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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

Beware of Fatal Distraction

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This Monday afternoon I, along with a dozen other civil rights and voting rights leaders, joined President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder as we briefed them on our outrage at the Supreme Court's recent decision gutting Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. An unprecedented affront to one of the major achievements of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the elimination of Section 4 is nothing more than a strategic maneuver to destroy voter equality. On my way to Washington, D.C., I happened to be on the same flight as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When we landed, she and I had an impromptu conversation on this very issue, and I updated her on the August 24th march that National Action Network (NAN) and Martin Luther King III have planned to commemorate the 50thanniversary of the 'March on Washington' where his father delivered his historic 'I Have a Dream' speech. Today, as we continue to deal with the fight against 'Stand Your Ground' laws that set the climate for the George Zimmerman verdict, as well as the attack on voting rights, it's becoming apparent that the politics of distraction are in full effect. The chatter is being drummed up by people like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, and cosigned by others like Don Lemon of CNN. Nice try, but we see you.

It's simply amazing how many on the right who never cared about 'Black issues,' or the fact that our youth are facing unequal access to education, jobs, housing and higher rates of incarceration, now suddenly want to act as if they are so concerned about what's going on with us. Shortly after participating in the President's inauguration activities this year, a 15-year-old honor student by the name of Hadiya Pendleton was viciously killed by a stray bullet just blocks from her school in Chicago. The first national show that her mother appeared on was my broadcast, 'Politics Nation' on MSNBC. President Obama invited the young girl's family to his State of the Union address, and the first lady even attended her funeral. Where was O'Reilly then? The issue of rampant gun violence in the community is one that I have been dealing with for years at NAN, as well as on my TV and radio programs. What has O'Reilly done to raise awareness? NAN has a chapter in Chicago that works directly on the ground with those suffering from the ramifications of violence and more on a daily basis; they console, comfort and fight for grieving families to bring an end to the destruction. I haven't seen O'Reilly at any of those meetings. And let's not pretend that the problem of excessive gun violence is cities like Chicago isn't the direct result of inadequate gun laws in the state of Illinois that make it extremely easy for people to purchase deadly weapons outside of the windy city and bring them back into their neighborhoods. If O'Reilly is so concerned about Chicago's violence, then maybe he and his cohorts should do something about gun laws in that state and around the country.

The issues of gangster glorification, out-of-wedlock births, the Black family crisis and others are ones that I absolutely agree we must deal with, and I have unequivocally preached about them and others for years. But when they are being used as a distraction from dealing with the very real dilemmas of 'Stand Your Ground' laws, voting rights and an unbalanced criminal justice system, then I must call foul. Right-wingers and gullible co-conspirators who don't want to see this country confront voter equality, and a just criminal court system will stop at nothing it seems to divert people's attention from the challenges we face as a nation. Even as I write this, states are currently engaged in voter suppression tactics yet again by implementing draconian new voter ID laws, eliminating/reducing early voting days and much more. But I suppose suppression of our vote is happening because of out-of-wedlock births.

Trayvon Martin was not the victim of a weak family structure; he was on his way to spend the day with his father and brother. Zimmerman had no knowledge of Trayvon's family, and didn't shoot him because of it. Black leaders have always dealt with issues that conservatives raise, but it is conservatives that fail to deal with the reality of racial injustice time and again. They would rather act as if one who raises racial and societal inequality concerns is somehow in a grievance industry, while they answer the question of injustice by raising issues that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. That is the definition of distraction. O'Reilly even went so far as to say that my upcoming book The Rejected Stone, published by Simon & Schuster and distributed by Cash Money, shouldn't be supported because the owners of Cash Money put out artists like Lil' Wayne. Yet another interesting distraction by Bill. Every label puts out artists, and every publishing house has affiliations that I would disagree with. In fact, I have encouraged rappers to eliminate derogatory language and put forth more constructive content. O'Reilly hasn't read my book by his own admission even though the galleys are out. He hasn't questioned Simon & Schuster because once again it's about painting a certain group in a certain light. And of course, it's about his goal of deterring people from what we need to be focusing on.

In this period of confronting the greatest setback to voting rights in decades, state laws that are attempting to turn back the clock and unfair legislation that creates an environment for the Zimmerman verdict, we must make sure that we remain steadfast in our dedication to justice. O'Reilly and others are majoring in minors, and not minoring in majors. Black leaders must have the courage to stand up to out-of-wedlock births, gangster glorification and violence. And right-wingers need to discover the courage to address unfairness in the criminal justice system, voting rights and economic disparities that not only exist, but are actively growing right before our eyes. Until the right-wing does this, they are tantamount to what the late great James Brown used to say: they're like a dull knife that just ain't cuttin' it; they're just talkin' loud and sayin' nothing.