Assault Case Spurs Debate, but Sharpton Stays Silent
In the three months that the city and a good portion of the world buzzed about the hotel housekeeper and the French man of power, voices big and small spoke up for one side or the other, or simply urged that justice be found in a courtroom. There were news conferences, rallies, protests, cable-TV exhortations.
But one New York staple has been silent throughout the debate over the housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, and the French man of power, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a voice many would have expected to be among the loudest: the Rev. Al Sharpton, the provocative civil rights activist.
He has apparently said nothing publicly, issued no position statement. He has not shown up at rallies centered on the case.
“It’s a good question that I’d like to know the answer to,” said Assemblyman Eric A. Stevenson, a Bronx Democrat who has been outspoken about seeing the case go to trial. “I’ve wondered, ‘Where is Al Sharpton?’ ”
On the face of it, it seems precisely like the sort of sensational and polarizing case that Mr. Sharpton, a master of sound bites, has habitually inserted himself into, at megaphone volume: Ms. Diallo, a housekeeper at the Sofitel New York, accusing Mr. Strauss-Kahn, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, of raping her when she arrived to clean his room. And then the case collapsing after her credibility came into question, with the charges being dismissed.
Mr. Sharpton did not respond to requests for comment. But one would be hard-pressed to think of an explosive New York crime drama involving race in the past 30 years in which Mr. Sharpton has not been a visible agitator. The list would include the Bernard Goetz subway shootings, the assaults and deaths in Howard Beach and Bensonhurst, the Tawana Brawley escapade, the Crown Heights riots, the police shootings of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, and the case of Michael Mineo, who accused the police of sodomizing him while arresting him in a Brooklyn subway station.
State Senator Bill Perkins, a Democrat representing northern Manhattan, spearheaded a coalition of advocacy groups and activists that urged that the Strauss-Kahn case go to trial. He wrote three letters to Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, and orchestrated several rallies.
Mr. Perkins said he was not sure whether his office reached out to Mr. Sharpton, and he was reluctant to make anything of Mr. Sharpton’s lack of participation, saying “what’s relevant to me here is the issue, not the personalities who didn’t show up.” Mr. Perkins added, “I’m not an attendance taker. I look at who I have, not who I don’t have.”
However, Noel Leader, a founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, which was part of the coalition, was displeased. He said that he personally spoke to Mr. Sharpton in July about the matter and that he assumed the reverend was going to take a public position.
“It’s baffling to us,” Mr. Leader said. “It’s kind of unfortunate that Reverend Sharpton and other individuals haven’t spoken out. So we’re disappointed.”
“It’s very unlike him,” said Kim Nichols, an executive director of the African Services Committee, an agency based in Harlem that also spoke out for the accuser. “I don’t think he was necessary or essential in the outcry of the community in this particular case. But you would have expected him to be there.”
Mr. Sharpton seems to have moderated his tone in recent years. A number of advocates wondered if he may have retreated from the case as part of an effort to win a job as a TV anchor.
Since the end of June, Mr. Sharpton has been guest-hosting a nightly MSNBC show at 6 p.m. He was named the permanent host on Tuesday, with the time slot being renamed “PoliticsNation.” In the broadcasts during his tryout, he never addressed the Strauss-Kahn episode.
Mr. Sharpton also hosts a daily weekday radio show.
Last Sunday, he wrote an opinion piece for The Daily News in which he expressed regret for some of the tone and language he used during the Crown Heights race riots 20 years ago and mentioned how he had “grown” since that episode. Prompted when a 7-year-old black boy was run over by a car driven by a member of a Hasidic cleric’s motorcade, the riots led to a Hasidic scholar being stabbed to death by a black man.
Many critics have not forgotten Mr. Sharpton’s vociferous advocacy of Tawana Brawley, the 15-year-old who claimed she was abducted and raped by a gang of six white men in 1987, only to have a grand jury conclude it was a hoax. Mr. Sharpton was ordered to pay $65,000 for defaming a prosecutor whom Ms. Brawley said was involved in the attack.
Reprinted from The New York Times, New York Region, of Saturday, August 27, 2011.