NY blacks spar verbally over Tyson's return

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The Independent Online
DAVID USBORNE

New York

A homecoming to New York by Mike Tyson, the boxer and convicted rapist, is dividing the city's blacks. Some would fete him as a prodigal son, while others believe he remains a sinner who must repent.

His visit, on Tuesday, was announced by a Harlem newspaper, the Amsterdam News. "Stars, a parade, street festival for the Champ," it said. An organiser said the "turn-out will surpass anything ever accorded any sports figure in New York or the entire nation".

While the extravaganza reportedly had support of local and some national politicians, including Harlem's Congressman, Charles Rangel, there was grassroots reaction against it. The last few days have seen back-pedalling by some of the organisers, not least Mr Rangel.

The street parade has been scrapped; nor, it seems, will there be a party at the Apollo Theater. Instead, Tyson is expected to appear once in front of the Apollo to announce the creation of a charitable foundation in his name and later in a restaurant to unveil details of his return to boxing in August.

But Tyson is being defended by the Rev Al Sharpton, a prominent black rights activist. "Harlem is a community of broken dreams and second chances," he said, calling Tyson a "young man asking for and beginning a road to recovery". He accused critics of a "McCarthy-type" spirit in attempting to block the festival.

But black rights organisations that have sprung up in response to the furore say Tyson remains a man with a history of sexual abuse of women who has yet to offer any apology for raping a black beauty contestant, Desiree Washington, in 1992, for which he was imprisoned.

A spokeswoman for African-Americans Against Violence said members would hold a vigil on Monday in protest at the visit. "We feel public support should be given to those who have been victims of violence rather than to those who perpetuate it."

Mr Rangel, who was listed as one of those sponsoring the festival, has been working hard to dissociate himself.

A former assistant US attorney, he remarked: "If he's going to be having a big party somewhere, count me out. I don't celebrate people coming out of jail."

Mr Sharpton, however, seems intent on riling his critics, even by implying that Tyson may have been wrongly convicted. "I've always had problems with the case," he said last week.

Tyson has always maintained that he had consensual sexual relations with Ms Washington.

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