Striving for Passionate, Not Poisonous, Dialogue in MLK's Honor

The Rev. Al Sharpton explains why the mass shooting in Arizona hit especially close to home for him.

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By Al Sharpton

The senseless violence in Arizona this past weekend left all of us stunned, but this devastating act hit home for me more than most. I have been a victim of violence that could have cost my life, and I have been involved in controversies that led to violence in which my words were distorted and misused.

As we try to understand the steps that led to the horrors in Tucson, it is not lost on me that the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth is fast approaching. I hope that we can heal in this moment rather than just take sides and assign blame. Although his house was bombed, he was stabbed and he lived under constant threats, Dr. King never pointed his finger at others. He sought to be a healer rather than exacerbate tensions.

As a first step, we must reflect on the climate in our public discourse and our personal responsibility.

The issues here are larger than the facts that six lives were senselessly ended and many other people were wounded simply for attending a political event. Those in politics and any other aspect of public life must be more conscious of how their words and actions can trigger anyone, not just those followers they expect might be listening. I raise the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric as a public figure who has been on both sides.

In 1991, weeks of protests followed the racially motivated killing of a black 16-year-old in New York. There were incidents of taunts, people throwing watermelons and open threats. I was leading a peaceful march in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, when I was stabbed. I look at that stab wound every morning. It reminds me of how close I came to leaving my children fatherless -- all because of the intense political climate of the day. I wrestled for months with how to address that climate and the race-based attack. Even though this was an effort to kill me, I asked the court for leniency toward my assailant. In the spirit of King's teachings, my focus was to set a tone of forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite my efforts, the judge sentenced this man to nine years.

I decided to visit my attacker in jail. This was by far the most difficult thing I had to do -- to look directly in the face of a man who had tried to kill me. I told him I did it for me, not for him.

To be clear, I am not seeking credit for a noble act. Nor do I claim to be above feeling anger or understanding the frustrations that can stem from issues of race. Indeed, a few years later, a controversy erupted in Harlem over a white businessman's efforts to evict the longtime owner of the first black-owned business on 125th Street. I decided to support the protesters because I believed that the eviction disregarded the culture and history of the neighborhood.

Read the rest of this article at the Washington Post.

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