By Any Means (Unnecessary)

A History of the Confrontational Politics That Led to the 'Assault' on Councilman Bill Perkins by the Bully Boys of The Million Youth March

In 1997, aware that Khallid had been ostracized by Wallace's faction, the top leadership of the Senegalese Muslim community, who follow the teachings of Cheik Amadou Bamba from a black liberation theology perspective, tried to make peace and invited Khallid to Imam Pasha's mosque to "make salaat" (worship) and address them.

"When they came to get me, they had me wait up the street from the masjid in an apartment with some of their leadership," Khallid recalled in an interview last year. "They let the officials at the masjid know that I was coming, and they said, 'No, he can't come in here.' They tried to negotiate," he added. "These Muslims were outraged— never heard of a Muslim who can't come into a mosque to make salaat when Giuliani had been there twice."

After the verbal assault on Perkins, some in the African American community began to debate the usefulness of such erratic confrontational politics. Ultimately, what does it accomplish? they ask. But, ask others, why does everyone seem to be denouncing Khallid for tactics that other well-known black activists have used effectively in the past?

In His Face: Someone Told Perkins, "We Should Kill People Like You."
photo: Jay Muhlin
In His Face: Someone Told Perkins, "We Should Kill People Like You."

Khallid Muhammad is not the inventor of the black activist style of in-your-face politics. Borrowing from the notoriety of others, he simply made it more feared. In addition to his hero, Malcolm X, Khallid often has been compared to two other controversial figures in black nationalist history. One arrived in Harlem in 1932 to lead the struggle for jobs.

"He called himself Sufi Abdul Hamid, certainly the most recent of several aliases he had adopted in a checkered, questionable past," writes historian Charles V. Hamilton. "Later, because of his tactics and anti-Semitic speeches, others, black and white, would call him the 'Black Hitler.' A tall man with a brightly colored cape draped over his shoulders and wearing a Hindu-type turban and long brown boots, he held forth on Harlem street corners, calling all who would listen and follow, mostly young unemployed Negro males attracted by his flamboyant dress and strident language, to walk picket lines and support boycotts of white (he often said Jewish) racist employers."

Rioting in Harlem in 1964 helped to further the cause of another nationalist agitator. "[A] rights leader named Jesse Gray, one of Harlem's angriest protesters, addressed an emergency open meeting in a local Presbyterian church, and called for '100 black revolutionaries who are ready to die,' " Neil Hickey and Ed Edwin wrote in their book, Adam Clayton Powell and the Politics of Race. " 'There is only one thing that can correct the situation and that's guerrilla warfare!' He exhorted these 'revolutionaries' to establish platoons and to recruit 100 men each. 'This city can be changed by 50,000 well-organized Negroes. They can determine what will happen in New York City!' He was cheered wildly by the 500 Negroes present. A black nationalist issued an appeal that 'all you black people that have been in the armed services and know anything about guerrilla warfare should come to the aid of our people. If we must die, let us die scientifically!' "

More than three decades later, as condemnation rained down on Khallid following the Perkins incident, New Yorkers suddenly are longing for the nonviolent tactics of Al Sharpton, who has called on Perkins and Khallid to work out their differences. "Now the big test comes for Al Sharpton," asserted a NY1 viewer in a voice-mail commentary on the program Inside City Hall. "If Sharpton sides with Khallid Muhammad, he will probably ruin what little chance he had of becoming a mainstream politician. This is a big test. What side will Al Sharpton take? If Sharpton goes with Khallid Muhammad, I believe he is finished in New York politics."

In March, Sharpton was the key organizer during two weeks of peaceful sit-ins blocking the entrance to police headquarters to protest the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo. The so-called "winter of discontent" rallies resulted in the arrests of a number of black and white celebrities and hundreds of others, including rabbis, gays, and lesbians.

Since then, Sharpton has been crisscrossing the country, participating in other civil disobedience campaigns to draw attention to police brutality. In July, the reverend and about 75 other demonstrators, protesting the practice of racial profiling by New Jersey State troopers, were arrested. Sharpton was charged with blocking a state roadway, and the others with violating municipal traffic regulations.

But 10 years ago, not all of Sharpton's confrontations ended peacefully. In 1989, after a judge released on bond two members of a white Bensonhurst mob involved in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins, Sharpton and angry supporters of the youth's family clashed with a defense attorney and members of the news media. Sharpton, an adviser to the Hawkins family, interrupted an interview that reporters were conducting with lawyer Stephen Murphy, calling him a murderer.

"We're going to get you this time, Murphy!" Sharpton screamed. "We'll see you tomorrow in Bensonhurst."

A few minutes later, outside the Brooklyn courthouse, a Sharpton supporter allegedly attacked a WNYW-TV camera crew that was taping the Hawkins family. Technician Barbara Lloyd was treated for back injuries and cameraman Nick Jutchenko for multiple injuries. New York Newsday photographer Lilliana Nieto also was set upon by the group while she took photographs of Lloyd being attacked. She said Sharpton yelled, "Get her," and someone smacked her in the face and head. Sharpton later phoned the television station and apologized.

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