Twenty-five Years Later, Sharpton Still Defending Role in Brawley Rape Hoax

It’s been 25 years since a grand jury concluded that young Tawana Brawley falsely accused a group of white men of raping her, but the Rev. Al Sharpton still believes he did the right thing by supporting Brawley back then. Sharpton was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday to talk about his new book when co-host Mika Brzezinski brought up the infamous Brawley rape case, in which Sharpton played a major advisory role to the 15-year-old. The Politics Nation host claimed that the case had taught him to conduct himself in a more dignified manner when representing alleged victims of discrimination so the public would be more sympathetic to his cause.

However, Sharpton did not express any particular regret that Brawley’s claims were ruled false, so Willie Geist prodded him on the matter: “Do you regret at all, Rev, what you put some of the men through in that case, though, the guys who turned out to be innocent?” Sharpton was unapologetic: [See video below.]


"Why would I say that I should not come to the defense of someone who had made a claim and those that had been accused never would come forward before in the grand jury at that time that we got involved?"
 

Geist tried again: “But knowing what you know now, that it was a fabrication...” Sharpton cut across him: “Well, what do I know now, that a grand jury didn't believe her? A jury didn't believe Trayvon Martin's family.” Apparently, in Sharpton’s mind, a legal proceeding can't possibly arrive at a just outcome if it reaches the conclusion he didn't want it to reach.

Geist pressed the issue one last time: “So you don't believe that the Tawana Brawley case was a hoax?” Sharpton remained obstinate: “ I believe that the basis of our involvement of saying that this prosecutor should have moved forward and brought this into court was absolutely the right position to take.

That’s Al Sharpton for you. Never hesitant to cry racism and never eager to apologize if his accusations turn out to be wrong. During the course of his discussion with Geist, Sharpton made this claim about the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape case: “[Y]ou've got people right now, Willie, that says he shouldn't have gotten involved in Duke lacrosse. I didn't get involved in that. Not one time. Never went to North Carolina.”

Well, that’s not exactly true. Sharpton may not have gone to North Carolina, but he certainly spoke out on the matter. In April 2006, after two white Duke lacrosse players had been charged with raping a black stripper, Sharpton appeared on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor and claimed, “I think that there are certainly a lot of racial factors,” and “there is a lot of racism that's in the air.” Given Sharpton’s public stature, speaking out on the case qualifies as getting involved.

In addition, Sharpton had said earlier in this Morning Joe discussion, “I was never one to advocate violence.” But it was Sharpton’s harsh anti-Semitic rhetoric that helped to escalate already-high ethnic tensions into a full-scale race riot in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood in 1991. Those rioters looted stores, beat Jewish residents in the streets, and fatally stabbed one Jewish student. Sharpton repeatedly hollered at the rioters, “No justice, no peace!” Does that not qualify as advocating violence?

The reverend needs to realize that not every situation in which a black person is wronged is an instance of racism. He needs to heed the warning given on Morning Joe on October 8, 2013 by... Al Sharpton. Here is what he said to Geist: “[P]eople get carried away in the emotions because they just broad-stroke.”

Yes, Al, exactly.

Below is a transcript of the segment:



JOE SCARBOROUGH: Let’s talk about really quickly, because a lot of people don't know what happened in the Trayvon Martin case. Well before the verdict came out, you sat down with leaders, with people who disagreed with you and just hey, no matter what happens, there's going to be peace. I mean, that was -- you were as concerned about that as anything, weren't you?

REV. AL SHARPTON: And the reason I was, and I should have done that probably more in my younger days, though I was never one to advocate violence. I think you have to make it a point to say we've got to be nonviolent. Because if you really want to push your cause, part of your cause is how it was portrayed to the public and the message you're getting across. And I used to have the attitude, I don't care what people think, we got to do what's right. Well, you have to care what people think if you want what is right to occur. You can't antagonize the public and then appeal for them to understand your cause. So that's why in Florida, I said the worst thing that can happen here is we become like what we're fighting. And we deliberately, Bishop Curry and many of us, took time to do that.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Let's go to another case, if I could, and that is the one of Tawana Brawley, who accused a group of black men in New York of raping her. You came to her defense and a special grand jury later determined her claims were fabricated. How does this fit into your life’s path in terms of lessons, regrets?

SHARPTON: I think that what I learned in Brawley, and it’s a case if I was called today by a young lady that made those claims, I would respond the same way. But what I wouldn't do is get into a back and forward name calling with the prosecutor and go for the quick-from-the-hip kind of flippant attitude with the press. You learn to do what you do better, like he just raised about George Zimmerman's case or any number of cases, Sean Bell cases. Whereas 25 years ago, it was I don't care what you think, I feel I'm right, I feel that I've got to do what I've got to do. Now I'm not talking to the prosecutor -- I may think it's unfair. I'm talking to the public. If I'm going to represent a young lady, young man, or stand up for a cause, I owe it to them to make sure that I give the best public display of why we're concerned about a given situation.

WILLIE GEIST: Do you regret at all, Rev, what you put some of the men through in that case, though, the guys who turned out to be innocent?

SHARPTON: You know, people ask me today did I apologize to George Zimmerman? Why would you regret standing up for someone –  

GEIST: Not to George Zimmerman. I'm talking about Tawana Brawley.

SHARPTON: I'm absolutely talking about Tawana Brawley. Brawley made a claim -- Bill Cosby and everybody rallied around it before I did. Why would I say that I should not come to the defense of someone who had made a claim and those that had been accused never would come forward before in the grand jury at that time that we got involved? So in any case, right around the Brawley case, I got involved with Central Park. Thirteen years later, I was proven right. I was universally condemned for getting involved in the Central Park case. Same time period. So I think that any of the cases we get involved with, we're not the investigators. But we have the basis of coming in based on we feel that there's been a civil rights –

GEIST: But knowing what you know now, that it was a fabrication –

SHARPTON: Well, what do I know now, that a grand jury didn't believe her? A jury didn't believe Trayvon Martin's family.

GEIST: So you believe –  



SHARPTON: I believe that there was enough reason to go to court on that case, which is what we advocate, just like I believed in other cases. And once it had gone to court, it would have had to been -- you got to remember the same prosecutor came after me on situations that I knew was wrong. Why would I believe the jury that he used there? So I think again, this book is not about all of that. This book is about how you do things. But I think that the basis of a case, you've got people right now, Willie, that says he shouldn't have gotten involved in Duke lacrosse. I didn't get involved in that. Not one time. Never went to North Carolina. But people get carried away in the emotions because they just broad stroke, rather than say well, wait a minute, if there's a claim there and people are being denied their right for redress, why wouldn't civil rights leaders respond? That's what we're about. But rather than explain that, I used to just call you a name, keep going. You can’t do that if you really –

GEIST: I don't mean to belabor this, Rev, but it is part of the book and it's stuff that a lot of people are going to ask you about as you go talk about it. So you don't believe that the Tawana Brawley case was a hoax?

SHARPTON: I believe that the basis of our involvement of saying that this prosecutor should have moved forward and brought this into court was absolutely the right position to take. And that was the position we took.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.