Disarming Black Rage in Jasper

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

"Make way for the hangin' judge!" a black youth shouted. Shabazz snatched a bullhorn from a Panther protester and proclaimed: "Black power!" As the crowd responded, a black woman demanded, "Take ya hood off!" Said a white man: "Cowards!"

Unable to break through, Muhammad finally spun around and told his followers, "Let's go get the guns!" He returned to the rally in time to hear Police Chief Alexander shout an order to remove the Klan from the lawn. Before reluctantly agreeing to leave, the imperial wizard--who told reporters earlier that his group had been invited by several local residents--lobbed this parting shot: "African Americans break the law and have their way. If you don't wake up, you'll lose your lives."

As the Klan departed from the courthouse lawn, Muhammad askedhis posse, "Are you with me? We can take the no-good bastards!" and the group began chasing after the retreating Klan with all the bedlam of a fox hunt. Believing the Klan were headed for two white buses parked behind the courthouse, Muhammad and the militants raced to the parking lot. There Muhammad came face-to-face with the burly police chief, Harlan Alexander.

The chief and other cops surrounded Muhammad, isolating him from the crowd, which was attempting to block some Klan members from getting into their cars. "Get your hands off me, man!" Muhammad told Alexander, who had grabbed Muhammad's shirt when he tried to break free.

Both men stared at each other. "Am I breaking the laws being here?" Muhammad finally asked, shattering the tense silence.

"You will be if you're gonna cause problems," the chief replied.

"Am I breaking the law now?" Muhammad demanded to know.

"Khallid, Sir, I'm asking you not to," Alexander pleaded, his lips twitching, eyes reddening. The chief, law enforcement sources claimed afterward, was trying desperately to avoid bloodshed. But for the outnumbered Panthers and Muslims a shootout with authorities was a possibility if Muhammad had been arrested or injured.

"Don't let 'em get into the cars like that!" Muhammad shouted, tiptoeing behind the human wall that imprisoned him. Then he looked around him, apparently realizing that his followers could die--not in the desired confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan but senselessly, at the hands of gung-ho redneck cops. He decided not tofuel the rage anymore.

"No deals cut on the side," he announced to assure his followers he had not punked out. "Maybe we should let 'em out," he reasoned. "Maybe we should let 'em out."

That "strategic move," as Muhammad would later describe the concession that liberated him from his captors, broke the standoff with Alexander.

As they headed back to their cars, Quannel X informedMuhammad of the arrest of a Panther who allegedly had knocked a white man off his motorbike. "He didn't touch nobody so they shouldn'tarrest him," Quannel said.

"The man fell off his bike," Muhammad fretted, hinting at the defense he intended to advocate. (The Panther, it was reported later, had tried to impede the departure of a Klan member. He was charged with disorderly conduct and released.)

On the way back, Malik Shabazz led protesters in chanting, "Fuck the Klan!" Muhammad paced the street silently, occasionally smiling when reporters asked, "What have you accomplished here?" The man who said he had come to Jasper with "our God and our guns" knew that he had accomplished something bigger than many of his black critics are afraid to admit--he had stood up for their rights.

Research assiatance: W. Michelle Beckles

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