BOULDER–Bigots are cowards, the president lied about Iraq and American political discourse is filled with dishonesty, said a fiery Rev. Al Sharpton at the University of Colorado-Boulder Monday night.
"Unlike most public figures in America, I believe public figures should be honest and say what they mean and mean what they say," Sharpton told the
more than 1,000 students and community members packed into the University Memorial Center's Glenn Miller Ballroom.
Sharpton – a civil rights leader, an activist and a former presidential candidate – was billed to talk about bigotry in light of a spate of on-campus racial incidents at CU that made headlines. The preacher did address the controversial topic, but he also spent a good deal of time lampooning President Bush on a range of issues, including his response to Hurricane Katrina and especially his 2003 decision to invade Iraq.
"I stand here tonight almost five years later and bin Laden is still at large, and we're engaged in a war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars," Sharpton said. "It's frightening that we have a president who can see weapons in Iraq that aren't there but not a hurricane in New Orleans that is," he added, referring to the Bush's response to the disaster, which is widely believed to have been flawed and indecisive.
Sharpton said that the type of racial problems the university has dealt with over the last few months – bigoted scrawls on bathroom walls, and hate mail sent to its minority students – is the work of wimps.
"You are a coward who will not stand up and say openly what you believe," he said, adding that racism is often the result of low self-esteem.
"Bringing down others will not make you what you are not."
One high-profile incident that marred CU's image this year was a death threat received by Mebraht Gebre-Michael, a student body president who is black.
At CSU, the school year kicked off with its own report of possible racial violence when a black man was beaten by a group of college-aged white males near the corner of Laurel and Whitcomb streets while walking home from a bar at 2 a.m.
But police soon said that even the victim said he didn't believe race was the motivating factor in the assault. Police have no suspects and the case is still under investigation.
At CU, student reaction about racism on their campus varied. Evan Pushchak, a senior philosophy major, acknowledged that the student demographics of the school aren't proportionate to the rest of the country, or even Colorado.
But he said the problem isn't as bad as one would think reading recent media accounts.
"A lot of the events that have occurred here have really been over-dramatized," he said. "The conclusions that this is an intolerant place
are unfounded at best."
But Camilo Quintero, a member of the 12-person group that unanimously chose Sharpton as a speaker, said the problem of racism is real and is aggravated because of the lack of student diversity.
"I think (the university) is taking the right steps with the Blue Ribbon Commission," he said, referring to a panel created to promote diversity.
"It's a step in the right direction but still far from where we need to be."
Sharpton ran for president in 2004 and used his oratory skills to rile audiences in oftentimes mundane primary debates.
Born to a middle-class Brooklyn, N.Y. family in 1954, he began preaching at age four and became a licensed, ordained minister at 10. Sharpton said he wasn't fighting just for blacks, but women and gays as well.
"Make your life significant by adding to the coming together of humanity," he said. "If at the end of life, all you have done is for you, your life will have little meaning."
Vimal Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.