Black Hebrew Israelites: New York's Most Obnoxious Prophets

Why do they scream and curse at you?

Just outside the assembled crowd, another teen yelled, "Remember, there is no God!"

This made the audience—who had initially been adversarial toward the missionaries—now sympathize with them.

"What do you mean, there is no God?" a young "so-called black woman" retorted. "There is a God, nigger! You remember that!"

Guess who's coming to Seder dinner? The Ambassadors of Christ read from Scriptures in their Washington Heights lair.
Michael Premo
Guess who's coming to Seder dinner? The Ambassadors of Christ read from Scriptures in their Washington Heights lair.
Obama is a monkey and a devil in materials that are anything but slick.
Michael Premo
Obama is a monkey and a devil in materials that are anything but slick.

Just how dangerous are these guys? They're such a fixture of New York that many city residents have grown to tune them out.

"I don't think they'd ever actually hurt white people," says the woman who studied with them two decades ago. "In the first place, they're too cowardly to actually ever do anything. And more importantly, if they thought they were going to do anything, the white people wouldn't let them be out there!"

The Jamaican woman who has dated one of them isn't so convinced. "Everyone thinks they're not armed," she says. "They are. And they use a lot of violence." (When asked by the Voice about carrying guns, a member of the House of Israel said, "So what? There's nothing wrong with being armed and ready to protect yourself.")

The NYPD has apparently decided that the best course of action with Black Hebrew Israelites is to ignore them. "Most cops try to avoid those guys," a source in the department tells the Voice. "The last thing you want to do is get into a confrontation with them, and then actually have to arrest them. You'll be doing paperwork for days."

To get a sense of how dangerous they are considered by those who know them best—the beat cops of Times Square—the Voice took a stroll on a recent Saturday night to conduct an informal poll.

"They don't need no permit. They're not hurting anybody," said the first cop we talked to. (Moments before, one of the House of Israel members had been shrieking, "What this country needs is a thousand Jared Loughners!")

A second officer couldn't be questioned. He was busy, at that moment, bending a white teenage boy over the hood of his car and pretending to handcuff him, while the boy's friend took a picture they could post on Facebook for the folks back home. (About this time, an Ambassador of Christ was screaming that the city needs more Maksim "Subway Slasher" Gelmans.)

A third officer noted that Black Hebrew Israelites have permission to say whatever they want, as loud as they want, as long as they don't block traffic or use sound amplification. He said that anyone who had a problem with them "should call 3-1-1 and complain to the mayor." He agreed that they harassed people and thought they could flip at any moment.

"Everyone's got their First Amendment rights," he said with a sigh and a shrug.

Watching them in action in Times Square, it's easy to see how some of the Ambassadors of Christ are outcasts. While Hashar and his captains preach at the pedestrians on the sidewalk, the backbenchers are relegated to facing the gutter. They literally have the backs of the speakers, living gargoyles of defense who rarely share the limelight.

One of those keeping watch recently was a light-skinned man with a trim beard. His coffee-colored face was twitching nervously, like a chipmunk on Four Loko. Eyes as wide as hubcaps, he scanned his surroundings with seeming terror. His lips were trembling.

He looked so pathetic, it was almost easy to feel sorry for him.

Two white men passed by in front of him in Broadway's gutter.

"What-what-what are you looking at, f-f-faggy?" he stuttered slightly. He raised his arms to intimidate them as they looked at him with shock. "That's right. Keep walking, fa-fa-faggots."

sthrasher@villagevoice.com

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