The Hunt for Khallid Abdul Muhammad
As we prepare to close out this rally, we want you to be steadfast. Look these bastards in the eyes, and if anyone attacks you, already decide who will be the one to disconnect the railing where you are, and beat the hell out of them. . . .The no-good bastards! And if you don't have a gun, every one of them has one gun, two guns, maybe three guns. In self-defense, if they attack you, take their goddamn guns from them and use their guns on them! In self-defense. Giuliani is known for taking his police and sending them off in riots. If any one of these bastards riots here today, you take their nightstick the way they did brother Abner Louima and ram it up their behind and jam it down their damn throats!
The notion that Khallid Abdul Muhammad tried to incite a riot with those words at the Million Youth March ,then ran like a bandoliered coward as cops stormed the stage, jibes well with the Giuliani administration's version of the tumultuous events of September 5. More than a month after Police Commissioner Howard Safir seemed to convey the impression that every cop on the beat was hunting an aggressive adversary armed with ideology as well as guns, Khallid has not been heard from or sighted.
Speaking from a safe house ''somewhere in the hells of North AmeriKKKa, ''Khallid told the Voice that he has considered life as America's most wanted fugitive, as well as surrendering if a Manhattan grand jury, which is investigating ''the persons responsible'' for the ''disorder and acts of violence,'' formally charges him.
''I am a freedom fighter,'' declares Khallid, leader of the unified New Black Panther Party and New Black Muslim Movement, which is based in Dallas, Texas, and reportedly is under investigation by the Joint Terrorist Task Force. ''I have to be prepared every day that I open my eyes to fight the enemy in any way that the enemy presents itself,'' added the activist, who is often shadowed by members of his heavily armed militia.
But for now, Khallid--whom attorney Malik Z. Shabazz introduced at the Harlem march as ''that bad, baldheaded black man'' who ''makes the enemy quiver at night''--remains ''underground'' because he feels that Safir has ''created an unsafe environment'' for him. Khallid contends that he is not in hiding. ''I never fear for my life!'' he snaps. ''My God has removed the fear from me!''
Nevertheless, fear of ''white law'' apparently is what Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau wants to instill in Khallid. Judging by published remarks attributed to the aging criminal justice czar, his investigation is leaning toward absolving the cops of any wrongdoing, and throwing the book at the prime suspects. According to New York Times reporter David Habfinger, ''Morgenthaus aid that the inquiry would extend to any criminal activity, whether by demonstrators, speakers or police. He added, however, that he had yet to hear of any crime committed by an officer at the scene.''
Khallid argues that an indictment might work in his favor, and he would call Safir and Mayor Giuliani as witnesses at his trial to account fortheir high crimes and misdemeanors. Ultimately, he asserted, jurors will focus on their reckless attempt to enforce a court order minutes after the march permit expired at 4 p.m.
''I have used white law before to beat them,'' says Khallid, referring to the federal appeals court ruling that blocked the city's attempt to deny a permit for the march, ''and I'll use white law to beat them again.''
Although there is no warrant for Khallid's arrest, nothing prohibits edgy cops from stopping and interrogating him. He notes that he would not be able to achieve his goal (putting Safir and Giuliani on trial)if he is ''laying up in some hospital'' because ''brute-beast Gestapo police'' preempted his day in court with one of their ''classic beatdowns, frame-ups, or assassination attempts.''
If Khallid is indicted and decides to remain underground, the NYPD has no qualms about bringing him in dead or alive. Chief of Patrol John Scanlon told The New York Times that about two hours before the rally, Khallid vowed that ''he was willing to kill or be killed that day to accomplish his agenda.'' Advisers fear that psychological profile of the Black Panther and Muslim leader may already have been disseminated throughout the 40,000-member force by department brass.
Indeed, wildly irrational comments by Safir in the aftermath of the disturbance have both the former Nation of Islam minister of defense and cops looking over their shoulders. Within hours of the incident, Safir told reporters that Khallid should be arrested for trying to incite a riot.
''He invoked a crowd to kill police officers,'' Safir said. ''He then had people throw chairs and barriers at his request at police officers.''
Two days later, Safir reinforced the image of Khallid as a dangerous demagogue. At the West Indian carnival on Labor Day, a black man with dreadlocks allegedly pulled a cop's gun from his holster and shot the officer in the leg. According to police, the suspect fled but left the weapon. Safir said the attack may have been inspired by Khallid's gun talk toward the end of the march.
''I think this is the kind of preaching that Khallid Muhammad is saying, 'Take guns from cops and shoot them!' '' Safir told the press.
Khallid says the suspect ''probably doesn't even know me,'' and may not have attended the march. ''They could have set this up to make me appear to be a cop killer so they could hunt me down and shoot me on sight. The no-good bastards!''
