Black Activist Rev. Al Sharpton Stabbed at Bensonhurst Rally
Jan. 13, 1991
NEW YORK (AP) _ The Rev. Al Sharpton was stabbed in the chest Saturday minutes before the outspoken black activist was to lead a protest march through a neighborhood marked by racial tensions.
One man was arrested in the 1:30 p.m. stabbing at a street corner in the predominantly-white Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst, said police spokesman Sgt. Ed Burns. A second man was questioned but not charged.
Sharpton, 36, was taken to Coney Island Hospital, where he was ''stable, conscious and resting comfortably,'' said hospital spokeswoman Barbara Sullivan.
A white man jumped from a crowd of people on the corner and plunged a five- inch kitchen knife into Sharpton's upper chest. The man was tackled by police assigned to the march, which was attended by the parents of Yusuf Hawkins, a black teen-ager killed in the neighborhood in August 1989 by a mob of white youths.
Despite the attack on Sharpton, more than 100 protesters conducted a peaceful demonstration with no incidents, Burns said.
Michael Riccardi, 27, of Brooklyn was charged with attempted murder, criminal possession of a weapon and violation of civil rights in the attack on Sharpton, said Sgt. Tina Mohrmann, a police spokeswoman.
Prosecutors called for a grand jury to consider the case Monday, said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he will visit Sharpton and speak to reporters Sunday.
''This is the greatest fear any person of color has in this country - the fear that some crazed person, Caucasian, will kill them on the street,'' C. Vernon Mason, Sharpton's frequent companion and adviser, said from the hospital.
Mayor David Dinkins also visited Sharpton in the hospital with Police Commissioner Lee Brown.
''I'm deeply disturbed by the stabbing of the Rev. Al Sharpton today,'' Dinkins said. ''We will not tolerate one individual using violence to stop another individual from using his or her First Amendment rights.''
Gov. Mario Cuomo echoed that sentiment in a statement and added: ''I am convinced that this action is not reflective of the community, which I believe overwhelmingly deplores violence.''
The march Sharpton was going to lead was in protest of what he considered lenient sentences for white youths convicted in the slaying of Hawkins. Only the gunman, Joseph Fama, was convicted of murder.
The highly publicized Hawkins case inflamed racial tensions in the city.
It wasn't the only racially charged incident in which Sharpton, known for media savvy and a flamboyant, confrontational style, has been involved.
Sharpton was a major backer of Tawana Brawley, the black teen-ager in upstate Wappingers Falls whose allegations of rape in November 1987 inflamed racial tensions. Authorities eventually dismissed her allegations as unfounded.
He also was involved in advising relatives in the slaying of a black man in a predominantly white neighborhood in Queens, Howard Beach, in 1986; and relatives of black teen-agers accused of gang-raping a white jogger in Central Park in 1989.
During past demonstrations in Benshonhurst held to protest Hawkins' killing, hostile local crowds have taunted demonstrators, hurling racial epithets and holding watermelons, but there have been few violent incidents.
Sharpton surrendered to authorities in July to serve a 15-day disorderly conduct sentence stemming from a Jan. 27, 1988, protest of the Howard Beach trial. Hundreds of protesters brought traffic around La Guardia Airport to a standstill during the rally.
Also in July, Sharpton was cleared of charges he stole about $250,000 from a civil rights organization he founded. He said the verdict proved he was targeted by prosecutors for his role in the Brawley case.