Amid growing fears that he is headed for another tense showdown with the city, Million Youth March organizer Khallid Abdul Muhammad vows that this year’s rally will be held on August 14, with a defiant parade through Harlem.
“There will be no limitation on the time, and since it has turned into an actual march, they can’t limit the protest to six blocks anymore,” Muhammad told the Voice. “We will march from 134th Street to the staging area at 118th Street.”
Muhammad says he will file for a permit this week. Last year’s event— attended by about 10,000 people, who filled six blocks along Malcolm X Boulevard—
was peaceful until police helicopters flew low over the crowd, angering participants, who the NYPD insists numbered no more than 6000. Some protesters then threw bottles and other debris as police stormed the stage minutes after a court-ordered 4 p.m. curfew.
Muhammad, the event’s featured speaker, had delivered an acerbic speech, castigating police, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, black elected officials, and Jews. Just before police moved in, Muhammad urged the crowd— “if they attack you”— to use barricades and the officers’ own nightsticks and “goddamn guns” against them “in self-defense.” More than 20 people, including 16 cops, suffered minor injuries in the ensuing skirmish.
Two months after the incident, a Manhattan grand jury charged five unidentified men who were allegedly captured on videotape throwing bottles, chairs, garbage cans, and flagpoles during the fracas. Another suspect was indicted for allegedly punching a police officer in the face. Although Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir had blamed Muhammad for the chaos— accusing him of inflammatory, racist rhetoric, and inciting the crowd to attack police— he was not charged.
In an interview with the Voice last month, shortly after the New York Black Power Organizing Committee gave him the go-ahead to apply for a permit, Muhammad charged that the Giuliani administration and police were responsible for the tense atmosphere that led to the melee.
“We will fight against the shutting down of the subways and cordoning off of cross streets, preventing thousands of our people from getting to Malcolm X Boulevard, as was the case last year,” he said. “With or without a permit, we are marching down Malcolm X Boulevard.”
Muhammad predicted that this year’s demonstration will receive heightened media attention because of the uproar surrounding the police killing of Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets on February 4. The Diallo slaughter sparked weeks of civil disobedience protests in the city, which ebbed only after four white cops were indicted on second-degree murder charges.
Sneering at the multiracial makeup of the nonviolent sit-in movement led by Al Sharpton, Muhammad says that the Million Youth March— designed to give young urban blacks a forum to protest social injustice, particularly police brutality— will adopt a more militant posture this year “since civil rights, civil disobedience, integration, and white politics seem to be attempting to influence our people like never before.”
Muhammad, who was kicked out of the Nation of Islam in 1994 because of speeches attacking whites, Jews, and homosexuals, adds that the “key objective [of this year’s rally] is to put Black Power, Black Nationalism, Pan Africanism, Revolutionary Nationalism, and Black Liberation Theology back on the agenda and in the minds and hearts of our people.”
It is that kind of rhetoric that black leaders denounced in the days leading up to the Million Youth March. But Muhammad claims that vicious attacks on him by Harlem congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator David Paterson, and Councilman William Perkins helped scare away major sponsors, celebrities, and professional planners. “We had onboard the events planner who did the Million Man March and the Promise Keepers rallies, and the people with the Black Expo was supposed to help along with the vending. When it didn’t look like we were going to have a permit they pulled out,” Muhammad fumes.
Muhammad says he has “reinvited” several gang members and rappers to participate in this year’s event. Gangsta rapper Ice Cube skipped last year’s rally for reasons Muhammad would not disclose. “We believe he will be down with us this year,” he says, adding that rapper Rakeem Allah— “the one they call ‘the God of the microphone’ “— and groups such as Public Enemy, have pledged to “roll with us” this time.
“The march was well organized,” he reminisces. “I had a sound and solid mission statement, but at the last minute a lot of the rappers and stars pulled out because of the pressure from these black leaders. People ran scared.”
Politicians like Paterson had called for Muhammad’s arrest immediately after the crowd clashed with police. But following the criticism heaped upon the mayor and the police department for the way cops bumrushed the stage, Paterson retracted his statement.
“It will be interesting to see if these same negroes will come out buckdancin’ and Tomin’ the way they did last year,” Muhammad says. “Depending on how these negroes act, we will handle them much differently from the way we handled them last year.”
Additional reporting by Karen Mahabir