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Oct 31st

Sharpton maintains heightened security as threats increase

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WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The Rev. Al Sharpton, looking back on a year of volatile civil rights and race cases, says that despite the false alarm when a prisoner sent a harmless substance to his New York headquarters last month, he is still constantly concerned for his life.
At the recent march on the Justice Department, the SCLC's Rev. Charles Steele lauds the Rev. Al Sharpton for his leadership on this year's civil rights issues. Sharpton says his high profile is increasing threats.
Photo: Allexthea I. Carter


WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The Rev. Al Sharpton, looking back on a year of volatile civil rights and race cases, says that despite the false alarm when a prisoner sent a harmless substance to his New York headquarters last month, he is still constantly concerned for his life.

"We're getting all kinds of threatening calls. This is just one that hit the papers," says Sharpton in an interview. "Especially since Jena and then around the time of the Washington trip. Every time we're involved, we get threatening phone calls ... It's a recurring problem because that's part of the down side of leadership that people don't see. People only see you out there on TV. But they don't understand that also makes you a target for every nut and bigot in the country."

Sharpton boosted his already escalated security protection after the FBI warned him and his staff on Nov. 21 that a New York state inmate had confessed to sending a powdery substance to him and at least six other civil rights organizations and news agencies. The FBI successfully traced the substance in the mail less than a week after Sharpton led the U. S. Justice Department march against hate crimes. The white substance turned out to be only talcum power, Sharpton confirmed.

But he says that the high profile media coverage on the incidents has raised prospects for real threats.

"It works up kooks and copy cats. Whereas this cat may not have been real, he could have woken us up because now, somebody might think that's a good idea. So it causes a lot of concern."

Among his thirty-three National Action Network sites around the country, Sharpton says that he has especially upscaled security in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Miami because of the level of activism at those sites and some targeted threats.

"We've increased those who travel with us and we've increased those at our headquarters," he says.

Reportedly, the FBI has also warned his staff to not open mail from certain addresses, and police squad cars have been sometimes strategically parked outside of NAN headquarters.

Security has especially been boosted since the Sept. 20 march in Jena, La. In that march, tens of thousands of people pushed for justice in the case of the Jena Six, Black high school students charged in the beating of a white school mate during racial tensions after three nooses were hung in a so-called white tree then in the school yard. The security concerns also come in a year in which the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a forty percent increase in hate groups since 2000. The FBI last month also reported an eight percent rise in reports of hate crimes last year, from 7,116 in 2005 to 7,722 last year. Most were racial attacks.

Sharpton is quick to recall one of the key reasons that he takes the new threats seriously: "You must remember I was stabbed once leading a march."

On January 12, 1991, Sharpton was protesting the killing of a Black teenager in the predominately white Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. when he was attacked and stabbed in chest by Michael Riccardi, an Italian-American wielding a five-inch knife.

Riccardi, who was convicted of first degree assault and served eight of a fifteen-year sentence, said he had attempted to kill Sharpton because he thought it would make him a hero in his community. It was Sharpton's security detail who stopped that attack, apprehended Riccardi and turned him over to police.

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