A March for Black Youth Leads to Rising Tensions

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Posted by Patrick Saunders on August 05, 1998 at 23:32:52:

In Reply to: NEWS RELEASE: Million Youth March posted by Patrick Saunders on June 12, 1998 at 11:40:47:

A March for Black Youth Leads to Rising Tensions


  At this point, the Million Youth March being organized by a former Nation of
Islam official and scheduled to be held in New York City in September is only
in the formative stage. But plans for the rally have already drawn concern,
with city officials worried about the size of the march and some Jewish groups
saying the event's organizers have a history of virulent anti-Semitism.

  Organizers said the event was modeled after the Million Man March held in

Washington in 1995 and was intended to promote strength and unity among young

  The main organizer of the march, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a former aide to
Louis Farrakhan, the minister of the Nation of Islam, said state coordinators
across the nation would bring busloads of young people from as far away as Los
Angeles and Atlanta to participate.

  Muhammad was dismissed as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam in 1994 after
a speech in which he referred to Jews as "bloodsuckers" and made other
inflammatory remarks against Roman Catholics, whites and homosexuals. Both the
House and Senate passed resolutions condemning his 1993 speech at Kean College
in Union, N.J.

  He later founded the New Black Muslim Movement and the New Black Panther
Party, both based in New York City. It is unclear how large Muhammad's
following is and whether he can deliver the thousands of marchers he has

  Nevertheless, his militant pronouncements about the event -- like
threatening to stage it in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, if the city continues to
deny the group a permit to march in Harlem on Sept. 5 -- have alarmed many
Jews, who have flooded the Mayor's office with hundreds of telephone calls in
the last two weeks. They are concerned about the event and fear it will incite
violence against Jewish businesses.

  "Khalid Muhammad should be held responsible for his speech," said Michoel
Chazan, a spokesman for the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council in
Brooklyn, noting the tensions between blacks and Hasidic Jews in his community
that lingered after racial violence there in 1991. "If he gets heated up and
people do criminal acts, they should be dealt with appropriately."

  Muhammad said he envisioned a rally that would include jazz, hip-hop and rap
music and other entertainment, interspersed with speeches from prominent black
Americans. He has invited Puff Daddy and Ice Cube to perform, and Farrakhan
and the Rev. Al Sharpton to speak. It was not known whether any had responded
to the invitation.

  The focus, Muhammad said, is to "hear from, to support and guide black youth
and young people."

  But Muhammad has recently changed his uplifting tone.

  He said the city's refusal to grant a permit for the rally in Harlem, along
37 blocks of Malcolm X Boulevard between 147th Street and Central Park North,
was "a slap in the face."

  City officials, fearing a traffic nightmare, have offered two other
locations that they said could accommodate large crowds: Randalls Island and
Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, sites that Muhammad called "totally

  Last Thursday, in discussing the city's denial of a permit to march in
Harlem, Muhammad said he would "take Eastern Parkway," the main thoroughfare
in Crown Heights and the site of black-Jewish clashes in 1991.

  "This will be a direct confrontation with the Jews of that area who have
misused and abused our people in Brooklyn and in Crown Heights for so long,"
he said.

  Some black leaders say Muhammad's oratory is only undermining whatever noble
goals the march might have. The Manhattan Borough President, C. Virginia
Fields, said she was currently working with community leaders in Harlem to
determine whether holding the march in that area would be feasible.

  "I certainly support the right of people to march in a peaceful manner and
we are trying to insure that there is a safe and secure place for the march to
occur," she said. "But I don't condone those remarks and don't think it is
necessary for that type of rhetoric connected to what could be a peaceful

  She said that Muhammad's comments could alienate potential supporters in
Harlem and other black neighborhoods, including Sharpton, the Rev. Calvin O.
Butts 3d, and Councilman Bill Perkins.

  On Friday, Colleen Roche, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani,
declined to comment on Muhammad's latest remarks. But in a news conference
more than a week ago, Mayor Giuliani warned that if marchers "do something
illegal, they will be dealt with."

  A city official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Giuliani
administration was still open to talking with Muhammad about other potential
march locations, but that it became tougher to negotiate as the rhetoric

  The official said that Muhammad had not asked for an additional meeting
after the city canceled one two weeks ago. Instead, he has gone on the

  This has concerned many local Jewish groups, who fear that this war of words
could escalate to violence at the rally.

  Michael Miller, the head of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which is
an umbrella organization of about 60 groups, said he believed that "any event
that has as its leader Khalid Muhammad will not produce any positive net

Tuesday, August 4, 1998
Copyright 1998 The New York

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