Sharpton pulls out of riot panel

By Amanda Julius, August 25, 2011
Rev Sharpton

Rev Sharpton

A panel discussion marking the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Crown Heights riots has been cancelled following the decision of political activist Reverend Al Sharpton to pull out of the event.

Tensions, buried over the past 20 years, resurfaced as a result of Rev Sharpton's inclusion in the commemorative event, due to take place at Long Island's Hampton Synagogue, with several members of the Jewish community publicly speaking out against his presence.

The family of Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian strictly Orthodox man retributionally murdered during the riots, last week issued a statement condemning the extension of an invitation to Rev Sharpton, who has been accused of playing a key role in the escalation of the unrest.

When a Jewish driver in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, accidentally struck and killed young Guyanese immigrant Gavin Cato on August 19 1991, confrontation in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Crown Heights began immediately.

Urged on by Rev Sharpton and fuelled by rumours surrounding Cato's death, African-American protesters hit the streets. Their march quickly escalated into racially motivated unrest between the black and Jewish communities that lasted three days.

The Al Sharpton of 2011 is not the one of 1991

Acknowledging the potential difficulties of his presence at a commemorative event, Rev Sharpton said he was pulling out as a gesture of respect to the Rosenbaum family.

However, in a letter to organiser Rabbi Marc Schneier, he stressed the need for both communities to come together.

Admitting: "My language and tone at times has been questioned and at times has been over the line," he later asserted that "the Al Sharpton of 2011 is not the Al Sharpton of 1991."

Rabbi Schneier said he appreciated that Rev Sharpton's presence might have created a climate of divisiveness rather than healing. He said: "This was a very sensitive demonstration of goodwill on his part. I regret that some in the Jewish community were too limited in not seeing the opportunity but only focusing on the obstacle.

"I'm very disappointed that this important dialogue will not be held on Sunday. This was an opportunity and genuine attempt to clear the air and address some of the misunderstandings surrounding the riots."

According to Rabbi Schneier, the Crown Heights riots represent a nadir in black and Jewish relations, which have impr-oved significantly over the past 20 years.

Last updated: 10:59am, August 25 2011