Strange: Al Sharpton Testifies for Racist White Cop
From the “Strange-But-True” archives we encounter the story of how, once upon a time, Al Sharpton testified that a white New York City Police Officer should keep his job despite having engaged in racist behavior.
On Monday Sept 8, 1998, off-duty Police Officer Joseph Locurto participates on a parade float entitled “Black to the Future — Broad Channel 2098”. Locurto and several friends are costumed in blackface. Some chant slogans such as “Crackers, we’re moving in,” and “No justice, no peace.” Included as props are Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, and a number of participants eat watermelon and throw the rinds to the audience. One participant grabs the back of the the float and dangles toward the ground, in parody of the dragging murder of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas a few months earlier.
Locurto participates in the parade solely as a private citizen without wearing anything that might identify him as a member of the NYPD.
On Tuesday, September 8, a television news station airs a videotape of the parade featuring the “Black to the Future” float. Much public controversy ensues.
On Sunday Sept. 13, 1998, the Reverend Al Sharpton leads a march of over 100 demonstrators through the Broad Channel community against the float.
On September 14, the NYPD charges that Locurto engaged “in conduct prejudicial to the good order, efficiency and discipline of the Department, to wit: said Officer did participate in and appear on a Labor Day parade float which depicted African-Americans in a demeaning and offensive manner.”
A Departmental trial on the charges is held on October 5, 1998. In his defense, Locurto asserts that he is being disciplined only in retaliation for the content of his speech on a matter of public concern, in violation of his First Amendment rights. Locurto summarizes his “speech” as parodying African Americans while referring to the future effects of racial integration on the predominantly Caucasian community of Broad Channel. Adapted from LOCURTO vs. SAFIR, et al 264 F.3d 154 (2nd Cir. 2001)
Locurto’s second witness is Rev. Sharpton, who testifies to the motivation behind the protest he organized. The float, Sharpton said, “was indicative of a systemic problem where people high in the Police Department and Fire Department apparently allow an annual event going on parodying people.” Sharpton says that he and his followers “felt the Mayor who was in political trouble because the nation watched the films of the Million Youth March and was trying to scapegoat the police officer and firemen to try to be a balancing. [sic]” Adapted from LOCURTO v. GIULIANI 447 F.3d 159 (2nd Cir. 2001)
Issue: Why would racial provocateur Al Sharpton testify against the firing of a white NYPD police officer for overtly racist behavior?
The year is 1998. Rudolph Giuliani is New York City Mayor. Giuliani and Sharpton are not friendly in any sense of the word. Sharpton had recently organized massive protests against the NYPD, and by extension Giuliani, due to the August 1997 torture by a white officer of African-American Abner Louima while in NYPD custody. Sharpton’s protests posit that the officer(s) involved in the Louima torture are racist and that the entire Department is racist. Sharpton seeks the immediate firing of any officers involved in the Louima incident. Not coincidently, vis-a-vis the Louima protests, Shapton is considered a contender for the Democratic mayoral nomination.
But still, why would Sharpton choose to testify for a racist white police officer within a department he denounces as racist? Would not firing this officer further Sharpton’s anti-racist agenda?
Well, as the saying goes, politics makes for strange bedfellows. Locurtos’s lead defense attorney at the Departmental Trial was New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Norman Siegal, also a frequent critic of Giuliani and the police department. Siegal would also be a mayoral candidate.
So, it appears some sort of “enemy of my enemy” political tomfoolery was going on between Sharpton and Siegal here. Were they trying to double-team Giuliani in the press on the back of this intellectually challenged police officer?
Despite my speculation, your humble blogger remains confused by Sharpton’s motivation despite my having attended the Departmental Trial. I merely report this incident to highlight Sharpton’s racist politically motivated shenanigans.
In the end, even with Sharpton’s help (???), Locurto was fired and lost all his court appeals.
Al Sharpton continues to annoy us.
The two legal cases adapted and cited above provide an excellent discussion of the 1st Amendment as it applies to police officers specifically and public employees generally.