'Freddy's Not Dead'

A black protest leader reemerges three years after the 'massacre' at a Harlem clothing store. But why?

"Yo, whites been dominating us for years, yo," Moore argued. "You gotta git your own business and stop worrying about the white man. Git your own shit!"

"You don't even know the truth, you don't even know they record," Powell asserted.

But Moore insisted, "You git your own shit and don't worry about these white people!"

Morris Powell: Activist has ''unfinished business'' with store owner.
Morris Powell: Activist has ''unfinished business'' with store owner.

"Black people ain't got no businesses out here where you can make money," Powell said. "They sufferin'. They're going outta business."

An associate of Powell, an unidentified woman with dreadlocks, pleaded with him to end the argument with the stranger. "Never mind," Powell said, turning his back on Moore, "they're gonna close down!"

Continuing to denounce the boycott, Moore walked over to a reporter. "I'm against it because even though they're white, the man that owns the United Church of Prayer is black," he said. "He rented to the white people. And the white man hired black people."

The woman with dreadlocks interrupted, claiming that Moore had been planted by Harari to disrupt the boycott. "He probably work for him," she speculated.

As he departed, Moore examined one of the flyers that claimed that Mulocko, the arsonist, had "a long history of . . . protesting economic terrorism on 125th Street" and that he "demonstrated a real regard for the lives of people of color."

"I was right there when the fire happened," Moore said. "It was fucked up! But a white man didn't go in there and burn it down. A black man went up there and burn that shit down." Much of Morris Powell's "unfinished business" with Fred Harari revolves around his contention that a sloppy police investigation as well as political and media posturing may have buried "the facts we need to know" about the tragedy that occurred at the store.

He dismisses as "a cold-blooded lie" rumors that he planned the attack on Freddy's.

William Bratton, the police commissioner at the time, told reporters that nine days before the incident, a store security guard had overheard a protester say, "We're going to come back with 20 niggers and loot and burn the Jew." Police said that Mulocko had taken part in at least one demonstration, but acknowledged that he was not the one who threatened to "loot and burn."

On the day of the fire, according to police, Mulocko burst into Freddy's with a gun in one hand and a flammable liquid in the other. Declaring, "It's on now!" he allegedly shouted for all the blacks to get out, began shooting, and splashed the liquid over racks of clothes, setting them afire.

At the time, Powell and other leaders of the boycott denied knowing Mulocko. But today Mulocko is revered as a martyr.

"We can never disrespect the honor of a Black Man who struggled for his people to be free based on the hearsay of a racist press, racist police, racist mayor and sell-out politicians," Powell wrote in one of the "fact sheets" he hands out to shoppers.

In Powell's version of what happened, "Eyewitnesses have said that they saw police lay down outside the store and fire [into it] with their 9mms. Have you [seen] a ballistics report on the bullets fired?"

But if Abugunde Mulocko did not start the fire, who did?

Says Powell, "Eyewitnesses have said the police fired tear gas into the clothing store. To date, the only real witnesses reporting what happened in the store worked for Freddy's or the police."

And there are questions for which Powell believes he may never get straight answers. For example, "How did the owner and bookkeeper (who are white) escape from the basement of Freddy's?" Powell claims that they got out through "a hole in the back of their office" and "coulda saved the other seven people" but they didn't.

"It's totally ridiculous," says Rimberg, brushing aside Powell's concerns about the fairness of the investigation. "The facts of the fire were investigated by the police department and their conclusions are what their conclusions are."

In court papers stating why the temporary restraining order should be granted, Rimberg contends there is "a very real danger that a repeat of the 1995 incident could occur." He alleges that on November 30, demonstrators warned that "someone will be killed this week in Uptown Jeans"; that they "threatened to burn down" the store; and that shoppers were menaced, abused with racial slurs, and that one demonstrator spat on a shopper.

Steve Brodsky, the manager of the store, says that the current protests "came as a surprise." Harari, he claims, recognizes the black community's growing economic clout and has worked hard to win back his customers. He notes that Harari has donated scholarships to Rice High School, a Catholic school for boys, and sponsored numerous sporting events in Harlem.

He points to a framed letter prominently displayed at the checkout counter. It was written by Dante Blum to Harari, thanking him for his financial support of the Harlem Junior Tennis Program.

"I think that the community knows that we honor and respect them," Brodsky asserts."They come like family."

"Can he bring back those eight lives that was lost in there because of the crimes and violations he committed?" asks Powell. "We're gonna take our money back from the enemy," the activist vows.

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