Meet the NYC teen calling out celebrity anti-Semitism

By | July 21, 2020

Earlier this month, former NBA player Stephen Jackson faced off in an unexpected head-to-head far from the basketball court. The venue: Instagram Live. The opponent? A 19-year-old college kid from Manhattan.

On July 7, Mark Shepard, a rising Vassar College sophomore who’s one of Jackson’s 894,000 Instagram followers, tuned into an Instagram Live discussion hosted by Jackson. It was a chat that came in the wake of Jackson not only defending anti-Semitic Instagram posts uploaded by Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (who is not related to Stephen) — but also blasting the Eagles organization, which condemned DeSean for his remarks.

Shepard, who is Jewish and still undecided on what he’ll study in college, called Jackson an “anti-Semite” in the video’s comments section, prompting Jackson to invite him to join the video discussion.

“We’re supposed to be having these conversations,” Shepard told The Post, referring to discussions about discrimination in America following the May death of George Floyd while in police custody. “As a white person, mostly what I should be doing in this movement is learning, listening … but when it comes to issues of [Jewish people] especially, I do have a platform there and sort of an obligation to speak out and make sure there’s no collateral injustice.”

Mark Shepard's chat with Stephen Jackson.
Mark Shepard’s chat with Stephen Jackson.Stefano Giovannini

“I have a great deal of respect for him,” Shepard added of Jackson. “I wanted to pick his brain.”

Jackson had come to the defense of DeSean, who in early July had shared with his 1.4 million Instagram followers an anti-Semitic quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler that spoke of a Jewish “plan for world domination.” (DeSean later apologized, accepted a trip to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz with a Holocaust survivor and received an unspecified fine from the Eagles, who cited “conduct detrimental to the team.”)

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“The fact that [DeSean] put the quote out there and Stephen Jackson basically said, ‘Yeah, you’re right,’ that was an endorsement,” said Shepard. (A representative for Stephen Jackson didn’t return a request for comment.)

Shepard told The Post that in calling out Jackson, his goal was to have “a constructive dialogue.” Over the past several months, the teen has also waded into debates with white nationalists, primarily on TikTok.

“The reality is we don’t know each other’s experiences,” Shepard said. “If we pretend that we do, that’s not productive.”

While Shepard said he received private messages voicing support, others echoed anti-Semitic sentiments, including Jackson during the clip.

Mark Shepard
Mark ShepardStefano Giovannini

“You know who the Rothschilds are?” Jackson asked Shepard of the French-Jewish banking family. “They control all the banks, they own all the banks.” (Jackson has since apologized for the remarks, and Shepard said the media blew them out of proportion.)

In the video, Shepard stays calm.

“I wasn’t going to excoriate him for echoing tropes that have been around [for years],” he said. “He didn’t say it in a hateful way … I feel like the better thing to do is explain to him why that’s not true.”

“Much love, bro,” Jackson told Shepard at the end of their talk.

And Shepard praised Jackson for giving his time and hopes that they can continue the dialogue down the line.

“He’s not a bad person at all, not even a little bit,” said Shepard of Jackson. “He’s literally openly trying to facilitate a difficult discussion at a time like this.”

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Living | New York Post