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The Black Rage Khallid Abdul Muhammad had so carefully finessed with super-rationality to cover up his extremist agenda degenerated into a kind of obscene entertainment when he suddenly reappeared in New York City recently, vowing that "no devil, racist, cantankerous, constipated cracker like Mayor Giuliani can stop" his controversial Million Youth March.
Within hours of his arrival, the antsy ultranationalist, who heads the Texas-based, shotgun-toting New Black Panther Party and New Black Muslim Movement, began roaming Harlem with a gang of wannabe revolutionaries trying to force-feed a fast-food militancy to residents, allegedly in preparation for all-out war with the "Y2KKK-ready" NYPD. One black leader who got in the way was sidelined by unnecessary roughness, allegedly sanctioned by the former high school starting quarterback.
Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir, governing by tantrum and vendetta, declared last week that, barring a court order, Khallid had been denied a permit to stage the so-called race rally on September 4. Giuliani and Safir have repeatedly denounced the event, which organizers say is dedicated to black and Latino youth, as a "hate march."
Last year's rally ended with 28 injuries when police in riot gear stormed the stage on orders from the mayor, and Khallid exhorted the crowd to beat or shoot officers who attacked them. Since that September day when Khallid was hustled off the stage by his personal bodyguards, Harlemites say he rarely has been seen in the community and has done little to build grassroots support.
Backing for the disgraced former Nation of Islam spokesman dwindled to such a low ebb that black politicians who had been reluctant to criticize him for fear of alienating segments of the African American community began to publicly shout him down. "This march shouldn't take place in Harlem or anywhere but hell, and Khallid can go down there with it," said Harlem councilman Bill Perkins, who has surfaced as Khallid's most outspoken critic. "There is no support for it. Period."
Frustrated and isolated an alienation some say is closely related to his estrangement from his spiritual father, Minister Louis Farrakhan Khallid this year unleashed his ramshackle "people's militia," reportedly to push the city toward a showdown. Last week, as Perkins left a forum at which Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley had fielded questions from Harlemites, he was menaced by members of the group and derided as an "Uncle Tom" for not supporting the march. Someone told him: "We should kill people like you."
The bitter feud with Perkins stemmed partly from Khallid's disappointment with the councilman's background investigation of him after a war of words erupted between the city and organizers around the issue of public safety for the 1998 Million Youth March. According to Perkins, during a meeting with organizers at the Emmanuel A.M.E Church in Harlem, Khallid told him not to needlessly worry himself about public safety because he had been "head of security" for the historic Million Man March. Perkins contacted Minister Benjamin F. Muhammad, the former Benjamin Chavis, who is Farrakhan's chief representative in New York, about Khallid's alleged boast. (At the time, Khallid's march was competing for attention with the Million Youth Movement in Atlanta, which was staging a march that same weekend, backed by Farrakhan.)
Minister Benjamin asked Perkins to put his queries about Khallid in writing. Farrakhan himself responded to four questions raised by Perkins: No, Khallid had not been security chief for the Million Man March. That task was left to D.C. police, Capitol police, federal marshals, and the Fruit of Islam, the NOI's paramilitary force. Another Perkins question: Is Khallid a member in good standing of the Nation of Islam?
Farrakhan replied that Khallid was still a member although the Minister had distanced himself from his former disciple, saying, "At present . . . he is not under the jurisdiction nor the spiritual direction of the leadership of the Nation of Islam." Farrakhan added that Khallid was "free to do that which he feels is in his best interest and in the best interest of those who follow him."
In an interview last year, Khallid told the Voice that Perkins either had misunderstood him or deliberately was trying to embarrass him. "I told him that I had trained most of the men who worked out the logistics of the security arrangement for the Million Man March," explained the former captain of the FOI. "How could I claim to be head of security for the Million Man March when everybody knew that I was no longer in Minister Farrakhan's inner circle of leadership?"
