.
In a trial widely considered racially unfair - one of the alleged victims recanted her story - all nine were convicted. Eight were sentenced to death. The ninth, a 13-year-old, drew life in prison. Within a few years, all the cases were overturned or the defendants paroled.
In a single phrase, Sharpton compared three youths who left a woman naked, bloody and brain-damaged in a public park, with nine historic symbols of innocence.
Comparing the jogger's attackers - predatory, conscience-free males - to the railroaded youths of Scottsboro is grossly irresponsible.
And patently untrue.
He has never apologized.
Why is Al Sharpton, who wants badly to be the voice of his people, suddenly so interested in women?
In the past, the highest-profile case involving a female to which Sharpton has lent his name is that of Tawana Brawley, who was demonstrated to be lying when she accused white law-enforcement officials of raping her.
Virtually every case Sharpton has championed involved a white individual, group or system said to be trampling on the rights of a black person. Usually, a black male.
Now, Central Park presents a dicey situation for the crusading Rev: The young men accused of terrorizing women, dousing them with water, ripping off their clothes, sexually abusing them to chants of "Go!" are men of color.
Most - but not all - of the female victims are minorities, too.
Which side do you chose?
One law-enforcement official I spoke with was blunt in his assessment:
"The police are really very lucky there was videotape. Otherwise, Sharpton would be out there, screaming that they're just rounding up minority males."
Today, the talk of the town is police morale - Were the cops afraid to move in on minorities to halt the violence?
Al Sharpton wants to shame a white system - the police - for the crimes in Central Park. Perhaps he should look into his own heart.
Al Sharpton has made a career defending people, not on the basis of innocence. But because of the color of their skin.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of the Central Park Jogger, who first fought off her attackers, then endured suggestions that the men who permanently altered her life were as innocent as nine boys who once lived in segregated Alabama.
So Al Sharpton has taken an unheard-of step - criticizing black males, as well as police, for the crimes against women. He has scheduled a series of men-only rallies meant to discourage misogyny. To which my law-enforcement source chuckled:
"Instead of rallying with all these men, maybe the best thing he could do is send them home to spend time with their kids."
How about it, Rev?
© 2000 by the New York Post