LOS ANGELES – The Rev. Jesse Jackson denied on the witness stand Thursday that he threatened or encouraged violence against a conservative black minister who claimed he was roughed up during a 2001 confrontation with Jackson and his son.
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, sued Jackson alleging assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit also named Jackson's son Jonathan Jackson, who was accused of battery and false imprisonment.
Peterson, 56, is a frequent guest on conservative talk shows and has organized protests against Jackson in recent years. He testified Thursday that he felt threatened and believed his life was in danger during a December 2001 meeting involving Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and representatives of Toyota.
The meeting dealt with an agreement the group had reached with the automaker over an advertising campaign Jackson deemed offensive to blacks.
Jackson had threatened to boycott Toyota because of an ad printed on free postcards that showed a close-up of a dark-skinned man's mouth with an image of a gold Toyota RAV4 on one tooth.
He reached an agreement with Toyota in which the company promised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to train and hire more minorities, buy from minority companies and spend with minority advertisers.
During the December meeting in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, Peterson asked a Toyota representative whether black Republicans would have to go through the coalition to participate in the automaker's program. Peterson said after he made his comments the crowd became agitated.
"I was shocked at the anger and hostility and the name-calling that came at me," he said.
Jackson testified that he urged the crowd to be calm, adding that he recalled Peterson's comments were more accusatory than simply a question. He also remembered telling the crowd that there are people who "shake the tree" and "parasites who pick up the apples," but denied his reference was pointed at Peterson.
When asked if he ever threatened Peterson, Jackson replied, "Absolutely not."
Peterson claims that Jonathan Jackson approached him after the meeting and hit him in the shoulder. He said a crowd began to gather around them, and the younger Jackson was eventually joined by his father, who was "cursing at me." Peterson said the confrontation seemed to energize the crowd.
Jackson testified that it was Peterson who confronted him, adding that at one point he "called me sissy or woman."
He said he never saw his son or anyone else physically or verbally confront Peterson and testified that it was he who urged the crowd to allow Peterson to speak at the meeting.
"He was trying to provoke me, but I would not go for the provocation," Jackson said. "I encourage people to just walk away."