Many of you know the Reverend Al Sharpton from his MSNBC show, Politics Nation, or from his prominent insertion of himself most recently as spokesperson for Michael Brown’s family in Ferguson, MO. But Rev. Al’s been around a long time.
I first remember him as a spokesperson for a young woman named Tawana Brawley. Al was a bigger man in those days, with hair styled after the soul singer James Brown. Anyway, Tawana claimed she had been raped by six white men, smeared with feces, and left naked in a garbage bag not far from her former apartment. Rev. Al took on her cause with gusto. Unfortunately, it turned out to have been a hoax. But I don’t remember Al apologizing for all the bloviating charges he made. A pity.
But it didn’t phase Al. He went on to espouse other causes, some of them incredibly troubling and wrong, like those of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo. This cases should have been protested, and the police should have been castigated for their actions. But I never felt comfortable with him leading the charge. Because he always seemed like he was hiding something. Because he brought alienation to a higher plateau.
He was a fringe actor in those early days, all fire and brimstone bringing the wrath of heaven down on the black people’s oppressors. Al had the look and the deep profundo voice to get the soundbites, and the causes he espoused-and still espouses-are ones that should disturb American society. But there was, and is, something that makes one wonder about his title, the ‘Rev.’ Others mindlessly keep referring to him by it. I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything reverential, penitential, or reflective in him.
Now, it seems, he’s getting lambasted on his tax debts. According to a New York Times investigation, the Rev owes the federal government $3.6 million. Just one state tax lien on a for-profit business, Revals Communications, was originally reported by the Times to total $695,000, but has since been corrected to be $916,000. Naturally, Rev Al denies the allegations. And since he just had a big 60th birthday party at the Four Seasons (one of New York City’s most expensive restaurants, where more than $1 million was raised for his National Action Network), he contends he will be able to pay off all his tax debts. No problems. No worry. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
What’s so deeply disturbing about this is how we just expect this behavior. He styles himself a reverend, for Christ’s sake, but his National Action Network failed to turn over payroll taxes to the federal government for the last two years. Bills went unpaid to providers, while Rev Al traveled first class to events and protests. What kind of clergyman is this? I’m troubled by his blatant use of the honorific, too, since he has no congregation. More than that, I find it appalling that MSNBC ever gave him his own show, which he continues to star in all the while he leads protests and offers himself as a spokesman for the inevitable grieving families who exist today and will invariably arise tomorrow. If the Rev is entitled to a soapbox, why not every lunatic in the far right? (Oh, I forgot about Fox News. They’ve already got that, and MSNBC goes after them for that.)
Most seriously, Al has wormed his way into the highest echelons of power, befriending Mayor Bill DeBlasio and President Barack Obama. He sits on political panels giving his insights into national affairs, all the while failing, like Carnival Cruise Lines and so many American companies, to pay the taxes he clearly owes. He obviously likes the finer things in life. He’s slimmed down and taken to wearing impeccably tailored clothes. But he’s still in it for himself, for what he can get and for the power he can grab. Does he now think like Leona Helmsley that “only the little people pay taxes?”
It would be the perfect end for this buffoon if taxes did him in, like Al Capone. Because he may style himself as the Reverend Al, but he’s still a gangster at heart.