Controversial speaker vows to defy any attempt to block Million Youth March

Wednesday, August 12, 1998

Khallid Abdul M...
Khallid Abdul Muhammad

New York City officials and organizers of next month’s Million Youth March can’t seem to agree on where the event should take place.


Citing traffic and security concerns, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has denied march organizer and controversial speaker Khallid Abdul Muhammad a permit to hold the Sept. 5 event in Harlem. Instead, city officials have suggested alternative sites such as Randalls Island or Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. But march organizers insist they will stage the demonstration on Malcolm X Boulevard between 147th Street and Central Park North in the heart of Harlem.


Muhammad, a former aide to the Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan, promises to defy any attempts at blocking the rally.


In an interview with freedomforum.org, syndicated columnist Nat Hentoff described the uproar as “a typical Khallid Abdul Muhammad charade.”


“This guy likes confrontations. He wants media attention,” said Hentoff, a prominent and self-described friend of the Constitution. “He’s saying that if they don’t give him a permit he will provoke a confrontation. If he indeed insists on going to Harlem, there will be — sooner or later — almost inevitably, a confrontation so that, in the end, he can say ‘there was police violence in New York against the youths, and this was all coordinated by the Jews.’


“Giuliani is a stubborn man but he knows enough about the First Amendment to recognize that [Muhammad] has every right to have this assembly, but no constitutional right to do so in a place where there are not the proper facilities for it.”


Muhammad is well-known nationally for his rabble-rousing sound bites. He regularly attacks Jews, Catholics and gays in his speeches. In 1994, he was dismissed by the Nation of Islam after a speech in which he referred to Jews as “bloodsuckers.” Since then, he has founded the New Black Muslim Movement and the New Black Panther Party.


Organizers of the Million Youth March say its purpose is to encourage strength and unity among the city’s black and Latino youth, and to protest police brutality, job discrimination, slavery, gang violence and the poor quality of educational opportunities.


Although organizers say they’ve received much support from the Atlanta area, that city is to host a competing event called the Million Youth Movement Sept. 4 – 7.


Organizers of the Atlanta event have adopted the theme, “Preparing Youth for the New Millenium” and will focus on a five point agenda: spirituality, political, social, economic and educational concerns. Activities will center around historic Auburn Avenue.


The controversy over the Million Youth March is similar to that surrounding Farrakhan and 1995′s Million Man March in Washington. Some of the people who supported that event were critical of its leadership. Mayor Giuliani has labeled Muhammad’s event a “hate march.”


At a news conference Tuesday, state Sen. David Paterson, D-Manhattan, urged the mayor to resolve the dispute with march organizers. “We need our mayor to recognize this group’s constitutional rights and to work with them to provide a proper venue for them to march.”


Meanwhile, Harlem community leaders are urging city officials and march organizers to reach a compromise on the location. Several have made clear their opposition to Muhammad and have voiced concerns about possible violence.


City officials suggest Sept. 19 would be a more suitable date to avoid conflicts with parades and other community events already scheduled for the Labor Day weekend. However, a recording at the Washington headquarters of march organizers says that the event will be held on Malcolm X Boulevard on Sept. 5 as planned.


“Muhammad is a con man like Farrakhan,” Hentoff said. “He attacks Jews, Catholics, gays and blacks he doesn’t like. But con men have First Amendment rights.”


Al-haaj Ghazi Khankan, president of the National Council on Islamic Affairs, told freedomforum.org that real Muslims do not speak in a racist way against Jews and Christians.


“The First Amendment gives [Muhammad] the right to march, even though I disagree with his racial attacks and even though he may incite violence,” Khankan said.


“There has to be a police presence to keep law and order. As a black leader, it’s up to the community to support him or not, but from a religious point of view, he does not represent the Muslim mainstream community nor can he speak on behalf of the Muslim community of America even though he has borrowed the name of ‘Muhammad.’”


In February, Farrakhan announced his support for the youth march. He has been invited as an honored participant.


A number of recording artists have agreed to perform during the event, including Puff Daddy, Chuck D of Public Enemy and gospel superstar Kirk Franklin of Gods Property.


Masters of ceremonies for the program include comedian and television sitcom actor Steve Harvey, New York disc jockey Kid Capri, Atlanta radio personality Greg Street and rappers K.R.S. One and Doug E. Fresh.