Rev. Al Sharpton on the Cincinnati Boycott

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, March 21, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.


VAN SUSTEREN:  It's been almost a year since a white cop in Cincinnati fatally shot an unarmed black man as he ran from police.  The shooting triggered three nights of rioting and prompted some Cincinnati leaders to organize an economic boycott until race relations and job opportunities improve.  The city has already lost millions, with entertainers like Bill Cosby and the Temptations shying away.  The NAACP organized a similar boycott in South Carolina over the Confederate flag.  But did the movements hurt the people they're intended to help?

Here with me in Washington, the Reverend Al Sharpton, who spent last week in Cincinnati holding rallies supporting the boycott.  Reverend Sharpton is the founder and president of the National Action Network.

Welcome, Reverend.


VAN SUSTEREN:  OK, Reverend, who's going to get hurt by these boycotts?

SHARPTON:  Ultimately, the people of the city will be helped.  I think that any time you look at the fact that boycotts have historically led to change, whatever temporary inconvenience there may be, it in the long run leads toward, in my opinion, a better change for everybody.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, let's talk about this temporary inconvenience.  Typically, When you think of this temporary inconvenience, you think about if Bill Cosby isn't going to perform or the Temptations.  It's sort of the people who are working at these arenas, right?

SHARPTON:  Well, I don't think -- people working at the arenas are not just depending on one or two concerts.  I think it gives a symbolic boost, as well as those shows do bring down some monetary investments in the city.

VAN SUSTEREN:  But it's the low-income people who are going to hurt if these jobs are made unavailable, if these performers aren't coming to town.

SHARPTON:  Well, you can make that argument when Dr. Martin Luther King had the Montgomery bus boycott, saying it's low-income people had to get off the bus.  But people said in that time it was better walk with dignity than ride in shame.  A lot of people in Cincinnati are saying, "Rather than have the continual problems of police brutality and economic disparity, I'm willing to make some sacrifices."  And I think that they ought to be respected for doing that.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, talk to me about the rallies you went to, so I have an idea of the support in the community.  Last weekend, you went to these rallies.  How many attended?

SHARPTON:  Oh, there were hundreds.  I spoke literally at four churches on last Sunday.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All behind you in the boycott?

SHARPTON:  All seemed very much behind the Reverend Damon Lynch (ph) and others that were doing the boycott.  The National Progressive Convention, the convention Martin Luther King was a member of, came out and announced they're moving their convention out, one of the largest conventions that was scheduled for Cincinnati.  As you say, Bill Cosby and others.  I think they've been very effective.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Is there any resistance within the African-American community in Cincinnati to these boycotts, or is the Cincinnati community behind it?

SHARPTON:  I think there's some resistance, but I think the majority that I spoke to was definitely supportive.  And when you're dealing with boycotts, you don't need everyone.  You just need enough to be effective.  And I think enough have been a part of this to make it very effective.

VAN SUSTEREN:  What's going on in Cincinnati?  Why the problems in Cincinnati?

SHARPTON:  I think that there's a problem of dialogue.  I think both sides need to come to the table.  The mayor has said he will not meet with boycott leaders.  I think he should.  I think that you can't choose leadership.  You have to deal with the leadership that the people respond to.  And I think if there is a fair and constructive dialogue, it can lead to a resolve there.  And I encourage both sides to do that.

VAN SUSTEREN:  What exactly do you want?

SHARPTON:  Well...

VAN SUSTEREN:  I mean, what -- what is the sort of -- what was the -- what's the ideal scene for you?

SHARPTON:  Well, what they're trying to do, Reverend Lynch and others have said they want to see economic opportunities around the empowerment zone coming in there.  They want to see some concrete steps toward dealing with police brutality and some of the questions of police community affairs.

I've been going to Cincinnati almost a decade on different cases of police brutality.  Reverend Fred Shuttleworth (ph), who was the leader in Birmingham many years ago, had me come once.  Reverend H.L. Harvey (ph), all the way now to the Black United Front and Reverend Damon Lynch.  So people get tired over and over and over again the same kinds of situation, never with the resolve, never with someone really taking the bull by the horn and saying, "I'm going to change things."  And I think that's what's led to this economic boycott.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Is Cincinnati, in your opinion, different from other cities?

SHARPTON:  I don't think it's different, but I think because there has been so many cases, it had probably had its course run quicker.  And I think that a lot of cities around the country are going to watch to see what happens in this boycott and maybe duplicate it in their cities.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Now, Cincinnati has gotten a lot of attention for the allegations surrounding the number of African-Americans who've been shot either in the course of an arrest, or at least harmed.  Is -- you're also trying to get economic solutions.  Is this -- are you trying to marry the two issues, the sort of the police brutality complaint, as well as the economic issues, in this boycott?

SHARPTON:  I think the leaders -- their argument is that they are married because I think they're saying they're part of the economic disparity leads to some of the confrontations on the street level.  So I think that they are right.

You have to not only hit the problems of police and community confrontation, you have to hit the root cause.  And you have to hit the fact that if the city is insensitive about how it deals with the community on a police level, it may also be insensitive on how it deals with economic contracts, economic rewards like employment, board positions and other things of that nature.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Reverend, it's always easier to get a solution if you're willing to negotiate and talk and give something.  Is there anything that you are willing to offer to Cincinnati?

SHARPTON:  I think that what I offered them was that they should sit down with the legitimate leaders there.  You can't get a solution if you won't talk to the people that have the problem.  You can't ever have healing if the patient is left out of the operation room.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, suppose the patient does sit down.  What does the patient say?

SHARPTON:  They have -- they have some of the things I've talked about.  They've outlined the areas of concern.  And I think that the city should sit with them and deal with those concerns.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And do you ultimately think this is -- the boycott's going to be effective to achieve what's necessary?

SHARPTON:  I think it will.  I've never seen an effective boycott that didn't work.  And this begins to look to me like a very effective boycott.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Well, I guess we'll have a chance to watch and see how this one resolves, if it's for better or for worse.  Reverend Sharpton...

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN:  ... thank you very much for joining us.

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