On September 8, the day prosecutors confirmed that there would be a grand jury probe of the violence, Safir said of Khallid, ''This man is like a black Hitler.'' But as the phalanx of menacing cops descended on the crowd, Khallid viewed himself as a black Moses.
''I know what I did was right,'' he argues. ''I wanted to warn my people, to prepare them, to calm them. I believe I kept them from stampeding. I believe it was my divine duty not to incite a riot, not to turn my people against the police because I had told them all along, at every press conference we had before the march, to be courteous and respectful to each other, and even to the police. I said no drugs, no alcohol, be slow to anger. I said it over and over, and that was our posture. I believe I saved their lives.''
It may come as a shock to his critics, but Khallid Abdul Muhammad had decided not to address the crowd at the Million Youth March. For nine months he had worked on his speech entitled ''The Role and Responsibility of Black Youth in Preparing for the 21st Century.''
''I put the finishing touches on it during the time I spent in West Africa,'' he recalls. ''I thought I would shock everybody and just leave them with their mouths open, with nothing to attack me. I could hear them in their disappointment saying, 'After all of his anti-Semitic and racist attacks and worry over what he would say at the rally, Khallid Muhammad didn't even speak. He did not deliver the major address of hate that we were all waiting to hear, that some didn't want to hear.' ''
But around 3:30 p.m., Malik Shabazz, the march's national coordinator, and emcee that day, noticed that his mentor had been ''flippin' the script'' by ushering activists to the microphone who were not scheduled to speak.
''I'm just gonna take over the program and call you on up,'' Malik threatened. ''Don't keep bringing speakers up here. The people might revolt if you don't give the keynote.''
''Trust me,'' Khallid said with a nervous grin. ''It will turn out fine.''
But Khallid relented when some of the women who were onstage ''came to me with a look of fear in their eyes'' and pointed at an advancing throng of police officers. ''I looked back and saw riot-gear clad cops in a marching formation. They kinda had a rhythm,'' Khallid remembers.
Then he heard the brutal staccato of a police chopper, which reminded him of gunshots in a South Central gang driveby. This was the urban warfare Khallid had predicted and feared. This was the aggression he wanted to protect the people from. According to his Rolex watch, it was about 3:40 p.m. ''I saw that the police presence had increased everywhere, down in the trenches, through the center of the people. It looked like they had snipers and sharpshooters on the rooftops.''
Khallid ordered the women and children off the stage. Only a few burly brothers who had been standing security with him remained. He decided there was no time for a speech; it looked like the cops were about to attack and he had to give the people what he considered a warning.
Khallid recalled the events that ensued this way for the Voice:
Convulsed by the chaos, he summoned his warrior African ancestors. Among those he believes answered his plea were Jamaican-born poet and novelist Claude McKay, a voice of the Harlem Renaissance. McKay's battle cry came to mind: ''If we must die, let it not be like hogs/Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot.''
The police chopper swooped over the astonished crowd. In a moment of paranoia, Khallid and his front line resistance thought that the people were being mowed down.
''I knew that potential was there because the police were trying to fill the atmosphere with terror and fear,'' he charges. As rage built within him, Khallid continued to draw inspiration from Claude McKay, muttering, ''Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack/Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!'' Then, as cops bumrushed the stage, he launched into his ''shout out'' to the people to seize the time.
He says while he spoke, Malik and black activist attorney Michael Warren constantly reminded him of the approaching deadline. ''When we knew it was four o'clock, I stopped right on the dot,'' Khallid claims. ''I stepped away from the mike and we cleared the stage completely. We were down the steps, feet just hitting the ground, and that's when we saw them attack the back of the stage.''
Khallid adds that as cops and participants battled, he snatched a black man from members of the riot squad who were pummeling him. ''The strength was there, and I pulled him back into the ranks. For some reason, the cops just stopped. It looked like they froze. We were close enough to reach out and touch each other.'' As the liberators departed with the man, the cops charged into the crowd again. ''But the people met their charge for the second time, and in that moment security and people from the crowd came and grabbed me.''
Members of his unarmed militia guard had come back to rescue Khallid, but he wanted to stay and try to resolve the conflict. ''No, Khallid!'' one Black Panther shouted as he and others tried to reason with their incensed leader.
''I can't let them hurt our people!'' Khallid cried. ''We gotta stop them from hurtin' our people!''
''We gotta get you outta here!'' insisted Harlem fitness guru Herman Smalls, who was guarding Khallid that day.
''We can't lose you, Khallid!'' declared Quannel X, his minister of information.
No one could restrain the buck-wild Khallid, whom Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan once compared to an untamed black stallion. As the disturbance heightened around them, the men wrestled Khallid to the ground. ''They were all over my back, my arms,'' Khallid remembers. ''I was thinking, 'How can I get away from them?' I got on my knees and with all of my strength I threw my arms, my entire body, upward and broke loose.''
