Trayvon Martin: With call for sanctions, is Al Sharpton crossing a line?
The Rev. Al Sharpton, the veteran civil rights leader and host of "Politics Daily" on MSNBC, is expected to call for an escalation of protests and economic sanctions until the man who shot teenager Trayvon Martin is arrested.
Already under fire for his dual role as civil rights activist and media personality in publicizing the shooting of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the Rev. Al Sharpton is receiving pushback against his call for economic sanctions against Sanford, Fla.Skip to next paragraph
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Trayvon was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26 after Mr. Zimmerman ignored a 911 dispatcher's suggestion to stay in his car in order to chase down what he had called a suspicious black male. The case has sparked a fiery national debate about racial profiling, allegations of police injustice, and self-defense gun laws.
In driving some of the debate, the contentious Rev. Mr. Sharpton represents a new and controversial direction for news organizations, anchoring an MSNBC show, “Politics Daily,” while speaking at protests. Sharpton was scheduled to speak during a rally Saturday in Sanford, Fla., where he is expected to call for sanctions against the city and its police department unless police immediately arrest Zimmerman, who has claimed, so far successfully, that he shot Trayvon in self-defense.
(A special prosecutor in Florida and the FBI are both reviewing the case, and a grand jury is expected to hear evidence on April 10.)
While MSNBC has defended its decision to allow Sharpton to continue his activism as long as he's straightforward about his role, some are concerned that the new phenomenon of personality-driven news activism is inappropriate and could affect innocent bystanders.
On Friday, shopkeepers in Sanford urged Sharpton to reconsider the proposed sanctions. My Fox Orlando, a TV station, also reported that the some in the NAACP have urged Sharpton to tone down the idea.
“Punishing me and the rest of downtown for something? No,” wine merchant Ken Martin told Fox. “We don't do that to you, why do that to us?”
Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly went one step further on Friday, alleging that media organizations like MSNBC and CNN, which has published fiery op-eds on the topic along with straight news coverage, have a vested interest in the outcome of the case.
“They will say racial injustice has been done if he is not convicted,” O'Reilly said, “and that can lead to violence.”
MSNBC is hardly alone in using high-profile public figures and activists to push points of view and inject themselves directly into public debate and controversies.
Fox News itself has hired major Republican politicians like Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin to give conservative spin to daily news events, including on issues and causes on which they have staked their professional careers, and Ms. Palin has been a well-paid speaker at tea party events.