In Al Sharpton's new biography, The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership, the reverend gives his life story a much-needed update since his first biography was published in 1996. Sharpton has evolved from a fiery civil rights activist with a flashy perm to a still-controversial but arguably more respected public figure, who has been welcomed into the homes of mainstream America through such vehicles as his nightly show, Politics Nation, on MSNBC.
New York's Daily News has published excerpts from the book, in which he opens up about a wide range of issues and events that he's witnessed firsthand, including the lessons he learned from the Tawana Brawley case and how he applied it to his work with the Travyon Martin case.
In 1987 Brawley, a 15-year-old black girl, accused six white cops of raping her in Wappinger, N.Y. Sharpton was one of the first to support Brawley and brought her case national attention. A jury said that Brawley fabricated her story, prompting Sharpton to accuse the county prosecutor of racism. Sharpton was sued for defamation.
The Brawley case shadows Sharpton to this day, and in Rejected Stone, he opens up about not only what he would have done differently but also how he made sure not to make the same mistakes when he got involved with the Trayvon Martin case.
If I had it to do over again, there are things I would do differently, knowing what I now know about human nature, about the criminal justice system, about the media. The entirety of the case hinged on whether this young black girl in Upstate New York had been violated, as she said she was, by a white police officer, among others. Sensational stuff, sure, but there's no way I would ever turn my back on a young teenage girl in need, even if her claims were going to turn into an explosive media story. That's just not in my nature. But my first miscalculation was in making the case so personal — us against Robert Abrams, the special prosecutor. The lawyers I was working with and I did a whole lot of name-calling. In these instances, the right approach is to fight the case, not demonize the actors. Because when you allow it to become personal, you take away from the objective. Here's a young lady who says she was violated. Let's deal with the facts, what we know. You can conduct an investigation and try to determine what happened to her, but you can't just ignore it because she said the perpetrators were law enforcement. That's what we feared was happening, that the authorities were automatically dismissing her as a liar.
Years later, when I got involved in the Trayvon Martin case after he was gunned down by George Zimmerman, who still hadn't been arrested, I never once even used the name of the sheriff in Sanford, Florida. That was after years of learning the danger of making it personal. Are you about the issues and getting justice, or are you about the sound bite and the name-calling? Hell, we used to call David Dinkins, who was New York's first black mayor, names. What did that get us? Rudy Giuliani.
Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership is published by Cash Money Content and will be released Oct. 8.
Read more at the Daily News.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.