Khallid jumped back into the fray. But his equally determined bodyguards collared him again and dragged him away. ''We see everything flying over our heads, people fighting the police,'' he recalls. ''I didn't see nobody back up or run from them. The people stood their ground and fought them.''
Khallid was passed from hand to hand. They got him as far as 119th Street where the frustrated revolutionary argued bitterly with his security. ''There, I continued to fight and wrestle with them, and they were just muscling me and telling me, 'You gotta get outta here!' and 'We can't let you go back!' ''
Khallid broke loose again and leaped on top of a car. Someone pressed a bullhorn in his hand, and he began to call on the police to open up the side streets to allow the crowd to disperse peacefully.
The disturbance had not spread beyond the staging area, but Khallid felt that the cops were bottling in those who wished to leave. He kept his eyes on the cops who manned the barricades.
''You're gonna create an incident!'' he warned. ''Don't keep them penned in!''
He claims that ''with the force of the people'' behind him, the cops were compelled to remove the barricades.
Khallid and his band walked toward 125th Street, urging the crowd to stay calm. ''They were angry and pained over what was happening, and I didn't want anyone to do anything that would harm Harlem. But it didn't look like anybody even had rioting on their mind.''
Khallid now had a new following, one that pleaded with him to stick around and fire them up. ''They kept telling me they wasn't gon' leave. ''His security escorted him to 128th Street where they commandeered a van and shoved Khallid inside. ''The people wouldn't let the van move,'' he says. ''They kept beating on the van and hollering, 'We love you, Khallid!' It was like they were going to break the windows. Then I had to get back out and tell them, 'Please, don't break the brother's window. Let him get me outta here so that everybody can go home.' Finally, they opened up a little, and the brother was able to ease out of the crowd.''
As the van sped uptown, two NYPD helicopters appeared to give chase. The choppers followed the van for about 12 blocks, then turned back. It was the last anyone saw of Khallid.
It seemed as if Congressman Charles Rangel's prediction, ''When it's over, no one would know where to find Khallid Muhammad,'' would come true.
Reporters combed the city for the firebrand orator, who New York Times writer Dan Barry quipped had ''vanished in a puff of anti-Semitic exhaust.''
On September 8, theDaily Newsreported that he had turned up in Atlanta at the rival Million Youth Movement rally, backed by Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP. ''Smiling and raising both fists, Muhammad left quickly without speaking,'' according to writers Barbara Ross, Greg Smith, and Maureen Fan. ''His lieutenant, Malik Shabazz, then led the crowd of 4,000 in a raucous chant, 'The hell with Giuliani!' '' the story added.
But the Daily News article was inaccurate. At the time the tabloid placed Khallid in Atlanta, he was meeting with aVoicereporter in New York. And Malik was in Washington. Khallid bristles, ''It just shows you how the devil can lie!''
So much has happened in the past 10 months that Khallid has had little or no time to reflect on the people who have crossed his path, or as he put it, ''changed his-story.'' Some, like Norman Siegel, the Jewish head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, left an indelible impression on the accused anti-Semite. Siegel had intervened in the permit impasse as a ''friend of the court,'' and argued that the Giuliani administration's attempt to scuttle the rally flew in the face of constitutional guarantees.
''I saw him as a true libertarian, actually putting himself in a position where many of his own people were going to attack him,'' says Khallid, who repeatedly has been denounced for calling Jews bloodsuckers. ''They were dealing with a vendetta and he was dealing with matters of the constitution, which I still believe is not worth the paper it's written on.''
After a divided three-judge panel issued its ruling, Khallid scoured the courthouse in search of Siegel. ''I looked for him because I was anxious to hear what he would say to me,'' Khallid recalls. ''I approached him and I shook his hand. I don't want to make it seem like he was kissing up to Khallid. He seemed a little taken aback, but I told him how much I appreciated what he did and we talked. I believe in giving credit where credit is due.''
Some might think that in light of his encounter with Norman Siegel, Khallid Abdul Muhammad may not be the hardliner that he was. But it will take more than a conciliatory gesture from Siegel to sensitize the man Farrakhan once dubbed ''the Sword of Allah.''
Lately, some of Khallid's critics have begun to question his claim that he embodies the life and philosophy of Malcolm X. Once an outspoken separatist who referred to white people as ''blue-eyed devils,'' Malcolm made a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Islamic holy city in Saudi Arabia, and returned transformed, denouncing racism.
When a reporter suggested that he,too, might undergo a similar conversion, Khallid retorted, ''I've been to Mecca--three times!''
Research: W.Michelle Beckles
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.