An initiative by a City University of New York school to give Rev. Al Sharpton a doctorate of humane letters was met with outrage on Sunday due to Sharpton’s history of racial agitation and antisemitism.
Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights Brooklyn stated that the doctorate would be given due to its recipient’s “unwavering commitment to racial, educational and socioeconomic equity.”
In response to the news, members of the local Jewish community were quick to highlight Sharpton’s central role in inciting the infamous 1991 Crown Heights riots.
“Sharpton played a lead role in inciting a modern-day blood libel against the Jewish community of Crown Heights,” Yaacov Behrman, founder of the Jewish Future Alliance based in Crown Heights, told The Algemeiner. Behrman said he found the school’s plan “deeply offensive.”
“He traumatized my generation,” he added, “and never apologized to his victims. It is inexcusable and shamefully low to honor him in the same neighborhood where he incited the violence.”
The 1991 riots began after a motorcade carrying Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson struck and killed a young African-American child named Gavin Cato. Soon afterward 29-year-old yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed and beaten to death by an African-American mob shouting “kill the Jew!”
In four days of rioting that followed the incident, mobs targeted Jews and Jewish-owned businesses, turning the protests into a pogrom. Sharpton was widely blamed for incitement during the riots. He spoke at rallies and organized a march of hundreds through the Hasidic section of Crown Heights chanting “No justice, no peace.” In his eulogy for Cato, Sharpton referred to “diamond merchants” and said Cato was killed by “the social accident of apartheid.”
An Italian-American salesman named Anthony Graziosi was later shot by an African-American while wearing clothes that could have easily been mistaken for Hasidic garb. It is widely believed that Graziosi’s killing was antisemitic in nature.
Yankel Rosenbaum’s brother Norman told the New York Post, “This is not a person you honor. Within the last 27 years, he hasn’t changed. The same character is there.”
“I think he’s a fraud and a charlatan whose actions over the years speak for themselves and they’re not good actions,” he stated. “He’s a man who does not promote peace. He’s not told the truth.”
Rabbi Eli Cohen, Executive Director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, said the award would undo years of efforts to rebuild relations between the local communities. “For more than 25 years we have worked closely with Medgar Evers and others to bring the community together,” he told The Algemeiner. “The idea of a college in Crown Heights honoring a man who incited antisemitic violence here goes against everything we have accomplished.”
“Honorary doctorates should be awarded to individuals who are role models for the students of today,” he added. “Sharpton does not fill that role. He has not even expressed true regret for his actions.”
Behrman concurred, saying, “Honoring him will hurt Medgar Evers’ efforts to recruit local Orthodox Jews and help them feel safe on campus.”
In another notorious case, in 1995, Sharpton railed against a local Jewish-owned business called Freddie’s Fashion Mart, calling the owner a “white interloper.” Following this, an African-American gunman opened fire in the store and set it aflame, killing seven.
Sharpton has since expressed regret for his statements about Freddie’s Fashion Mart but has never apologized for his role in the Crown Heights riots.
According to the Post, if the Medgar Evers proposal passes CUNY’s Committee on Academic Policy, Programs and Research Monday, it will go before the full CUNY board next month.
Representatives for Medgar Evers College did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.