What are they supporting…? Russell Simmons and Al Sharpton loud on Vick, mum on Jena…


So. Russell Simmons, Al Sharpton, and PETA have all signed a letter condemning dog fighting and calling Mike Vick out for his indictment in a dog fighting ring. Well and good. Dog fighting is reprehensible and calling out Vick for his participation in and connection to the sport is a reasonable act for two men who claim to be trying to represent African American interests in the larger national culture. Their castigation of Vick (albeit guided by PETA) is a clear effort to show that dog fighting is not an acceptable pastime within the black community as some may claim.

But let’s ask a couple of hard questions of these two.

First, why is Russell Simmons suddenly interested in animal rights in the black community? Rap, with which Simmons is most closely associated, has long used pit bulls and Rottweilers as icons of male power and violence in both lyrics and images associated with the music. It would be interesting to hear how Simmons came to his conclusion that this moment, when a prominent NFL player is caught up in a criminal case related to the “use for sport” – and abuse – of pit bulls is the proper moment for him to take a stand against the mistreatment of dogs. Certainly PETA would have welcomed him with open arms had he chosen to take a stand at any time on this issue.

And why in alliance with Al Sharpton? Sharpton, who is known more as an activist and spokesperson on civil rights issues, seems a strange bedfellow for Simmons on this matter. Neither Sharpton nor Simmons has been noted as interested in animal rights before this sudden condemnation of Michael Vick (again, I don’t disagree with their condemnation – I just wonder why it appeared on the event horizon so suddenly – and without context). Sharpton, whose recent connections with GOP support would seem to have made him a pariah among many of his colleagues, and who has defended Louis Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism, when Simmons has (at least indirectly) criticized the Nation of Islam leader, seems at odds with his younger colleague….

Second, and more important, perhaps, why are Simmons and Sharpton focusing their energy on the criminal indictment of a wealthy NFL star when more pressing issues such as the Jena travesty (see also here and here) would seem more important, both for shedding light on the injustice there and for helping those who truly need it?

Why the silence from these two prominent African Americans who seek to speak for their communities?

One hopes that perhaps they simply don’t know the facts about Jena (available here and here and here) and that they’ll soon learn them and become involved.

However, it’s also possible that they do know the facts. But that supporting poor black kids being bullied in Louisiana doesn’t carry the publicity and promotional possibilities that jumping on the Vick story offer. Let’s hope it’s not that.

Let’s hope they remember this role model. And emulate him soon….

16 replies »

  1. Al Sharpton is a political opportunist. Like a quintessence moth, he is attracted to the glow of television lights. His ultimate goal is always the promotion of Al Sharpton. Hence, he will avoid situations in which he is unable jump in front of television news cameras and appear to be leading the parade.

  2. It’s true that Sharpton is an opportunist. But any cause he backs gets instant attention. Sometimes the causes he backs are seriously ill-adivsed. (It took him a long time to live down Tawana Brawley — remember her?)

    What Sharpton and Simmons are doing is trying to head off a potential disaster for African-American males. If the thought that they like dog fighting lodges in a corner of the unconscious of the American public, even more juries will be predisposed against them. Even more of them will serve inflated sentences for drugs.

    My question to whoever might know the answer: Is dog fighting a product of country life or the urban crack culture?

  3. I’d love to think they don’t have all the facts yet, and will want to focus on changing the mindset that leads to the Jena Travesty, however, both seem to be more interested in self-promotion. From a marketing angle getting the most bang for their buck. It would seem that based upon their past efforts, they have little true input to a discussion on dog fighting issues. PETA seems to be more trendy these days. The Jena 6 really needs to have a spotlight to hope for any sort of change. Thanks for getting the word out.

  4. My question to whoever might know the answer: Is dog fighting a product of country life or the urban crack culture?

    In a word, yes. It flourishes wherever stupid is found. It’s both an urban and a hillbilly phenomenon.

  5. Vick is innocent from what I can tell. He owned the house ,the dog fighting took place at but thats t he end of story,

  6. Heh. Yeah. Those crazy Federal prosecutors, charging him with nothing more than what you can tell.

    Or maybe – just maybe – they have evidence that you don’t (and maybe they’re willing to consider the facts more or less objectively)?

  7. Al Sharpton is publicity in and of himself. One mention of this Jena case, and there would be a lot more, much needed publicity.

    It is easy to shout down Imus on his radio show or castigate Mitt Romney publicly for being a Mormon but tackling racism at its heart is something he doesn’t do.

    When the legal system exhibits such prejudice as exists in the case of Jena 6 it is a terrible indictment on how far America hasn’t come and it requires a real fight. Al Sharpton for reasons only he know for sure isn’t up for it. He is not a leader, he is a follower of publicity.

    As for Simmons, I’ve never believed his concern for social issues extended much further than his ego or his wallet and after seeing him on Bill Maher a few months ago, I don’t think he is very smart.

  8. First, why are you questioning the intent of these men trying to take a stand against a dispicable act? These are 2 strong, powerful black men trying to get a message to the black community and others where pitbull fighting is abundant and looked upon as acceptable.

