After Million Youth March:
NYPD Raids March Organizers

Revolutionary Worker #974, September 20, 1998

It was Labor Day in New York, September 7. As evening fell, a hundred New York cops, in full SWAT mode armed with M-16 rifles, took up positions in a busy neighborhood on the fringes of Bed-Stuy, the impoverished Black ghetto in Brooklyn.

This was a full scale, military-style operation aimed at Shaheed Muhammad--a long-time Black liberation activist and member of the December 12th Movement. Shaheed was one of the organizers of the Million Youth March that had taken place in Harlem two days before, on Saturday, September 5. All over the news, the police had been announcing that they were going to seize Shaheed because they claimed he attacked a cop at the end of that Million Youth March.

The police "froze" this neighborhood, blocking off the streets and sidewalks of the surrounding area. They coldly pointed their weapons in the faces of people on the sidewalks--as they closed in on Shaheed's home. They rammed in the front door of the building and stormed into his apartment and ransacked it. Shaheed was not home; and because the police had this apartment under surveillance, it is likely that they already knew he wasn't home.

This is a politicized neighborhood, where there has been much struggle over police brutality. Just down the street from Shaheed's apartment is Sista's Place. Sista's Place is a coffee-house and community center associated with the revolutionary Black nationalist December 12th Movement. Members of December 12th, including Shaheed himself, played a very active role in organizing the Million Youth March.

People crowded into the doorway of Sista's Place checking out the police raid, bracing themselves in case this police force turned on them and the coffeehouse.

This raid was an unusual and highly calculated move by the New York power structure. It was commanded at the scene by the top police commander for the whole borough of Brooklyn--which is a high level of attention rarely given to warrants for assault.

When Shaheed later turned himself in at a police precinct, he was charged with felony assault on a police officer and held on high bail. As we go to press, he is still behind bars.

This police targeting of Shaheed Muhammad and the military-style raid in Brooklyn are designed to send a message. They are a continuation of the outrageous NYPD attack that was launched September 5 on the Million Youth March and the Black community of Harlem.

Changing Justifications for
Police Attack in Harlem

On September 5, thousands of Black people and supporters gathered in Harlem for the Million Youth March. The New York Times reported that morning that a "senior New York law enforcement official" had told them the police would stop the rally, by force if necessary, when the permit ran out at 4 p.m. This is exactly what the police did.

As people arrived at the rally site in Harlem, thousands of police had occupied the streets of this community--to threaten and control them. The cops forced people to move through an insulting maze of barricades and control points. Thousands of people were denied access to the rally area. Police shut down the stops on the No. 2 train between 110th and 145th streets--basically making it impossible for people to get off that train in Harlem.

As 4 p.m. approached, the police massed in riot gear by the podium. The march was wrapping up. But at 4:01, the police attacked the stage--first seizing the generator, then spraying mace on people they encountered, then moving to disperse the crowd. At that time, the police helicopters started buzzing the rally, drowning out the speakers and threatening the crowd. This is further proof that the attack was both coordinated and preplanned.

There was resistance to this unprovoked attack as skirmishes broke out between the crowd and the cops.

The police attack was a calculated, pre-planned display of official hostility, Gestapo tactics and complete disrespect for the Black community. That evening, Mayor Giuliani defended it on TV, saying: "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."

The official story kept changing. Soon the authorities were claiming that the police attacked in self-defense. MYM lawyer Roger Wareham told the RW, "Now they're trying to put a spin on it: that the victims are the perpetrators."

Police Commissioner Howard Safir claimed that the police had been attacked with bricks, bottles and other objects--and had only then moved to stop the rally. And the authorities opened their legal attack on Shaheed Muhammad. An arrest warrant was issued, and the press announced that "James Washington" (as the authorities call Shaheed) was being sought for physically attacking a cop.

The power structure in New York tried to suppress the rally of youth in Harlem on September 5. When they were forced to give the rally a legal permit, they planned to launch an unprovoked police attack on the march at 4 p.m. Now that they have encountered widespread outrage over their Gestapo tactics, they have moved to justify their police attack by launching new attacks aimed at the march organizers. These lies and attacks are intolerable. They are a crude and brazen attempt to criminalize political activism among the people and they must not be allowed to succeed.

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