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January 12, 1991, Reverend Al Sharpton Stabbed While Protesting - Today In Crime History
On this day, January 12, in the year 1991, civil rights activist Al Sharpton was stabbed while leading a protest. The attacker, Michael Riccardi, would later be convicted and sentenced to prison.
Alfred Charles "Al" Sharpton, Jr. is a Baptist minister, civil rights activist, and presently a television/radio talk show host. For more than five decades Sharpton has been a significant national voice regarding issues related to race, poverty and inequality in America.
In August 1989, four African-American teenagers were beaten by a group of 10 to 30 white youths in Bensonhurst, New York. One participant, armed with a firearm, shot and killed sixteen-year-old Yusef Hawkins during the incident. In the weeks that followed the assault and murder, Sharpton led multiple marches through Bensonhurst. In January 1991, after those who had participated in the beating had either been acquitted at trial or given light sentences, Sharpton planned another protest march for January 12, 1991.
Sharpton had been subjected to taunts, threats and racial epithets in leading the earlier protest marches in the predominantly white neighborhood of Bensonhurst, but had not encountered violence. On January 12, 1991, as several hundred protestors assembled, Al Sharpton arrived and exited his vehicle to participate in the public demonstration. The white assailant stepped out of a row of protesters and briskly walked toward Sharpton. Without uttering a word, the attacker raised a knife with a five-inch blade from his jacket and plunged it downward into Sharpton's upper left chest. Sharpton raised his arm, slightly deflecting the thrust, which slashed in just under the left clavicle, narrowly missing the lung and major blood vessels.
As Sharpton fell bleeding to the ground, the assailant dropped the knife, turned and tried to run. His path was blocked by protesters, one of whom tripped the attacker. Police officers soon intervened and arrested the person who was later identified as Michael Riccardi. According to law enforcement, Riccardi was obviously intoxicated when taken into custody.
Riccardi was detained without bail and ultimately charged with attempted murder, aggravated harassment, aggravated assault and criminal possession of a weapon. At his arraignment, Riccardi would enter a plea of not guilty and request a jury trial. At his jury trial, the criminal defense attorney would argue that Riccardi was so intoxicated that he was unable to form the intent to commit a crime, particularly the crime of attempted murder. After deliberating for almost five hours, the jury would acquit Riccardi of the charges of attempted murder and aggravated harassment, but find him guilty of aggravated assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
At Riccardi’s sentencing hearing Sharpton would appear and ask the judge to be merciful and to exercise leniency. Mr. Sharpton would tell the judge that the attack on him was the result of misperception caused by distorted news coverage of his activities. The judge, however, apparently disagreed and sentenced Riccardi to fifteen years imprisonment, the maximum penalty for aggravated assault.
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