2007-06-01 / Community

Sanders Votes To Name Street For 'Race-Baiting Kidnapper'

Council Votes Against Sonny Carson Honor
By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

At an emotionally-charged City Council session, a proposal to rename a four-block stretch of Downtown Brooklyn after controversial black activist Sonny Carson was defeated with only 15 council members voting yes and 25 voting against the proposal.

Carson, who was called "a race-baiting, anti-Semitic thug who did a stretch for kidnapping," by the Daily News in a recent editorial, was involved with many of the racially-charged incidents in New York City over the past forty years, including the school strike over community control in the late 1960's and the boycott of a Korean deli owner over a supposed slur to a black woman in the 1990's.

During that boycott of all the Korean-owned groceries in Brooklyn, Carson carried a hand-lettered sign that proclaimed, "Don't shop with people who don't look like us." At the time, he told reporters, "In the future, there will be funerals, not boycotts."

In 1968, Carson, Al Vann (who is now a city councilman and the author of the bill to rename the street in honor of Carson) and other black activists took all of the white teacher union representatives at Ocean-Hill Brownsville into an auditorium, shut off the lights and threatened to kill them if they didn't voluntarily leave the black school district. Somebody fired a shot into the ceiling of the school auditorium, making their point. Most of the teachers asked for transfer the next day.

Asked in 1989 whether he was anti-Semitic, Carson answered, "I am anti-white. I don't limit my anti-ing to just being one little group of people."

The council vote broke down along racial lines, with our two local city councilmen splitting their vote.

Councilman Joseph Addabbo voted no on the introduction to name the street for Carson. Councilman James Sanders voted yes.

Sanders called The Wave on Wednesday to explain his vote.

"I voted for the bill because we always follow the process in such cases," Sanders said. "If the community board votes to approve it, we vote to approve it. The community board approved the renaming and we should have followed our process."

Sanders said that he knew Carson well in his later days and that he had said to Sanders that he "regretted some of the things he did in his youth."

Sanders admitted, however, that Carson never made such private thoughts public before his death in 2002.

Carson served fifteen months for kidnapping in the 1980's.

City Councilman Charles Barron, once a member of the Black Panthers, riled against Council Speaker Christine Quinn. ""You have brought us to a place of divide that this city council has never experienced," Barron said. "You have divided us more than Sonny Carson ever divided any people."

"We have opened Pandora's Box," Sanders told The Wave. Two years ago, Sanders recommended naming a street in honor of his mother, who had recently passed away.

"We have named streets for men such as Al Jolson, who was famous for his blackface entertainment," Sanders said. "We have named streets for slaveholders such as Washington and Jefferson. This vote was bigoted and hurtful and we shouldn't single [Carson] out."

Only one white councilmember, Oliver Koppel of the Bronx, voted in favor of the renaming.

Seven councilmembers abstained, including Leroy Comrie, a black councilman from Queens.

Several of the black councilmembers who voted for the bill termed Comrie a "traitor" at the meeting.

"If it takes an assassination of his ___," said a spokesperson for Barron, "he will not be a borough president in the borough where I live."

"This is not about Sonny Carson," Vann said. "This is about the right of a community to name its own heroes."

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