The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

July 19, 2013

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Rev. Al Sharpton's biggest cause is himself

If anyone dies as a result of protests following the Zimmerman verdict, the Justice Department should charge Al Sharpton.

The self anointed civil rights leader and talk show host has done everything but cry “fire!” in a crowded theater to incite violence across the country both before and after the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in his trial for the second degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.

The man who marched to force a trial that never should have happened in the first place and is marching again because he can’t accept the verdict never lets facts get in the way of his opinion, however. He compared Trayvon’s death to Jesus’ crucifixion and paints Zimmerman as a racist murderer whenever he’s in front of a microphone showing he couldn’t be bothered to examine the evidence.

Following the verdict on Friday he said on MSNBC, “Well, I think that this is an atrocity.”

He added, “This is a sad day in the country. I think that we clearly must move on to the next step in terms of the federal government and in terms of the civil courts.”

The death of Martin is tragic. George Zimmerman never should have gotten out of his car to approach him on that February night in 2012. But everything points to the fact that he shot Martin in self-defense. Sharpton should let the verdict rest instead of pushing for federal civil charges against Zimmerman that he knows the government does not have enough evidence to pursue.

Attorney General Eric Holder said as much the other day. Speaking in front of the NAACP Tuesday about the Zimmerman case, Mr. Holder did not say whether he would pursue federal charges. Instead, he criticized laws, known as “stand your ground,” that make it legally easier to defend yourself with deadly force outside your home. They “try to fix something that was never broken” and “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” he said. (Stand your ground was not a factor in the Zimmerman case.)

So far, dozens have been arrested in protests related to the verdict and a Hispanic man in Baltimore was severely beaten over the weekend by a mob of black teens who allegedly said they attacked him for Trayvon. Is this the justice for Trayvon that Mr. Sharpton wants?

More likely he wants to keep himself in the public eye as long as possible and after decades of exacerbating race relations he is just following a time-tested playbook. He is the man who over the years has slandered Jews, Mormons and homosexuals and uses “racist” like others use “happy” or “sad.” And 25 years after he named an assistant district attorney and a state trooper as rapists of Tawana Brawley, a young black girl, in a case that turned out to be a hoax, he won’t apologize. At the time he said asking Miss Brawley to talk with the state attorney general Robert Abrams would be “like asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler.” Sound familiar?

He knows, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “The public, with its mob yearning to be instructed, edified, pulled by the nose, demands certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is true and that is false.” And he has made a lucrative living out of it, moving from a wild-haired, pudgy street activist to a trim, polished social commentator with a fat paycheck.

Never mind that the story he continues to peddle of Martin’s death for being black and wearing a hoodie does not stand up to legal scrutiny. The more mythic a martyr he can make Trayvon the more he raises his profile just as he has throughout his career with other props for the cause of Sharpton.

He understands the more he repeats the story that Zimmerman attacked Martin because he was black — claims dismissed both by jurors and an FBI investigation — the more people will believe them. That is how psychology works. People also want coherence. As Daniel Kahneman writes in 2011’s “Thinking Fast and Slow,” “A large event is supposed to have consequences, and consequences need causes to explain them.”

For the sake of the blood waiting to be shed in protest of the Zimmerman verdict — Al Sharpton needs a cause other than himself.

Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about Maryland, where she lives. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

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