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"This is no time to forgive!" added Muhammad, who was flanked by followers disguised with black ski masks. "This is no time to beg for fairness! This is no time for the murderers of our brother to come and sit in our midst, mocking us."
Grandstanding or not, the coalition's inflammatory rhetoric typifies the frustration many African Americans feel about the police. "The New York Police Department's 'Street Crimes Unit' is in fact organized death squads roaming the community under the motto 'We own the night,' " Muhammad charged. The man who urged thousands of participants at his Million Youth March last summer to grab the guns and nightsticks from cops if they were attacked argued that nonviolent civil obedience is not the answer at a time when, as he put it:
"Black men are being shot, six, seven, eight times, some 24, some 11, some 39 and 41 times, nine millimeter clips emptied.
"Black men are being doused in gasoline, set on fire, and burned alive.
"There are known cop codes for killing 'a nigger.' "
Muhammad contended that African Americans who prefer a nonviolent approach to civil rights should remember other past victims of alleged police brutality as well as former L.A. cop Mark Fuhrman's declaration that the policeman is God.
"We remember [racial profiling on] the New Jersey Turnpike, the sodomy, the shame, the mop stick, the cops, Brother Abner Louima." Muhammad insisted that the time has come for blacks in New York to "rise up in self-defense!
"This is the time for the Black Liberation Army!" he argued. "This is the time to speak the language of those whose language is killing, bombing, maiming, lynching, and genocide. This is the time for insurrection."
Muhammad's message to brutal cops was even more direct.
"This is the time for you to come to realize that your violence will bring even more violence on you!" he said. "[This] is the time for you to know that black people are saying that you'll be burying caskets in your white communities. You'll be having funeral processions in your white communities. When black fathers [and] black mothers cry out for the fruit of their womb, their children, this is the time for you to know that your white mothers will shed tears will cry too."
At Sharpton's rally last Saturday, the minister alluded to "other tactics" being advocated by various groups that have sprung up around the Diallo case. "I'm doing our tactics," he maintained. "I'm not arguing with nobody who says, 'Well, I don't believe in marching.' Whatever you believe in do that. You don't see me running outside stopping people . . . so don't get in my way. . . . You don't have to announce it, you don't have to argue about it."
Sharpton's veiled message, however, could strike a discordant tone in Muhammad's camp. Some of Muhammad's allies, who have chided the former Muslim minister for his close ties to Sharpton, have been critical of Sharpton's pacifist approach to racial injustice. "Do what you believe in," Sharpton urged his detractors. "But if you only talking you must not believe in it; you're trying to convince yourself," he said. "You're foaming up your mouth and frowning and looking mean and ain't scaring nobody."
Sharpton addressed the potential for violence during the civil disobedience protests, but said he was worried about retaliation from rogue cops not Muhammad and his followers. "The New York Police Department is on the verge of buckling under in terms of this latest fight around Amadou Diallo and this is the time when rogue cops would be desperate like never before," Sharpton claims. "I absolutely fear that some rogue cops who feel that this is it for them may try something dangerous. There is no way they could get around a movement this big without trying to make an example out of someone. My feeling is that a rogue cop would feel that the one to make an example of is me."
At his rally, parts of Sharpton's speech sounded like his mentor, Dr. King, the night before he was gunned down by a sniper's bullet. He said that after he was booked at Manhattan's 7th Precinct and released, a woman walked up to him and pledged her support for what he was doing, but in the same breath she urged him to be careful "because we are fighting people that will do dangerous things."
Sharpton paused. He told the crowd that he lives in a neighborhood that is patrolled by cops from the 70th Precinct the same precinct in which cops allegedly took Abner Louima to their station house and jammed a toilet plunger up his rectum. He said he often wondered whether he would have the courage to call on officers from that precinct if his family were in danger.
"This is no joke to me," he said. "This is no publicity to me. I know that we can be harmed or even killed."
Additional reporting: Karen Mahabir