NEW YORK – The Rev. Al Sharpton on Saturday threatened to sue conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for writing in a column that the civil rights leader played a role in two New York race riots.
In a column published by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday about his derailed bid to become part-owner of the St. Louis Rams, he accuses Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson of making comments that helped get him booted from a group that was trying to buy the NFL team.
Limbaugh derided Sharpton as having played "a leading role in the 1991 Crown Heights riot" and the "1995 Freddie's Fashion Mart riot."
Those comments prompted a quick retort from Sharpton, who called both allegations false.
Sharpton was not present for or involved in the rioting in Brooklyn's Crown Heights section in August 1991, during which hundreds of blacks were involved in attacks on the neighborhood's Jewish residents. He did deliver a eulogy at the funeral of the youth whose death in a traffic accident triggered the violence, but that didn't happen until the violence ended.
Sharpton also wasn't present on Dec. 8, 1995, when a lone, black gunman burst into Freddie's Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned business in Harlem, started shooting and set the building on fire. Seven people died. There was no riot.
Sharpton's organization had, like other black groups, been involved in picketing the business over its plans to expand into space occupied by a black-owned business, but he said he couldn't be blamed for the madman's rampage.
"Unless Mr. Limbaugh apologizes and clarifies his statements, attorneys for Rev. Sharpton will move forward with a lawsuit," said a written statement released Saturday by Sharpton's spokeswoman. "He has the right to criticize Rev. Sharpton, but he does not have the right to accuse him of criminal activity, and riots and murders are criminal."
A spokesman for Limbaugh, Tony Knight, of Sitrick and Company, did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.