Al Sharpton’s heart is still in New York City. But these past several years his head has been in Washington, retooling his nonprofit National Action Network into a congressional lobbying powerhouse. The group is trying to secure passage of wide-ranging legislation, part of which is a Senate bill to make far more difficult for white police to question or arrest black criminal suspects without inviting legal repercussions upon themselves and their departments. The likely result would be even more of the rapidly escalating violence in the nation’s streets. NAN and the youthful demagogues known as Black Lives Matter have been catalysts in this public safety disaster. Yet to the participants on NAN panels last Tuesday at the Rayburn House Office Building, the main focus was “white racism.”
As National Legal and Policy Center noted at length last July in the wake of the previous “Legislative & Policy Conference,” Reverend Al Sharpton knows how to “work within the system.” This is not to say that he has forgotten how to foment street protests on behalf of blacks whom he feels have been unjustly denied their rights. But his evolution from rabble rouser to civil-rights gray eminence, at least as a public image, since the early part of the last decade has won him access to the highest levels of power. Sharpton has been a registered visitor at the Obama White House dozens of times, and tit for tat, President Obama was the marquee speaker at the National Action Network annual banquets in New York City in 2011 and 2014. The Reverend Al also played a key role in clearing the way for Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch for U.S. Attorney General two years ago following the unexpected resignation announcement of her predecessor, Eric Holder. And for the last five years he has hosted a news and commentary show, “PoliticsNation,” on MSNBC-TV. Meanwhile, NAN coffers are fatter than ever. During calendar year 2014, the Harlem-based organization pulled in nearly $7 million in revenues from all sources, up from around $5 million just a year earlier. Corporate sponsors of this spring’s NAN convention included AT&T, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Denny’s, Facebook, FedEx, Google, Home Depot, Macy’s, MasterCard, PepsiCo, Time Warner, Verizon and Walmart. PepsiCo and Comcast since have gone the extra mile, bankrolling last week’s Washington policy conference.
Al Sharpton has become a very popular person in certain quarters on Capitol Hill. Since 2012 he has held “From Demonstration to Legislation” conferences with the intent of lobbying members of Congress. Democratic Party leaders provided him with a hero’s welcome. In a prepared statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered:
For a quarter century, NAN has been instrumental to advancing justice and equality. NAN strives to amplify the voices of African-Americans in the legislative process so that all communities enjoy equality of opportunity. This year’s theme – From Demonstration to Legislation – embodies America’s rich history of progress. It also challenges us to keep moving, mobilizing, and organizing to create a more just America for all. Thanks to the vision of NAN’s founder, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and all the hard-working activists and advocates in communities across America, together we are ensuring that no one in our nation is overlooked or undervalued. Through your work and your visionary leadership, you strengthen our democracy.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., similarly stated: “Founded 25 years ago by Reverend Al Sharpton, the National Action Network (NAN) works to build public awareness and find solutions for the issues impacting our most vulnerable populations. Inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., NAN has propelled the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s into the modern era. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also heaped on the praise: “Since the National Action Network’s inception in 1991 under the esteemed leadership of Reverend Sharpton, this organization has brought many important issues to the forefront of our national conversation, from education and employment, to voter registration, to criminal justice and equal protection under the law. Over the last 25 years, NAN has served as a lifeline, providing critical services and resources when New Yorkers needed them most.” And in the spirit of bipartisanship, Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., a “black conservative,” praised NAN as a strong advocate for the interests of everyday American people.
Reverend Sharpton isn’t lacking for admirers. But he didn’t come to Washington to be admired. He came to get legislation passed. And he’s transforming National Action Network, which may or may not be registered as a lobbying organization, into a lobbying outfit toward that purpose. Aided by NAN Washington bureau chief, Eboni Riley, Sharpton made clear his desire to reach lawmakers. He announced on the eve of the conference:
By taking the fight for our issues directly to the halls of Congress we are sending a clear message in this election year and into the future: We will not let voting rights be trampled on, we stand for equal protection under the law for everyone, and that the future of the Supreme Court matters. NAN has a long and proud history of taking the fight for justice from the streets across the country to the powers that-be in our nation’s capital – and we look forward to meeting with congressional leaders to convey our message.
