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An Attempt on His Life Changes Sharpton

sharpton’s protest justice riccardi

On January 12, 1991, Sharpton was stabbed by Michael Riccardi, a drunken white male, during a protest rally in a Bensonhurst schoolyard. While Riccardi attempted to flee on foot, Sharpton removed the five-inch knife from his chest before collapsing. Public figures such as New York City’s first black mayor David Dinkins, who had long sought to distance themselves from his controversial reputation, publicly denounced the attack and pledged their support to Sharpton. The truce was only one benefit of the attack. While on his hospital bed, Sharpton was reunited with both his long-estranged father Albert Sharpton Sr. and his young mentor, the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Despite Sharpton’s plea for leniency during the case, Riccardi was sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison. However, Sharpton was not as forgiving of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), whom he claimed had promised him protection before the protest and subsequent stabbing. Over a decade later, in December 2003, Sharpton filed a civil suit against the department in which he alleged that the police did not protect him during the protest, nor did they make any real attempt to apprehend Riccardi after the attack. Although the city’s spokesman maintained that the NYPD acted appropriately, the city paid Sharpton a $200,000 out-of-court settlement.

Sharpton declared the attack changed his life. In 1991, he founded his National Action Network (NAN) in Harlem. Dubbed the House of Justice, NAN’s Harlem base served as the organization’s national headquarters in the fight against racism in the business world, political arena, and criminal justice system. The activist organization prides itself on offering a cross-section of initiatives that empower the politically and economically underserved.

In 1992, Sharpton finished third in the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat. When Mayor Dinkins was succeeded by Rudolph Giuliani, Sharpton’s support base broadened to include other African American New Yorkers. Despite losing in a 1994 bid as well, Sharpton remained active in civil rights activities, including organizing a march against poverty in 1995 and a vigil outside U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ home to protest the judge’s opposition to affirmative action. In 1993 Sharpton served forty-five days in jail as a result of a 1987 protest march that shut down the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1997, Sharpton ran in New York’s Democratic mayoral primary, winning 32 percent of the vote and almost forcing a runoff. Despite some political success, Sharpton remained a grassroots organizer, who championed the causes of the underserved. He rallied politicians, entertainers, and members of the wider black community to pursue the police officer responsible for the 1999 arrest and sodomy of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant. In another case of police brutality, Sharpton helped to press the justice system to prosecute the officers responsible for shooting Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant.

Sharpton vied for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president in the 2004 general election. While his August 2001 announcement was initially received with indifference by some, it was received with welcomed excitement by others. Arguing that the Democrats and Republicans had become too similar on issues such as war, health care, business deregulation and taxes, Sharpton insisted that he was running a broad-based campaign. Using the line, “Keep the Dream Alive: Don’t Waste Your Vote,” Sharpton’s 10-point platform emphasized four goals: the right to vote, the right to public education of equally high quality, the right to healthcare of equally high quality and women’s equal rights. One of ten candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, Sharpton did not have the financial backing that his competitors enjoyed. However, monetary restraints were not Sharpton’s only challenges. Even so, Sharpton’s public showing helped to keep the issues of the underserved in the forefront of the race well beyond his March 2004 concession of defeat to Senator John Kerry.

In 1996 Al Sharpton wrote his autobiography Go and Tell Pharaoh , and in 2002 he published Al on America . Married to former James Brown back-up singer Kathy Jordan since the mid-1980s, the couple has two daughters Dominique and Ashley.

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