Thousands Defy Authorities to
Rally at Million Youth March

Gestapo Attack in Harlem

Revolutionary Worker #973, September 13, 1998

"Harlem belongs to the community and the future belongs to the youth."

Erika Ford, chair of the New York MYM
Black Power Organizing Committee and
member of the December 12th Movement

"These people had a constitutional right to free speech. At 4:01, that right ended. I'm proud that the police made sure of that."

New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani,
on TV after his police attacked the Million Youth March

Harlem, New York, September 5, 1998--
Two forces faced off in the streets of Harlem.

Many thousands of Black youth rallied--with people of other nationalities well represented. The people came determined to speak out strongly for themselves, for the future and for the interests of oppressed people. To do that, they had to go up in the face of their enemies. The power structure of New York City massed thousands of New York police in a hostile and heavy-handed clampdown on the streets of Harlem.

Over 3,000 cops occupied these Harlem streets. They were standing in large groups everywhere along the rally site--with horses, motorcycles, and a complex maze of barricades. It was a heavy-handed attempt to make the youth and their supporters feel controlled and under-the-gun.

The rally went ahead peacefully and in high spirits, despite the difficult and insulting conditions imposed by the cops. But the authorities had no intention of allowing this rally to end peacefully. The moment the march permit expired, at 4 p.m., the police attacked--even though it was being announced from the stage that the rally was ending. Riot police attacked the march podium from behind, seized the sound system and cut off the microphones. In the process they sprayed mace on anyone they met--including reporters gathered by the side of the stage.

Skirmishes broke out at the podium, as people in the crowd expressed their anger over this police-state treatment. Overhead, at least three helicopters buzzed the crowd, at times dipping dangerously low, below rooftop level.

This unprovoked police attack was a calculated, pre-planned display of official hostility, Gestapo tactics and total disrespect for the youth and the Black community.

Since then, New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir said that he believes that Khallid Muhammad is guilty of inciting to riot and called on the District Attorney to investigate this. Safir added that if an indictment is made, the New York police are prepared to arrest Muhammad. After trying to ban this march and then attacking it, the head of New York's Gestapo is now calling for the attacks to continue.

Months of Harassment and Suppression

The authorities of New York City tried for months to simply ban the Million Youth March. They tried to justify their ban by claiming that such a march would be too disruptive for the city (which was ridiculous in a city which constantly has huge events). They also jumped on the anti-Semitic and divisive remarks of march convenor Khallid Muhammad. From a revolutionary standpoint, anti-Semitic, anti-Asian, anti-Arab rhetoric has no place in the struggle to liberate Black people. But the hypocritical City Hall experts on racism and sowing divisions among the masses had a different purpose. Their aim was to suppress an assembly of oppressed youth who wanted to express their anger at the inequality and injustice faced by Black people in America.

Through these high-level attacks, the march organizers and supporters pressed forward. It was clear that this march would go forward--with or without a permit.

Even with all the media hysteria about "hate march," the City Hall plans to ban and suppress the march proved too crude, too blatant, too openly fascistic--and significant forces started speaking out in support of the march, especially in Harlem itself. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III of Harlem's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church, supported the decision of the youth to march. "Our rights are being trampled on in the name of so-called security," he said in a radio interview. "I think first of all the decision ought to be taken to a higher court. But secondly, I think it ought to be challenged by the young people showing up."

Elected officials of Harlem--who had largely been hostile to the march--complained that the Mayor's actions had strengthened mass support for the march--and some of them even felt pressured to express their own support for a permit. Powerful forces within the ruling class were clearly concerned that an outright suppression of the march might lead to confrontations that would be extremely hard to contain and justify.

On August 27, a federal court ordered New York's city government to grant a permit for the march in Harlem.

This itself was a victory for the people--that was won because the youth stood firm in their determination to rally no matter what the City authorities said. Their stand won them the support of important forces within Harlem who had previously not supported the march. And ultimately, powerful forces in the ruling class decided that an outright ban carried too much danger for them and the system.

At a second hearing just four days before the march, the New York City government worked out an arrangement with the federal courts. The march would go ahead--in Harlem on September 5--but outrageously tight restrictions were imposed. The march was ordered to limit itself to only six blocks of Malcolm X Boulevard from 118th to 124th Street. Instead of being an all-day rally with speeches and entertainment, the organizers were told that they were only allowed four hours--from noon to 4 p.m.

Other outrageous restrictions were announced--no permits were granted for food vendors and a sound stage for music. In addition, New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced that all four of the Harlem stops of the #2 subway line would be shut down on the day of the march. At first they tried to claim that this was because of a major construction project, but it was then revealed that the closing had been requested by the New York Police Department.

The tight restrictions on the march were a new denial of basic rights. And it handed the New York police the legal opening to attack the march the moment the permit expired. This is what they openly announced they would do.

The morning of the march, The New York Times quoted a "senior New York law enforcement official" saying: "The idea is to give them the six-block area from noon to 4, like the court has ordered, and then at 4 o'clock pull the plug and say good-bye. We don't want to inflame the crowd. But if the people want to stand firm and not leave at 4 o'clock, then the commanders will announce that they're taking the podium down. Once the podium is down, officers will announce they are reopening the street for traffic and direct people to leave for that sidewalk. And if they don't do that, then the details will form up and push them onto the sidewalk."

Three thousand cops were sent to Harlem to attack the people. The New York Times noted that the police estimates suggested "the deployment would provide about 1 officer on the scene for every 7 participants, compared with 1 officer for every 30 to 50 participants, the usual ratio for a rally or parade."

The Face of the System

The system and its enforcers have shown their nature all during this struggle over the Million Youth March.

From the beginning, the authorities have treated the masses of Black and Latino youth like an enemy--as if they do not even have the most basic political rights to rally and speak out against the oppression they face. This generation has been treated as if they deserve nothing more than police containment and media slanders.

The youth have been portrayed by city hall as nothing but a threat to "public safety." And the media added hysteria about the danger that "gang members" might show up.

The mainstream media buried the real politics of the march coalition and ignored the real concerns and demands of the youth. There were virtually no mainstream media reports about the march demands for freeing political prisoners or ending police brutality, or winning the right of self-determination for the Black nation. Instead the media joined New York's Mayor Giuliani in smearing the whole event as a "hate march" based on the remarks of march convener, Khallid Muhammad.

The system worked day and night to criminalize this march--just like they have been criminalizing this whole generation of Black and Latino youth.

The system treated this political movement of the youth as simply a police matter. And their response--the clubs, helicopters, mace and the constant campaign lies--raises many sharp questions about the future and what it will take to get change.

Who can expect justice from a system that treats the youth like this?

Who can expect a power structure like this to hear the concerns and act on the needs of the people?

The struggle for change and liberation is revving up. The youth are on the stage. And revolution is in the house.

Many thousands dared to take the streets--despite the threats, despite the provocation--to speak out for themselves, for the future and for oppressed people.

As the Revolutionary Communist Party said in its message to the rally: Revolution Is the Hope of the Hopeless.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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