A number of lawmakers were all too eager to lend a hand. Fully 11 of the scheduled speakers – four Representatives and seven Senators – were members of Congress. They were: Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., Andre Carson, D-Ind., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Minn., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
National Action Network speaks of fighting for justice. Yet its priority legislation in the current 114th Congress is based on the false assumption that blacks in this country are systematically being denied justice. To NAN, any attempt to roll back pro-black favoritism (i.e., affirmative action) constitutes a desire to return to the dark ages of American life. That conviction is reflected in its legislative advocacy. For one thing, Sharpton and company are pressing for passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 3899, S. 1945). This legislation would undo the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder exempting certain Southern states and localities from complying with “preclearance” requirements related to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act prior to making changes in redistricting. The decision, far from “disenfranchising” blacks or anyone else, was sound and overdue. As NLPC noted last September, these preclearance mandates were created under VRA amendments as a way of ensuring that Southern states would not discourage blacks from voting. Not only has the law long has outlived its usefulness, it has evolved into a tool for blocking these states from imposing even modest checks against voter registration and ballot fraud. To Sharpton and his minions, this constitutes “discrimination” because blacks likely would be purged from the voting rolls at higher rates than whites – as if election fraud is something to be ignored so long as blacks are committing it. A federal appeals court in Texas recently endorsed this preposterous logic in striking down a strict voter ID law in that state.
There is much more. National Action Network supports the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to an estimated 4.4 million released criminal convicts. It also is urging passage of legislation that would penalize financial institutions who turn down credit applications of members of minority groups, thus opening a whole new area of bank shakedown lawsuits and out-of-court settlements. It demands business “diversity and inclusion” mandates to ensure that blacks and other racial minorities are assured a stake in for-profit enterprises. And NAN also wants Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to expand the Lifeline (aka “Obamaphone”) program that subsidizes phone service for low-income subscribers. As National Legal and Policy Center discussed at length last June, this program, initiated back in the mid-Eighties, is both needless and riddled with fraud.
The areas of criminal justice and gun control were the main focus of the discussion panels. On the plus side, National Action Network supports the Sentencing and Reform and Corrections Act (S.2123), which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain types of nonviolent drug offenses and the Youth Promise Act (H.R. 2197), which would offer alternatives to incarceration for youthful offenders. On the minus side, NAN supports an atrocious piece of legislation, the End Racial Profiling Act, that would apply affirmative action quotas to the police identification, questioning and arrests of criminal suspects. As NAN describes it, the measure “mandates racial bias training for all law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds; addresses the problem of police misconduct and brutality; strengthens personal property rights under the Fifth Amendment to ensure due process of law by reforming civil asset forfeiture laws, which disproportionately impact people of color.” Let’s cut the sophistry. This bill has nothing to do with combating police “brutality.” It is a virtual blank check for black criminals to assault and murder white cops and civilians. Anyone denying this is not living in the real world. Race, like tattoos, scars or an article of clothing, is a valid marker of identification of the perpetrator of a given crime. If police were to refrain from stopping black suspects crime because they might exceed their quota of stops or arrests and thus invite a federal lawsuit – and that is exactly the point of the legislation – they would be exposing the general public, especially in high-crime neighborhoods, to criminal sociopaths. Al Sharpton, as I have noted many times, especially in my recent NLPC book on the subject, has spent a career criminalizing white police behavior, all the better to transform his black audiences into a force of nature. Time and again, he has tried to create a halo of innocence over the heads of blacks such as Patrick Dorismond, Sean Bell and Michael Brown, each of whom lost their lives in the act of violently assaulting a white cop.
For all of Sharpton’s evolution into a “reasonable” civil rights leader, he’s still the same Reverend Al. He himself makes no secret of this. Railroading cops into prison and calling it “justice” remains his stock in trade. Black Lives Matter activists, with their aggressive use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media, have upped the ante. If white cops stand to be legally disarmed by passage of preferred NAN legislation, white civilians would fare no better. The proposed Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 4603) would ban the sale of firearms to any individual convicted of a “hate crime.” By any measure, it’s a bad bill. First of all, defining “hate” is an inexact science. All crime on some level involves hatred of certain persons or, by extension, their property. Punishing a given crime with extra severity simple because its perpetrator was motivated by “hate” requires something bordering on clairvoyance. Second, such legislation in practice has rested on the assumption that certain social groups need such extra legal protection, while others need to be monitored as potential perpetrators. The original legislation, the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, was entirely driven by organizations with a deep animosity toward whites, males and heterosexuals. It was never intended to be even-handed in application. Congress subsequently increased the penalties for hate crimes in 1994 and expanded the range of offenses to cover gender and disability in 2009. In that latter year as well lawmakers expanded jurisdiction to states as well as the federal government. For National Action Network, these steps have not been enough. The group wants a federal ban on a person’s right to obtain a firearm if the buyer has been convicted of a “hate crime,” whether or not the offense involved the use of a firearm. If passed, whites more than ever would be sitting ducks for violent attacks by blacks because resistance with force might be prosecuted as a hate crime. A conviction would vacate the right to buy a gun.
