Disarming Black Rage in Jasper

Behind the scenes with the new Black Panthers in their shotgun diplomacy with Texas lawmen

Visibly annoyed, Muhammad turned his back on Pearson and Fields and shouted to a group of Panthers milling about an old Chevy Suburban. "Brother Robert! Brother Robert! Will you come here a second with one of the assault weapons?" Muhammad wanted to demonstrate that the guns were loaded.

Brother David, leader of a Dallas Panthers unit, responded instead. "Could you . . . release a shell from this shotgun?" asked Muhammad, indicating with hand signals thathe did not want the weapon test-fired. Pearson adjusted the bone-handled Colt .45 on his gunbelt and seemed to stiffen as an anxious Brother David aimedthe rifle toward the ground, released the safety pin, and ejected a bullet.

"He needs to point it to the right," Pearson instructed.

"Point it straight up!" Fields muttered, gesturing nervously. "Jesus!" he added, motioning toward the marksman and urging him to point the weapon "in the air"--high above the spectators' heads.

Pearson, gritting his teeth, complained that Brother David had placed everyone in a potentially dangerous situation. Had the gun accidentally discharged, the exploding bullet would have whizzed off like shrapnel "and everybody on this side [indicating where the reporter was standing next to him and Fields] woulda gotten shot."

Brother David's alleged mishandling of the gun reinforced the cops' fears about the potential deadliness of sophisticated assault weapons in the hands of trigger-happy militants. "When we get over there, if need be, I wanna be able to . . . speak with you, just like now," Fields pleaded with Muhammad.

"If the need arises," Pearson chimed in. "You gotta have someone to talk to." Muhammad's grimmace morphed into an ugly grin. Was it because of the cops' condescending demeanor or their demeaning implication that he should run to them if theKlan proved too much for the Panthers and Muslims?Fields hastened to explain that he was only trying to give Muhammad a "heads up" on suspicious Klan activity since Muhammad had informed authorities that the white supremacists were "talking about taking up arms" to confront them.

"I wanna let you know . . . 'Hey, these guys gettin' ready to do this,' " Fields continued.

"Within reason, I'll wait," Muhammad said, but in the same breath he added that "in life-threatening situations" he would not defer to authorities "over no long period of time."

The Klan rally had gotten under way, and Muhammad, eager to put on a show of raw black power, tacitly agreed to work with Pearson and Fields since, as he put it,the Panthers and Muslims would not be dealing directly with Jasper police chief Harlan Alexander and sheriff Billy Rowles, who "have need and reason to save face for election purposes [and] put out that report that the guns were empty."(Alexander could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the sheriff said, "We were told the guns were not loaded.") But as he left, Muhammad warned Pearson and Fields that the Panthers and Muslims would not be expressing outrage on cue from them. "Again," Muhammad reiterated, "we expect you to carry out your duties as you feel is necessary and I hope that you understand that we feel that [we] have to do what we will do."

Although a potentially lethal scenario had been laid out for him by black intermediaries, Khallid Abdul Muhammad had no intention of "obeying cracker laws" in Jasper. Upon his signal, the Panthers and Muslims jumped in their vehicles and sped to the vicinity of the Klan rally.

At a rendezvous point, where everyone could hear the rhetoric of Imperial Wizard Darrell Flinn of the Knights of the White Kamellia booming over loudspeakers, the militants got out of their vehicles and ran through a plan of action that neither Pearson, Fields, nor the throng of reporters and TV crews were privy to. By then, a crowd of about 50 blacks had joined their ranks.

Muhammad and Aaron Michaels ordered hand-picked members of the cadre to remain behind with their guns while, they, Malik Shabazz, and Quannel X scouted for loopholes in the tight security net. Suddenly, Muhammad and the crowd began charging down the street, chanting, "Black power!" and overrunning security checkpoints. The demonstrators mounted the grassy knoll of the courthouse square, coming within a few yards of the enemy, who were bedecked in their traditional coned hoods and robes.

"Bring 'n da Glocks! Bring 'n da noiz!" chanted a teenager who said he was a Jasper High School student. If the Panthers gave him a shotgun, he said, he would "run right up in there an' put more holes through 'em devils' hoods." When a black man, who was not with Muhammad's group, shouted at the Klan, "Go home! Go home! Your time is up. Get outta here!" Klan leaders stopped speaking and began to blast rock music.

The high school student countered with "Somebody's Gotta Die," a gangsta rap by the Notorious B.I.G: " '[R]e-tal-iation for this one won't be min-i-mal,' " he intoned, reciting the appropriate bellicose lyrics in the slain rapper's hit song. " 'Somebody's gotta die. . . . If I go, you gotta go. Let da gunshots flow.' "

Meanwhile, Muhammad kept challenging the riot-gear-clad cops, shoving and pushing as they pushed back, trying to break through their ranks to get his hands on the "nigga hataz."

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