NEW YORK – One day after the Rev. Al Sharpton said he was mulling a run for the White House in 2004, the civil rights leader was behind bars in Puerto Rico.
Although it is an unusual stop for a presidential hopeful, one political analyst says the jail time will help Sharpton elevate the national profile he has carefully cultivated in recent months.
"He will get a lot of attention and that's something he's always coveted as a community activist," said Lee Miringoff, a pollster at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He said the protest is one that Sharpton "calculated, or understood, would be intensely supported by some of the electorate."
A federal judge sentenced Sharpton to 90 days in jail Wednesday for trespassing on U.S. Navy property as part of a May 1 protest against bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
The Navy has used its range on Vieques for six decades and says the practice is safe and vital for national security. Critics say it poses a health threat.
Sharpton stood by the protests during his court appearance in front of Judge Jose Fuste.
"If Martin Luther King were alive, he would have come to Vieques and raised these issues," he said.
Fuste sentenced Sharpton as a repeat offender because he had prior arrests for civil disobedience in New York.
Sharpton was taken to a federal prison in Puerto Rico. His spokeswoman, Rachel Noerdlinger, said Johnnie Cochran is assembling a team of lawyers who plan to file an appeal with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico.
Noerdlinger said Sharpton was not prepared for the sentence because he was subpoenaed only one day before the court appearance.
"He strongly feels that he's been victimized by the justice system," Noerdlinger said.