The Tuesday policy forums, respectively, “Criminal Justice & Community Policing,” and “The Gun Control Debate,” each held in Room 2168 (“the Gold Room”) of the Rayburn House Office Building, provided a host of hard-Left talking points. The criminal justice panel, featuring Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., as guest speaker, called for police to be more sensitive to the perspective of the black community. Other speakers included Kristen Clarke, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Don Cravins, Washington bureau executive director for the National Urban League; and Nkechi Taifa, advocacy director for criminal justice for the Open Society Foundations, founded as a hobbyhorse of multibillionaire George Soros. Each of the speakers called for better police-community relations, but from a one-way street perspective. Police, they argued, need to be better attuned to the black community. The issue of the hazards that cops face on the job didn’t seem to be an issue worth emphasizing.
The panel on gun violence likewise provided disingenuous talking points. All participants denounced gun violence, especially in black neighborhoods. That was the easy part. The hard part was admitting that the problem lies with criminals themselves, not with cops trying to stem the tide. And that part was ignored. Ladd Everitt, executive director of One Pulse for America, a gun violence prevention groups formed in the wake of the Orlando discotheque mass murder this June, criticized Micah Johnson, who murdered five Dallas police officers in July. Yet his criticism was of Johnson’s actions, not of the beliefs which drove the actions. Denouncing the National Rifle Association as “thwarting the will of the majority,” he emphasized the need to win support from blacks and other “communities of color” for more gun control. Other speakers, especially Chelsea Parsons, vice president of guns and crime policy at the Washington, D.C.-based progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, called for a repeal of the “Charleston loophole,” which allows federally-licensed gun dealers to sell firearms to an individual after a waiting period of three business days. The aforementioned Rep. Clyburn in July 2015 sponsored legislation, the Background Check Completion Act (H.R. 3051), to close this “loophole.”
Al Sharpton wants all of this and more. And the “From Demonstration to Legislation” packet contained a separate sheet, “Agenda for an Effective Congressional Visit,” explaining to NAN activists how to state their case at a 30-minute meeting with a member of Congress. All the panel discussions and lobbying in the world, however, are not going to turn back the recent explosion of inner city violence, which got a huge boost in the aftermath of the Baltimore riot of last spring. Al Sharpton, as NLPC noted at length, had come to town as a peacemaker, but his palpable mission was to call for the prosecution of local police officers allegedly responsible for the death of a career local petty criminal, Freddie Gray, following his arrest. That there was no evidence of any criminal assault or cover-up on the part of the cops did not matter to Sharpton, the rioters or the trophy-hunting state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, who dropped the case against six police officers after it became evident after the third “not guilty” verdict that the evidence wasn’t remotely sufficient for a conviction.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with crime statistics knows that blacks commit acts of criminal violence at far higher rates than whites. And that’s something that civil rights radicals will not admit – at least not publicly. Here are a few telling statistics. In 2013, a black was six times more likely than a nonblack to commit a murder. And he was 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone of another race. Of the roughly 660,000 reported crimes of interracial violence involving blacks and whites in the U.S., blacks were the perpetrators 85 percent of the time. In New York City, blacks were over 30 times more likely than whites to be arrested for murder in 2014. Put another way, if the city hypothetically were all-white, the murder rate would have been lower by 91 percent, while robbery and shootings would have been lower, respectively, by 81 percent and 97 percent. Contrary to what black activists and their media cheerleaders have been claiming, cops aren’t shooting blacks for sport. In 2015, police killings of blacks constituted 4 percent of all homicides of blacks in this country. In terms of police killings of unarmed blacks, that figure drops to 0.6 percent. So who, then, is killing blacks? The answer: other blacks. During 1980-2008, 93 percent of all black homicide victims met their fate at the hands of a member of their own race. The idea that blacks are groaning under the weight of a racist police and criminal justice system is superficially appealing to those with a boundless appetite for moral theater. The reality is that they are arrested and convicted more often because they do things that get people in trouble more often.
