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Posted at 5:36 PM ET, 01/11/2011

Sharpton's lesson for Palin on 'careful and deliberate' language

By Jonathan Capehart

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.

By Jonathan Capehart  | January 11, 2011; 5:36 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Give me a break, Jonathan. Sharpton is the last person who should be lecturing anyone on civility. But, we always give him a free pass, don't we? If anyone criticizes him, he screams "Racisim" and the the discussion is over.

Posted by: bethg1841 | January 11, 2011 7:10 PM | Report abuse

This is a very good and important point.

It is not reasonable for politicians using inflammatory rhetoric and imagery to claim that no sane person would interpret their message as a literal call to violence.

Generally speaking, it's not the sane people we need to worry about. It's the mentally unstable ones like Jared Loughner, who don't need much to drive them over the edge.

Posted by: Itzajob | January 11, 2011 9:59 PM | Report abuse

This may be one of the DUMBEST things that Capehart has ever said. Yes, the charlatan who helped Tawana Brawley make false accusations of rape and destroyed the lives and reputations of innocent should give lessons to Sarah Palin. To say nothing of Sharpton's deep-rooted and always present Jew hatred.

You live in bizarro world, Capehart. And you're a disgrace to this newspaper.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 11, 2011 10:37 PM | Report abuse

@bethg1841: And just why should Rev. Sharpton be the last person to discuss civility? He offers a very pertinent personal example from his past, and at least displays a modicum of humility- as opposed to serial-liar Palin (talk about charlatans) who would never admit to any wrong unless she was paid. Capehart has a point, these days Sharpton my be very candid and pointed in his comments, but he is unfailingly civil, measured, and non-bellicose in his delivery -- as opposed to many of the right-wing circus clowns on the airwaves. You just can't stand it because, unlike many other so-called liberals, he will not sit still for you'alls she-ott.

Posted by: dirktazer | January 12, 2011 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Boy you have weird role models, this background check took me about 2 mins:

"If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house" and referring to Jews as "diamond merchants."

“White folks was in caves while we was building empires.... We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it." Sharpton defended his comments by noting that the term "homo" was not homophobic but added that he no longer uses the term.

Sharpton's campaign still had debts of $479,050 and owed Sharpton himself $145,146

Posted by: dcjayhawk2 | January 12, 2011 5:51 AM | Report abuse

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.
After a while, it becomes a bit obvious that "vitriolic language" on one side refers to language that the other side does not agree with. I appears that when such disagreement is shown, instead of tring ot expand acknowledge, desperate attempts are made to prevent the other side from being heard.

Let's hear the apology first from the segregationist (they can come along with us, but they have to ride in the back of the bus), the alpha male who calls upon his supporters to bring guns to anywhere an argument may take place, and who calls upon his supporters to get into the face of anybody with them.

Posted by: PALADIN7E | January 12, 2011 6:11 AM | Report abuse

Too many people have "broken their silence" on this tragedy. I am not awaiting one other person to give his or her opinion, including Sarah Palin. Would that Jonathan Capehart had kept his own silence. His remarks add nothing helpful.

Posted by: rpavellas | January 12, 2011 8:05 AM | Report abuse

rpavellas...couldn't agree more!

Posted by: Cynic007 | January 12, 2011 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I pray for those families in AZ. I wished that every post would have started that way but it is a continuation "lets find something to disagree on" We could all agree that the people in AZ need our prayers and in fact this whole nation needs prayer because I am in VA but it hurts me. The old saying that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" has never been true. We have to understand that words hurt and it takes a long time for the heart to heal from ugly words. Let bring God back into our life America.

Just An Ordinary Opinion

Posted by: SEDHunt | January 12, 2011 10:15 AM | Report abuse

One thing is apparent from these comments: liberals and moderates are open to the possibility of being wrong, and admitting it when they are; conservatives are gOD damned sure that they're never wrong, so reflection is merely a sign of weakness.

Posted by: zspam | January 12, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm a lifelong NY'er and fairly critical when it comes to Rev Al over the years. It's easy to blame him Freddies Fashion Mart arson however those protests went on for weeks. Where was mayor Rudy G who always inserted himself into the most pedestrian issues? Deputy Mayor for Economic development Rudy Washington who dealt with retail issues; nowhere to be found. Where was a court injunction to stop the protests?

Posted by: MerrillFrank | January 12, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

NewsBusters| WashPost Offers Al Sharpton a Peacemaker Op-Ed: 'Passion Without Poison'

Posted by: StewartIII | January 13, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

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