- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

The country's black leaders are working to maintain a distinctive political voice as the nation teeters on the brink of war.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson has been on the phone "quite frequently" to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an aide said yesterday, adding that Mr. Jackson offered to begin talks with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.
The Rev. Al Sharpton has held prayer vigils and plans an October trip to Israel.
Both also have persisted, along with other black leaders, in urging Americans against racial profiling, saying that the targeting of Middle Easterners is the latest example of the practice.
"Black leadership is concerned about its agenda, which is going by the wayside," said David Bositis, a political scientist at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "In terms of individuals taking action, I don't know that I would be advising that. This is a very tense situation and has to be handled very adroitly."
Mr. Sharpton, who has hinted at a run for the presidency in 2004, maintains that the terrorism has enhanced the cause of civil rights by providing a common enemy to help cement alliances.
"Myself and several Jewish allies are going to Israel at the end of next month," Mr. Sharpton said in an interview yesterday. "We now have a joint and common enemy on the other end, and it has brought us together."
And, he added, the idea that some blacks are now warily eyeing Middle Easterners, who have been the target of some animosity in this country since the hijackers were Arabs, gives blacks a further understanding of racial profiling.
"It gives this some moral consistency," Mr. Sharpton said. "I now believe that I should be dealing with terrorism in Israel as much as I have fought against profiling here. It would have been bad if people had ducked the question, which became obvious."
Mr. Jackson, for his part, has toed the same line. He said the identification of the hijackers opened the door to an issue he has protested for years.
"It is indeed a brand … of racial profiling," Mr. Jackson said during an appearance last week on CBS' "The Early Show." "You remember when the bomb exploded in Oklahoma City and the experts began to design some imaginary profile. They said it must have been a Middle Easterner. It was a Midwesterner. It was Tim McVeigh."
But the attacks have not quelled his fervor for civil rights issues that are now off the immediate radar screen because of the assault on America.
"He has always had a multifaceted agenda," said Keiana Peyton, Mr. Jackson's spokeswoman. "He will continue to push for the things he believes in during his travels, things such as reparations [for slavery], which was to be his main focus when he returned from South Africa."
Other civil rights groups have scaled back their endeavors, while some have changed direction.
The Congress on Racial Equality had planned a mission to Israel in the wake of a May terrorist attack in Tel Aviv.
But "we froze all delegations and operations," said Niger Innis, a spokesman for the New York-based group. To go now, he said, "would be like taking a firecracker and throwing it into a firepot."
The Congressional Black Caucus scrapped its plans for a town hall meeting on election reform this week, switching the topic to security for both families and the nation.
But the caucus will still hold forums on election reform during its annual four-day conference, which begins today in Washington.
Meanwhile, black congressional leaders have joined some Republican legislators in criticizing security plans that may intrude upon civil liberties. Those lawmakers oppose the ambitions of the Justice Department and the White House, which seek to loosen phone-tapping laws for law enforcement, among other proposals.
Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, posted a statement on his Web site eight days after the attacks on Washington and New York.
"Historically, it has been at times of inflamed passions and national anger that our civil liberties proved to be at greatest risk, and the unpopular group of the moment was subject to prejudice and deprivation of liberty," his statement said.

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