Perkins's appearance at last week's forum in Harlem, which was organized by Reverend Al Sharpton, became a rallying point for Khallid, but the selective harassment is disturbing to some who say there are many more apt political enemies on whom Khallid might have focused. Since the militia embarked on its campaign to confront opponents of the march, none of the symbols of black oppression the mayor, the police commissioner have been accosted.
Bypassed on the militia's list of possible targets was Imam Ezekiel Pasha, leader of Masjid Malcolm Shabazz on 116th Street, who Giuliani appointed to a controversial 15-member commission to change the City Charter. Imam Pasha, a member of the racially mixed American Muslim Mission led by Wallace Mohammed, has criticized Khallid on the explosive issue of anti-Semitism. But the two Muslims have clashed before. In 1992, Khallid berated Wallace for being the first Islamic leader to pray in the "racist United Snakes Senate," which approves "the guns and bombs that blow up . . . people throughout the world."
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?
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.
Some of Sharpton's confrontations involved hardcore racist and anti-Semitic overtones. In December 1995, a black man barged into Freddy's Fashion Mart in Harlem, shot and wounded four people, then set a fire that killed him and seven others. The man was protesting the eviction of a black-owned record store by Fred Harari, the Jewish owner of Freddy's from whom the black businessman had subleased space. Sharpton, who did not know the assailant, had attended one protest and said during his weekly radio broadcast, "We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business." The tragedy became the buzzword for racial and economic tensions in Harlem. Sharpton has since apologized for making the remark.
In contrast, supporters of Khallid Muhammad view the incident at Freddy's as one of the more effective examples of confrontational politics. Khallid, they contend, will never publicly apologize to Jews, whom he calls "bloodsuckers" of the black community. An apology, they say, would dishonor the memory of the Egungun, Khallid's African warrior ancestors.
Even when black politicians and black community activists come together, as they occasionally do in New York City, both sides are suspicious of each other. At first glance, they would seem to be natural allies, but that's not the reality.
For example, it took years for black politicians and black Muslims to see eye to eye on the direction of blacks in America. In the early '60s, at the height of the attraction to black nationalism and black power, black politicians and Muslims grew wary of each other. But some, like Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., maintained a mutual though fragile relationship with the Muslims. The audacious Powell was singled out by Nation of Islam patriarch Elijah Muhammad as one politician deserving of the Muslims' support.
"To my knowledge, the strongest politician of our kind, or the one who comes nearest to giving you political justice in the white courts (if he had our complete backing) is Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. though he is not a Muslim," Elijah said in "The Time and What Must Be Done," a 1964 speech. "A Muslim politician is what you need. But Congressman Powell is not afraid and would not be easily bribed, for he is not hungry. . . . We must give the Black politician, who is for us, the total backing of the 22 million. He must be under an oath to do for you, as near as possible, what you elect him to do or die, if necessary."
Black Muslims began to ask a lot of questions of black politicians, like Powell's successor, Charles Rangel, who was often in the company of Malcolm X. Rangel also knew Louis Farrakhan. "I knew young Farrakhan, so we go way back," the congressman recalls.
Just before the 1993 mayoral election, Farrakhan tried to hold a "Stop the Killing" rally in Yankee Stadium. The incumbent mayor, David Dinkins, welcomed the Minister, but his opponent, Rudolph Giuliani, opposed the rally, declaring that if he were mayor, he would not allow it. Although Farrakhan eventually had his rally, and delivered his message, at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, it was Rangel who worked behind the scenes to ensure the NOI's rights were protected.
"The interesting thing is that while the newspapers were so busy saying that the Muslims were coming to Yankee Stadium, I was on the phone talking with Chicago and working out something because the last thing they wanted was to get involved in the mayor's race," Rangel recalls. "They wanted to have a rally, and what happened was that the contract said that they could have this space unless there was a sport event. The scheduling then went back to the city, and they gave the date to the Department of Parks. They're blaming them for trying to upset Dinkins, but I have never met with any group that is more dignified and courteous than the Nation of Islam. In the eye of a tornado created by the press they never got involved in that."
Additional reporting: Karen Mahabir, AP, and UPI.