From Florida to New York and now Missouri, the public backlash to the shooting deaths of young black men have another common thread: the appearance of the Rev. Al Sharpton, a nationally recognized religious figure who can be counted on to arrive at the scene of racially charged events, for better or for worse.
His presence in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City following the recent police-involved shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner raise the question: Do Sharpton's regular appearances detract from the strength of his message?
In January 2013, NPR published an in-depth look at Sharpton's daily life, parsing the many myths that surround his civil rights work.
"The Rev. Al Sharpton has spent nearly all of his adulthood in the spotlight, earning both praise and condemnation," NPR explained. "He has been called a race-monger, anti-Semite, shameless self-promoter and a shakedown artist who has used the threat of protest to extra corporate donations for his civil rights organization, National Action Network. (But) he's also respected for his commitment to nonviolence and asked a judge for leniency for the man who stabbed him."
Sharpton recently met with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, police commissioner William Bratton and other faith leaders in the wake of Garner's death to discuss the relationship between community members and law enforcement officers. The Wall Street Journal reported Sharpton was a polarizing figure in the discussion, criticizing Bratton's policies. Sharpton will be in New York again Aug. 23 to lead a march protesting police's role in Garner's death July 17.
In Ferguson, Sharpton was welcomed by the black community as a prophetic figure. On Sunday, he addressed a full house at Greater Grace Church, telling the crowd that "the Michael Brown case would mark a defining moment in civil rights history and fundamentally change the way police engage with the African-American community," Religion News Service reported.
Sharpton stood on stage with the Brown family and the group received a standing ovation, RNS noted.
He will also join the family for Brown's funeral.
"The funeral is set for 10 a.m. Monday at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Brown's uncle, the Rev. Charles Ewing, will deliver the eulogy, the Rev. Al Sharpton will also speak," ABC News reported.
Sharpton has been criticized for seemingly turning moments of crisis into publicity stunts. Business Insider reported that Fox News host Bill O'Reilly returned early from his vacation early to address Sharpton's recent actions.
"Sharpton has the nerve to insult the American police community — men and women risking their lives to protect us. This charlatan has the gall to do that and NBC News is paying him," O'Reilly said.
Sharpton walks the line between religious figure and protestor, a tension that frustrated some of the people at Greater Grace Church on Sunday.
"He always wants to hush us without handling the whole situation. We're tired of all the pacifying," said Zsazzi Powell to RNS.13 comments on this story
He responded to criticism in a comment to Business Insider: "I spoke at the invitation of Michael Brown's family to represent their feelings," he said.
Despite the mixed responses to his involvement, Sharpton continues to be invited back by the family members of victims and the news networks that interview him.
His refrain, a call for a peaceful America marked by equal status for all people, has not changed. It's the verses that are new, and they're beloved by people like Brown's parents, who are simply thankful that Sharpton is willing to keep singing.
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