A rift among activists outraged over police-involved deaths in Ferguson, New York, and other cities has Rev. Al Sharpton on the offensive against a younger group of protesters who distrust the MSNBC host.
Though Sharpton is often perceived as radical, his methods, tactics and demands are tame compared to some younger activists, including those who make up the groups that have shut down malls and have blocked highway traffic around the country.
And many of those activists disagree with the strategies employed by Sharpton and other more mainstream civil rights leaders.
As a reporter for Capital New York noted, “Fuck Sharpton” was a popular sentiment among demonstrators at a recent march against New York City’s progressive mayor and Sharpton ally, Bill de Blasio.
Sharpton has been criticized for being too cozy to politicians. And his work during the 1980s as an FBI informant has gotten him labeled a “snitch” by many activists.
In a speech addressing that growing criticism last week, Sharpton used metaphors of slavery and prostitution to convey to congregants that the younger activists were trying to divert from their true goal.
“They are pimping you,” Sharpton said, according to Capital New York. His message was aimed at youth he claims were being manipulated by other radical activists.
“I’ve been meeting with them and talking with them since. And they were told, ‘Your problem is Al Sharpton and the other guys,'” Sharpton told a crowd at the National Action Network office in Harlem. “Anytime you have movements, whether it’s in Ferguson, whether it’s in New York, whether it’s in Denver, wherever it is, when they got you more angry at your parents then they got you at the vote you’re supposed to be out there for, you’re being tricked and you’re trying to turn the community into tricks.”
“And they are pimping you, to do the Willie Lynch in our community,” Sharpton continued, referring to an 18th century British slaveholder who allegedly circulated a letter claiming to teach other slaveholders how to hold black slaves in bondage.
“How you going to be more mad at folk that are marching for the same cause then you are against the folks y’all are marching against? Don’t you see a trick in there?” Sharpton asked, according to Capital New York.
Though Sharpton once employed the kinds of drastic tactics he is now criticizing — in the 1980s he considered painting a person’s door with chicken blood — he has toned down over the years in an attempt to be seen as more legitimate. And that seems to have worked, as Sharpton currently hosts an afternoon talk show on MSNBC and is a frequent White House visitor.
One difference between Sharpton’s tactics and those of the younger activists is that he advocates working from within the democratic system.
“And why they got y’all arguing about old or young in Ferguson, they running an election and y’all ain’t got a candidate in the race,” Sharpton said. “Cause you’re busy arguing with your mommy and daddy when they re-electing a mayor, and re-electing a prosecutor.”
“You can’t be that stupid,” he repeated.
The National Action Network founder then drew a comparison between that message and what a sex trafficker tells a prostitute under his control.
“It’s the disconnect that is the strategy to break the movement. And they play on your ego. ‘Oh, you young and hip, you’re full of fire. You’re the new face.’ All the stuff that they know will titillate your ears. That’s what a pimp says to a ho.”
“They tell them what they want to hear,” Sharpton continued. “They don’t tell you ‘I’m going to turn you out.’ They tell you ‘You’re beautiful. Nobody appreciates you like I do. Look at you. You deserve all these material things.'”
“And after they seduce you, they reduce you. And I’m not going to sit here and let them reduce our children,” Sharpton concluded.