    Secondly, your questions aren’t hard, they are very simple. Simmons is not “suddenly interested in animal rights”. Simmons is a long time vegetarian and animal supporter. I’ve never seen him try to further his hip hop career by exploiting dogs, so I’d be interested in knowing where you got your info Jim. In fact, by the way, he is one of the big-wigs in the industry that is trying to ban the N-word from hip hop music. He’s just trying to be a positive influence in the black community and to point out that this is not a black/white issue, which is what it has turned into. Its an issue of right and wrong.

    The reason why they’re doing it now, obviously, is because Vicks situation has shed light on the severity of dog fighting everywhere. Thousands and thousand of americans didn’t even know that dog fighting was going on until Vicks situation. And the reason people are coming down hard on him, is not because he is a successful black NFL player. It’s because for one, the whole operation wouldn’t have been up and running if Vick hadn’t bankrolled the whole thing. And secondly, Vick, more-so than your average wanna-be street thug that fights dogs, should know better. He’s in the public eye constantly, a role model for our kids whether or not he chooses to be, and he definitly doesn’t need the money.

    Should we over-look the fact that he’s committing horrible felonies fighting these animals just because he’s a NFL “superstar”? Hes actually doing nothing but giving the NFL a bad name right now. His own teammate said that “Vicks situation was the closest thing to a NFL natural disaster”

    And yes, the world is full of dispicible situations that needs attention – Jena, domestic violence, war, gangs, homelessness, etc… Everyone has the right to stand up and speak out on issues that they are passionate about. What are you doing about the Jena Travesty, Jim, since thats something youre passionate about? Probably nothing – you’d rather sit on your ass and critisize other peoples efforts. Shame on you! We can’t rely on celebraties to be the sole voice on important issues. We all need to take a stand on issues we’re passionate about. Just because there are other issues out there that need to be addressed, doesn’t make this issue of dog fighting any less important.

    The attitude of, if someone is going to stand up for an issue, than why aren’t they doing the same for every other problem in this world, is ignorant. So, Jim, don’t you think that now is the perfect time to talk about and bring awareness to the dog fighting devestation that is going on and spreading? It needs to be addressed and stopped. This is somethin that will not go away on its own. I applaud these guys and everyone else taking a stand against dog fighting. What are you doing to help, Jim? Quit busting everyone elses chops and focus on what YOU can do to make a difference!

  9. Stephanie –

    1) Sharpton and Simmons may be doing good talking about the evils of dog fighting, Stephanie. That’s fine. If they bring attention to this vicious sport and contribute to its eradication, well and good.

    2) Rap is filled with images of dogs – especially pit bulls – and you know it – Simmons has had ample opportunity to critical of such imagery as it has contributed to the dog fighting culture, Stephanie. My question was, why has he waited until now?

    3) I’ve written extensively about the Jena situation, Stephanie. See the links to my pieces on Jena in the above post. I’ve taken an active part in spreading the word about this debacle of justice when Main Stream Media (MSM) in America has only now (NPR just did a story – I’ve been on this since May) begun to take note. Thousands and thousands of people read this blog. I am doing my part, Stephanie when I write about this. Ive even been thanked by the Committee for Justice in Jena for my work. And why haven’t Simmons and Sharpton spoken out about Jena? As strong black community leaders their focus on the problem would only be helpful in bringing this travesty to light and helping these young men obtain justice. You don’t answer that question….

    4) I have in no way defended Michael Vick, Stephanie. Not sure where you get that. But MSM is covering his story widely – so why focus on obvious bad behavior when it’s unreported bad behavior – as in Jena – that needs attention?

    5) So why are you busting my chops, Stephanie? Because I’d like to see Simmons and Sharpton use their influence on a real civil rights struggle in LA that’s being ignored rather than on the dog fighting problem which is getting tons of media attention? Sorry, but I can’t buy that. It’s about choices – and I think, as I suggested, that Simmons and Sharpton should give Jena their attention – especially since dog fighting is getting plenty of public attention already….

  10. Stephanie: I have to second Jim’s question – why ARE you busting his chops? And how did you read a defense of Vick into ANYTHING he said?

    On the Jena front, you’re busting the guy who has been one of the THE most vocal and visible critics of the white power structure there. On Vick, he and I have been brutally critical of what he did (plug “Michael Vick” into the search box and read what comes up). And on the Sharpton/Simmons front, he’s done nothing but ask some REALLY good questions.

    Your comments read like you’re somebody who likes Sharpton and Simmons, saw that they were being examined in the first few sentences, and didn’t really read the rest of the post. I’d encourage you to go back and read more closely and ask yourself the same honest questions about these two “leaders” that Jim does.


    Reverend Al Sharpton has been interested, and active in the Animal Rights community prior to the Michael Vick and his scandal. I am sure that he would be insulted by your statements, and these other peoples comments against him.

    Reverend Al Sharpton has been very active in the Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign, and he has been a spokesperson for PETA for a while.