Rage Against Muhammad

An investigation by the joint terrorist task force adds to the Million Youth March leader's woes

On Monday, Roger Wareham, a former New York 8 member and staunch critic of Sharpton, who is now an attorney, appeared for the first time at Sharpton's House of Justice in Harlem at a news conference the minister had called to announce that he was seeking to reopen negotiations with the city corporation counsel. If that fails, Sharpton says, he will support Wareham's and Malik Shabazz's move to fight the issue in court. Prior to that declaration, Sharpton had arranged a meeting between Muhammad and his coordinators and newly elected Harlem councilman William Perkins, a Rangel protégé who is opposed to the march. ("The organizers never touched base with the community and in effect were trying to bogart us into supporting something we know nothing about," Perkins claims. "You can't have a block party without going through your own community planning board. There is a fundamental issue of respect.")

"In the meeting, everyone said they're not talking about bearing arms or violence," Sharpton recalls. "They're talking about young people, about cleaning up rap music, and they're looking at their lives in a positive way. They said they wanted people like me to talk about black power from a voting standpoint because of what I have accomplished in electoral politics."

Sharpton also recently convened a meeting of the Grand Council of Guardians and 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement to determine whether Charles Billups and Eric Adams, the leaders of the two black cop groups, had reservations about the march or would be willing to supplement security by the NYPD.

"They have people that did the detail when Nelson Mandela was on the corner of 125th Street and Seventh Avenue," Sharpton argues. "They had backed-up streets, tens of thousands of people out there, in the middle of a work day, in the middle of the week, and there was no danger. How can there be danger on a Saturday when you're not going to have people working? The black cops, who told me they don't see this as a safety issue, have not even been granted a meeting with the police commissioner."

Sharpton has resisted calls to criticize Muhammad, whom he befriended after Muhammad launched a blistering attack on him during his 1994 race for the U.S. Senate. Muhammad had erroneously believed that Sharpton, who denounced Muhammad's controversialKean College speech, was among a group of black leaders who urged Farrakhan to sever ties with him. At a UAM rally sponsored by Sharpton allyMaddox, Muhammad described Sharpton to the crowd asa "wannabe S-I-N-ator" who "should be running for the border" instead of forpolitical office. "Rollers have messed up your brain," he asserted. "How you gon' get respect when you ain't cut your process [hair] yet?"

"I, more than anybody in New York, could denounce this march and denounce Muhammad, and people would understand because he has denounced me, publicly," Sharpton contends. "He has attacked me and I have attacked his speech."

Sharpton points out that there is historical precedent for cooperation between black mainstream preachers and hardcore nationalists. "Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the preeminent black politician in this century, did not run from Malcolm X, who is the hero of Khallid Muhammad," Sharpton argues. "He and Malcolm X worked together. He did not believe the white man was the devil, but that Malcolm X represented the rage of many people that were disaffected and abused by the system, and that his voice needed to be heard and understood. I do not believe in many things Khallid Muhammad preaches and he doesn't believe in what I preach. But just like Adam Powell refused to let them mute the voice of Malcolm X, I will not be part of those who are trying to mute the voice of black rage crying out into the 21st century. I won't be a part of this orgy of denunciation."

Sharpton says the aim is to unify diverse black groups that can speak out against Giuliani's campaign of fear. He added: "Rudy Giuliani would love to go around this country and tell white America, 'I shot down that wild, gun-toting black man who went to Texas and tried to come to New York. I'm the man you need in the White House because I'm the man who can put black folk in their place.' He wants to say, 'I've got a place for Al Sharpton. I don't care how many votes he gets. We're not going to deal with him in the electoral process.'"

Sharpton does not mention names, but he castigates black leaders who will "sacrifice black dignity so that Rudy Giuliani can have a line in his literature to further his political career."

Sharpton may be referring to the hypocrisy of politicians like state comptroller H. Carl McCall. New York's highest elected black official, whom an upstate white town councilman once referred to as "a nigger from Harlem," endorsed the concept of a Million Youth March but blasted "the heinous, hateful and inexcusable remarks made by [Muhammad] over the years." McCall, strikingly, has not issued a similar condemnation of white racist talk show host Bob Grant, who was fired by radio station WABC in April 1996after making remarks about the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

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