Reverand Al Sharpton has quickly become a hidden hand in the overly crowded 2020 Democratic field, as hopefuls lined up to explain their vision of America to him in hopes of receiving his approval. This week, every one of the top Democratic hopefuls was in New York City attending Sharpton’s National Action Network convention, while discussing the issue of racism in the United States. Among the hopefuls attending were former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Having such mainstream influence on politics is quite the change for Sharpton, who has always remained just on the outskirts of politics with his activism. After he was accused of inciting riots and violence against Jewish people in New York during the early 1990s and using anti-Semitic terms like “diamond merchants” and “bloodsucking Jews,” he has received an incredible amount of criticism.
Today, Reverand Al Sharpton is considered to a well-respected progressive who tends to act like a middleman between the Democrats and Black America. Unlike most other black leaders, Sharpton speaks directly to the anti-Trump spectrum of the United States, even though the Trump administration just passed a criminal justice reform that was embraced by several leaders of the black community.
During an interview with Politico in 2017, Sharpton stated that President Trump “has empowered anti-Semites and racists” and “brought them from the shadows into the mainstream.” Just one year later, Sharpton said that Trump’s Young Black Leadership Summit was considered “shameful,” while he accused President Trump of “using” young black conservatives as “props.”
While speaking to The Los Angeles Times about being accepted into the mainstream, Sharpton said: “I don’t think I am a different type of leader, I think these are different times. It is more the evolution of Sharpton than the changing of Sharpton.”
Sharpton is an important figure for those Democrats who are relying on the hatred people feel towards Trump, rather than their personal popularity, while running in the 2020 presidential election. Once Harris announced that she would be running for president, one of the first meetings she took part in was with Sharpton in New York. At a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event organized by Sharpton, former Vice President Joe Biden made a speech where he stated that he regretted backing a tough-on-crime bill back in the 1990s.
While pointing out that he didn’t endorse a candidate during the election in 2016, Sharpton will remain cautious about which candidate he shows his support for in the upcoming 2020 election. As it stands, it appears that Sharpton is leaning towards the Democratic presidential candidates. Earlier this week, Sharpton convinced Beto O’Rourke to back off of his opposition of slavery reparations, causing him to go on the record with his support of a bill in Congress to study and reconsider the payments.
On Thursday, Buttigieg apologized to Sharpton during the event for using the phrase “all lives matter” in the past. As he praised the Black Lives Matter movement, Buttigieg said: “it should enhance — not diminish — the value of a good police department when we assert what should go without saying, but in these times must be said clearly and again and again: that black lives matter.” There are at least five other candidates that are showing their support for slavery reparations, including Harris, Warren, member of the Obama cabinet Julian Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
For right now, Sharpton has said that he just wants a candidate that will address the racism in the United States. In an interview with the Hill, Sharpton said: “I want to hear substance. I don’t want to hear sound bites. Like, yes, we need to alter the criminal justice system. How? What would you do about the mandatory sentencing laws? What would you do about police reform? Would you reinstitute consent decrees?”
He added: “I want to hear in terms of the economy, how do you close the race gap in employment? Yes, black unemployment is lower than it’s ever been, but it’s still double that of whites. How do you close the race gap in terms of health care? I want to hear specifics. Where’s the meat? Not just giving us the dessert.”