Sharpton's lesson for Palin on 'careful and deliberate' language
I have known and covered Rev. Al Sharpton for about 17 years. And during that time I have watched him evolve from the rabble-rousing "portly preacher" with a penchant for chasing controversy in jogging suits to the slimmed down statesman comfortable and welcome in the halls of power. This maturation didn't happen overnight. He learned from his mistakes and listened to those who saw him on the verge of wasting his potential.
In an op-ed just posted by The Post, Sharpton calls for us to "strive for dialogue that's passionate but not poisonous." And in the process he talks about how his careless use of language in a dispute between a white businessman and the owner of the first black-owned business on 125th Street led someone to murder.
The morning that I was to lead a peaceful march, I gave a speech during a weekly radio broadcast in which I said that we need to deal with a "white interloper" who was trying to alter the landscape of Harlem. My clear intent was to lead a peaceful protest. I did so that day, but I was wrong to refer to this man's race, and I was not careful in making distinctly clear that we were solely calling for nonviolent opposition.
Two and half months later, a disturbed and troubled man went to a neighboring store and set a fire. He killed several of the store's employees and then himself. My words were immediately raised in the media. My initial response was to defend the fact that I had never condoned such violence, and never would. But the fact is, if I in any way contributed to the climate - which was clearly more volatile than I had thought - I had to be more careful and deliberate in my public language rather than sharpen my defenses.
Again, there is no direct link between the gunsights map on which Sarah Palin targeted 20 members of Congress, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), during the midterm elections and the alleged murderous actions of Jared Lee Loughner. But Sharpton's story and the lesson he learned are relevant for Palin as she figures out how and when to break her silence on the tragedy of Tucson. "Much as I went over the line years ago," he writes, "those with public voices must ensure that their messages cannot be misconstrued as calling for a heinous act." Hopefully, Palin and others across the political spectrum will take heed.
| January 11, 2011; 5:36 PM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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