Black leaders can be counted on to downplay this as an explanation. Recently, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and, as mentioned earlier, a participant in last week’s NAN conference, asserted on the House floor that most of the people fatally shot by police this year were black. In fact, as of July 9, as Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather MacDonald noted in July, whites constituted 54 percent of the 440 fatal police shootings in 2016 where the race of the victim was known; blacks were 28 percent and Hispanics were 18 percent. And though blacks constitute around 13 percent of the nation’s population, that in no way should imply racial “targeting.” The 28 percent figure, if anything, could have been a lot higher. In 2009, in the nation’s 75 largest counties, blacks comprised about 15 percent of the population, yet 62 percent, 57 percent and 45 percent of all defendants, respectively, for robbery, murder and assault. Far from saving black lives, misguided paladins of social justice such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Black Lives Matter are costing them.
Chicago, to name one city, provides a frightening omen. By the close of this Labor Day Weekend, the homicide count in that city reached 500 (a figure not including justifiable police shootings); the figure for all of last year was 481. The city currently is experiencing murder at levels not seen in nearly 25 years, when the annual total peaked at 900. And those are just the fatalities. As of this September, there have been more than 3,000 shootings, fatal or otherwise, in Chicago. That’s more than the 2,980 figure for all of 2015. Crime-solving has suffered given the work overload. According to FBI data, Chicago police through August of this year made arrests in 16 percent of this year’s fatal shootings, a figure well lower than the 30.4 percent rate for 2015 and far lower than the national rate of 64.5 percent. Much of the low cleanup rate can be attributed to gang culture and its accompanying “no-snitching” code. According to Chicago police statistics, an astounding 85 percent of all gun murders in the city in 2015 were gang-related. Department spokesman Frank Giancamilli, in an e-mailed statement, stated that gang members routinely threaten anyone they suspect of cooperating with police. “Those witnesses who are associated with gangs generally seek to retaliate on their own or attempt to minimize scrutiny of their associates by police, leaving them unwilling to provide information,” he noted.
Chicago police don’t have much room to move lately. The whole department has been under siege since the release of a cell phone video showing a white officer shooting to death a knife-wielding 17-year-old black suspect, Laquan McDonald, on the night of October 20, 2014. McDonald, a known gang member, had amassed multiple juvenile arrests at the time of his death. The white cop, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with first-degree murder, a charge owing to his firing 16 shots over roughly 15 seconds. Last December he pleaded not guilty. Though eyewitnesses stated that McDonald had lunged at the officer with a knife, the Justice Department opened a full inquiry into practices in the entire Chicago police department. Black protestors filled the streets of downtown Chicago insisting this was a case of murder and a cover-up, chanting “16 shots and a cover-up.” On November 29, 2015 a black student at the University of Illinois at Chicago named Jabari Dean issued a threat to kill 16 unspecified white males – one for every shot fired at McDonald, plus any white police officers who tried to intervene. FBI agents arrested Dean that day and charged him with “transmitting in interstate commerce communications containing a threat to injure the person of another.” Black “civil rights” leaders could not bring themselves to denounce the suspect’s behavior. Two days later, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel buckled under to black pressure and fired his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy.
It isn’t just Chicago where the streets are mean as hell these days. Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, New Orleans and St. Louis, in fact, have substantially higher murder rates than Chicago. It’s understandable why cops might be hesitant to involve themselves in an encounter with a violent black suspect where the chances of either getting killed or prosecuted is high. Police effectively are being instructed not to do their job. Thankfully, most cops and their departments still do what they are being paid to do: pursue leads and try to bring closure to people affected by criminal violence.
The rise in urban murder rates is the bitter harvest of an aggressive vilification of white police officers under the guise of civil rights. The National Action Network conference in Washington last week may have spoken the language of public policy advocacy, but the desired outcome was a weakening of law enforcement to fit the needs of the racial grievance industry. In other words, it was tailor-made for Al Sharpton. The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald several weeks ago explained in a guest opinion piece for the Washington Post:
(C)ontrary to the Black Lives Matter narrative, there is no government agency more dedicated to the proposition that black lives matter than the police. The data-driven, proactive policing revolution that began in the mid-1990s has saved tens of thousands of black lives that would have otherwise been lost to urban gun violence had crime remained at its early-1990s rate. Unfortunately, those crime gains are now at risk, thanks to the false narrative that police officers are infected with homicidal bias.
Until Al Sharpton and his manifold followers understand that it is criminals, and criminals alone, who make neighborhoods dangerous, the situation is unlikely to improve. Indeed, it may get a good deal worse. Black lives, not to mention white ones, are going to be lost as a result.