By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
A jittery police captain checked his watch and straightened his sagging gun belt. It was 4:20 p.m. last Saturday and the commander's repeated radio calls for cops in riot gear had been muffled by the uproar of a surging crowd. Although 16 unmasked members of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had been hounded from Foley Square, thousands of angry protestersfeeling cheated out of a showdown with the white supremacistslingered to agitate in the streets.
Some turned on grouchy, steely-eyed officerstaunting the "Blu Klux Klan" who, they contended, were all that stood between a multi cultural posse and "death" to "the lynch-mob murderers." But in an uncanny twist of events, others, blacks and Jewswho hours earlier had locked arms in outrage at the Klan's presencesuddenly broke into separate fight clubs, op posing pockets of anti-Klan resistance that began to menace each other with racist and anti-Semitic chantdowns, which almost escalated into fisticuffs.
Tension between the groups erupted after Jewish protesters tried to confront black participants about placards they were carrying, blaming Jews for "the black holocaust" and decrying "revolutionary alliances" with whites. These blacks said they felt that Jewish civil rights activists especially were trying to co-opt "a black-led struggle" against the KKK. "Tell me the last time a bed-sheet cracker hung a muthafuckin' Jew from a tree?" asked a black protester who held up a sign proclaiming: "Niggers, beware of white interlopers. Fight your own battles."
At the intersection of Chambers and Centre streets, where a crowd gathered shouting anti-Klan insults, Maya Paz, an 18-year-old Israeli conscript, broke through police lines and stormed after a tall black man in a gray gabardine suit. Hoisted above the man's head was a huge placard with a picture of a white Jesus, asserting: "The White Man Is The Devil." (Paz would tell the Voice later she heard the man make an anti-Semitic remark and felt compelled to challenge him about it.)
"Get outta my face!" he sneered, turning his back on Paz as he walked away. Paz dogged his every move. "This is wrong!" shouted the teenager with Chelsea Clinton hair, who was wearing a trendy Southpark fall coat, green cargo pants, and dusty army boots. "I have a lot of black and Latino friends," she added. "All my life I have been fighting for racial equality, for these people. What about that? Isn't that something?"
"You're still white!" the man shot back.
"You don't know me," declared the tempestuous idealist, who must report to the Israeli army by January. "I don't even consider myself Jewish." The man turned his back again.
"I had so much to say to him," Paz told a reporter as she propped herself against a lamp post and began to cry. She felt humiliated by a man she thought was united with her in the fight against bigotry, intolerance, and outright hatred in New York City. Now all of her volunteer work surrounding the interracial mobilization against the Klan seemed to be for nought. "I came out at 11 a.m.," Paz recalled. "I had been on my feet all day yesterday trying to bring people here." Maya Paz's appalling en counter with the African American protester typified the white response to raw black rage. Some astonished Jews and whites who helped to organize the largely successful anti-Klan rally walked away teary-eyed and confused. What had they done to African Americans to deserve this? Will blacks ever stop blaming themthe other victims?
SHORTLY AFTER THE KKK departed, Yigal Yavin, a 31-year-old Israeli citizen, surveyed the volatile scene and picked his battles. Yavin wandered into a session of the Hebrew Israelites, a black religious group known for its often profane anti-white and anti-Jewish tirades.
The Israelites have preached in the tourist-packed Times Square area for much of the last two decades, and are regularly seen on public-access TV. But in the last year the group has been denied sound permits and police have harassed its members, forcing them to proselytize elsewhere in the city. In June, the Giuliani administration agreed to pay the Israelites $59,000 to settle a lawsuit, charging that police had infringed on their First Amendment rights.
On Saturday, with bullhorns blaring, the Hebrew Israelites rallied in front of the Court Square Building at 2 Lafayette Street. In defiance of the KKK, they hung a stuffed, hooded, and masked white-clothed doll from one of the points of the Star of David. Yavin approached one of the Black Israelites, as they are also known, and raised questions about the group's anti-Semitic sermons. The Israelite argued that the group teaches what's in the Bible and speaks out against white people only because the Bible identifies them as wicked.
"Forget about your teachings; it's what the Bible teaches. You're a hoax!" the Israelite told Yavin. "The same God that took Moses outta Egypt, he said that you're not a Jew."
"What in your mind is a Jew?" Yavin asked.
"You're all white people," the Israelite re plied. "You use God's word outta your mouth, okay? [Jews] don't know anything about God."
"Keep your eyes on God!" shouted a young white woman who had been listening to the Israelites consign whitey to an everlasting hell. Yavin gave up and left. But another anti-Klan protester, who described himself as a Moroccan-born Jew, picked up the challenge and waded into the group. His debate with one of the leaders about the Nazi Holocaust wound up in a shouting match. The fiercely proud Jew almost had his yarmulke handed to him.