Whenever the Rev. Al Sharpton is attacked—particularly by those he deems misinformed, misguided and otherwise clueless—his first impulse is not to dignify the allegations, to let his detractors be hoisted on their own petard or, in contemporary terms, let the crap fly back in their faces.
That was his first reaction when he was assailed by four local ministers, who charge that while Sharpton “is jet-setting around the country, people are going to our churches saying they don’t have money to eat,” said the Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, senior pastor of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem. Sharpton “is out of touch” and too busy with his television show and promoting his new book, they say.
But on second thought, during a phone interview on Wednesday morning, Sharpton felt compelled to register at least a few words of repudiation to the pastors.
“My first instinct is not to empower them with a response, but who are they?” he asked. “I’ve been at the National Action Network for 22 years, and we’re in seven cities, and we’re second to none in dealing with the injustices of stop-and-frisk, voter suppression, getting a decent living wage and the travesty surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin. By what authority do they have to tell me what to do and what I haven’t done?”
Sharpton said he would “challenge them to match what we do every day, all day,” he said. “There’s plenty of room out there if they want to do something about the problems we face. If they want to attack something, then attack the issues we face in the community.”
Rep. Charles Rangel, when told of the incident, said, “I’m not sure what to make of it. What are they after? From what I’ve heard, they have made no suggestion about what they would like to see done.”
Later reports from the Daily News and the ministers indicate attempts to tamp down the tempest, with the ministers claiming their comments were misrepresented.
“If anyone is out of touch,” said David Brown, a Harlem activist, “it’s the ministers. Hey, I’ve been on the streets here for years, and I’ve never seen any of them at our rallies. They need to get a grip, and instead of criticizing Al, they need to see what they can do to help us.”
Attempts to reach the ministers at press time were unsuccessful.