At Each Other's Throats

Political retribution in Harlem in the wake of the Million Youth March

"I said, 'Then what is it about?' She said, 'You got the brother arrested and you got people hurt.' "Ford was referring to Shaheed Muhammad, a member of the organizing committee who was arrested for allegedly punching a police officer in the face. Shaheed, also known as James Washington, surrendered to police a few days later following a manhunt. Prosecutors now admit that Shaheed is not on the police videos that have been released to the media, but say a camera caught the activist in the area where the injured officer was moments after the alleged attack. (Ford did not return Voice phone calls for comment.)

Paterson says he was puzzled by Ford's accusation that he is responsible for Shaheed's arrest and injuries suffered by about 15 cops and five civilians. "I really couldn't get that. And she said [I was] working with Giuliani and the police! I said, 'Well, neither Giuliani nor the police have been willing to talk to me through this whole thing. But while we're on that subject neither have you.' She says, 'I reached out to you. ' And I said, 'Erica, I've never met you before in my life until today.' " Ford then pointed to Paterson's aide, Joe Haslip, insisting that she had reached out to him but got no response.

Haslip recalls that he had been contacted by Ford, but adds that he told her to make an appointment to see Paterson. "You never came in, but we can talk now," Haslip told Ford. Haslip, Paterson, and other witnesses said they heard Ford shout, "Fuck you! I don't wanna talk now!"

Ford's enraged supporters yelled obscenities at Paterson, calling him a "sellout," and threatened to run him out of office. Viola Plummer, a senior member of the December 12th Movement, whose leadership dominates the New York Black Power Organizing Committee, finally intervened. "She came over and told me she could explain because Erica was, like, insane," Paterson says. "They had to, like, take her away." (Plummer did not respond to Voice queries.)

According to Paterson, Plummer said organizers had been upset with him for "contradicting" Ford when she appeared on Open Line, a controversial black talk show on KISS-FM, prior to the march. "I said, 'When I was on KISS, Erica came on and said most of our youth are on drugs and in prison.' I said, 'I would expect Rudolph Giuliani to say that. But I'm not gonna allow that to be said about young people in my district by Giuliani or Erica or you or anyone else.' "

The sidewalk squabble shifted to City Hall's alleged control of black politicians in Harlem. Roger Wareham, an attorney and member of the New York Black Power Organizing Committee, had charged that Giuliani checks the pulses of elected officials before making statements they all seem to back. "Giuliani doesn't check anyone's pulse before he does what he's gonna do," Paterson opines. "That's what part of this whole fight is about. The city never cooperates with anybody. You could be a radical or a Tom, or whatever. As long as you're black and live in Harlem, Giuliani doesn't talk to anybody. They seem to have it in their minds that there was some kind of tacit approval [between black politicians and Giuliani] before Harlem got turned into an armed camp. But that's not the Rudy Giuliani I know."

According to Paterson, Plummer concluded that although they espouse opposite political views, both show respect for others who disagree with them. "She said, 'When I open my mouth in public I don't insult people and use profanity and try to get a whole lotta people killed.' " Paterson believes that remark was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Khallid Muhammad's choleric temper and racist taunts.

The fallout over the Million Youth March--shaping up as an angry backlash against what one militant refers to as the "malignant Tomism that hurt blacks"--will weigh heavily in the reelection campaigns of David Paterson, Charles Rangel, C. Virginia Fields, and Bill Perkins in 2001. At the end of Khallid's speech, he singled out and then lampooned the key targets of an insurgent throw-the-bums-out movement.

"I know ole bootlickin' Charlie Rangel is somewhere out in the crowd peeing in his pants," poked the racial raconteur. "I know ole Bill Perkins is out there, scared to death. I know ole David Paterson is out there, scared to death, because you're bootlickin', butt-naked, buckdancin', bamboozled, half-baked, half-fried, sissyfied, punkified, pasteurized, homogenized niggaz! Let us get them out of office and put new, young, black leadership in office."

Most susceptible is Perkins, the freshman councilman whose vocal opposition to Khallid and the rally won him both pats on the back and a menacing display of clenched fists. At the march, Khallid's trusted adviser, attorney Malik Z. Shabazz, introduced Conrad Muhammad as "the future replacement for Bill Perkins."

The political lowdown uptown is that if the Reverend Al Sharpton runs for mayor, Conrad will challenge Perkins on a Sharpton ticket. Perkins would have to reluctantly align himself with Sharpton nemesis and mayoral hopeful Alan Hevesi. The city comptroller had vowed during the 1997 mayoral race that he would not support Sharpton even if he won the Democratic primary.

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