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Butts, long shunned by civil rights activists for his close ties to right-wing Republicans, is one of the few black leaders who did not join the civil disobedience protests led by Sharpton.
Butts's decision to remain on the outside came as no surprise to some. Even the pro-Giuliani New York Post noticed the Abyssinian minister's absence and asked, "Is Butts jealous of fellow clergyman-activist Al Sharpton's hogging of the media spotlight?"
While the Sharpton coalition recruited celebrities, politicians, and other ministers to engage in daily acts of civil disobedience, Butts tried for a second time to start a citywide black consumer boycott of the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn and the 34th Street shopping corridor. Both attempts ended in failure.
"Of the many publicity stunts staged in the wake of the Amadou Diallo shooting, surely the most bizarre was Rev. Calvin Butts' call for blacks to boycott shopping centers in Manhattan and Brooklyn last weekend," the Post declared in an April 6 editorial. "There's little indication anyone listened to Butts' proposal. Even those New Yorkers who feel the need to do something' in response to the Diallo incident seem to have understood that Butts' boycott was an exercise in self-aggrandizement that could accomplish absolutely nothing."
Relations between Butts and the city's frontline black activists worsened after activists refused to back Butts's assertion that Giuliani was a racist. The activists had been upset with the minister's earlier support for the mayor, Republican governor George Pataki, and perennial presidential candidate Ross Perot.
"[Butts's] partner, George Pataki, [is] building jails all over the state," Sharpton said at last Tuesday's rally. "[And if] that's not bad enough [Giuliani is] taking people on welfare and putting them in slavery, making them clean up parks with no rights as workers. The closest thing to slavery in modern times is his workfare program. On top of that, this police brutality, telling us we ought to be happy we're alive, and you gonna get up and hug him?"
"There were a lot of questions about Reverend Butts when he called the mayor a racist," says Sharpton, "and now those activists' suspicions of him have been vindicated. Here we are a year later and he not only reconciles with the mayor but he apologizes for calling him a racist."
Sharpton contends that the reconciliation service was designed to exclude him and other leaders of the civil disobedience movement. He said that two weeks before the event Cardinal O'Connor notified him and the Diallo family during a meeting at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Sharpton said he asked the cardinal for a list of names of those who would be attending.
"I ain't going to no meeting that I don't know what I'm going to," he declared during the rally, "because they [would have had] us sitting in an audience like we agree with what's going on on the stage, just because we're sitting there. [They'll] have everybody on the program on one side, and then flash us in the audience and say that everybody was healed."
The cardinal faxed the program to Sharpton. "Nobody on the program had anything to do with the movement against police brutality," he complained. "Forget about Al Sharpton. How do you not have [Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker]? How do you not have Reverend Gary Simpson? He went to jail. How do you not have Reverend James Forbes? How are you gonna have healing when the people leading the movement are not brought into the room?"
According to Sharpton, organizers of the service then reached out to Reverend Calvin Marshall, who was scheduled to deliver the opening prayer but canceled his appearance after he realized the list of speakers included no other protest leaders, said Sharpton. "Reverend Marshall said, I'll pray at home' and refused to go," Sharpton remembers. "The reason that they invited him to do the prayer is so he can't say nothing....Lo and behold, in the middle of the program, Reverend Butts, the only well-known preacher in town that didn't come to One Police Plaza, didn't march with us, never been to one meeting, gets up and apologizes to the mayor, and hugs the mayor. Some of you seen this on TV, didn't ya? In fact...what he did was...in the middle of his statement he stepped down off the pulpit, and the mayor met him halfway, and they fell in each other's arms."
In a separate interview with the Voice, Sharpton contended that Giuliani-Butts "unity" dance appeared to have been well choreographed. "The mayor met him halfway," he points out. "How did the mayor know he was going to make this gesture? Do you really believe Giuliani would have been in that church with Calvin Butts if he thought Butts was going to continue calling him a racist? Do you think Giuliani would have come if they told him I would be speaking?" At the rally, Sharpton said that Kadiadou Diallo, Amadou's mother, lamented that Butts had hugged the man she holds partly responsible for the killing of her son. "She says, I don't know who this preacher is. I've never heard of him. But how can he heal for me, when I'm here? I'm the mother that lost her child. He hugged the mayor and never hugged me.' Can you imagine if I called a healing session for Yugoslavia, and the [Kosovo] Albanians wasn't invited? Have you and I lost so much self-respect that they can take any negro they want, and just throw them out there like they represent us, and think we ain't gonna say nothing about it?"