THE STABBING of the Rev. Al Sharpton on Saturday as he prepared to lead a protest demonstration in Brooklyn deserves condemnation from every New Yorker. No citizen should have to put his life at risk to exercise the right of protest. And as provocative and difficult as Sharpton can be, that is all he was doing Saturday.
Fortunately, his injury is not thought to be life-threatening. But the stabbing inflames the conscience of a city where the resort to violence has become commonplace.
Mayor David Dinkins, Gov. Mario Cuomo and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes were right to ask people not to blame Bensonhurst, the community where Sharpton was hurt, for the act of one individual. The Sharpton stabbing is but the latest evidence of a breakdown in the social fabric.
The incident, labeled a bias-related crime by police, also reflects persisting racial tension. Since the tragic murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst 17 months ago, Sharpton has led many protest marches through that neighborhood, and he has frequently been threatened and subjected to racial epithets.
The mayor, the governor, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the district attorney in Brooklyn have struck a useful note by appealing for calm. So has Sharpton, a man who has not hesitated in the past to use his city's racial problems as an excuse for demagoguery. His more conciliatory approach this time is warmly welcome.
Deplorably, however, two of his associates, Alton Maddox Jr. and C. Vernon Mason, did not call for calm and instead warned that violence will be met with violence. That's recklessly spreading exactly the kind of poison that has made Sharpton its latest victim.