Driving While Black

It is a 148-mile stretch of asphalt that some black motorists refer to as “White Man’s Pass.” In their journeys along this dreaded roadway, which connects New York City with New Jersey and other points on the I-95 corridor, these motorists complain they are often catapulted headlong into an explosive collision with race, crime, and the law.

Since 1988—and possibly long before that—state police have been “engaged in a program of racial targeting” on the New Jersey Turnpike, according to court documents in a pending case against 19 black men and women who, in a joint motion, claimed they were illegally targeted, stopped, searched, and arrested by troopers on the turnpike in Gloucester County between January 1988 and April 1991. Allegedly, the troopers target blacks, especially those driving luxury cars such as BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, and Lexuses. The state police assert that it is a trumped-up conflict and deny they practice such a policy: if anything, they insist, their actions amount to nothing more than aggressive enforcement of traffic regulations. But for blacks, who experts say are nearly five times more likely than whites to be stopped on the turnpike, it is a case of constantly being picked on for DWB—Driving While Black.

O. J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran and other civil rights leaders maintain that this racially selective policing resulted in two white troopers firing 11 shots at four unarmed minority basketball players in a late-model Dodge Caravan they had stopped on the turnpike on April 23 near Exit 7A in Mercer County. Seriously injured in the April 23 incident, which attracted national attention, were Rayshawn Brown, 20, and Leroy G. Grant, 23, both of Manhattan, and Danny Reyes, 21, of Queens. The driver, Keshon L. Moore, 22, of Queens, was not hit. No charges have yet been filed in the incident, which is being investigated by a state grand jury.

A startling development in the case last Friday seemed to cast doubt on the assertions of discrimination made by Cochran, who is representing three of the men. Wayne D. Greenfeder, the white attorney for Rayshawn Brown, who was shot twice, told the Associated Press he is not sure racial profiling led to the traffic stop.

Seeking to reinforce the contention that overt racism is responsible for wide disparities between minorities and whites in police stops, the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey last week reached a tentative accord with New Jersey state police superintendent Colonel Carl A. Williams to have video cameras mounted in all state police cruisers to monitor stops. Asking troopers to police themselves, however, may strike a raw nerve with the New York City-based 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement and the New Jersey-based Black Cops Against Police Brutality, whose members have been threatened with arrest by the Turnpike Authority if they violate “restrictions on filming, photographing and videotaping on the Turnpike.”

“State Police will fully enforce these regulations,” Turnpike executive director Edward Gross warned in a May 22 letter to Black Cops Against Police Brutality.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, a defiant Eric Adams, who heads Blacks in Law Enforcement, and his partner Michael Greys left behind their NYPD-issued Glock 9mm pistols, armed themselves with video cameras, and took to patrolling the New Jersey highways in Greys’s Mercedes-Benz, looking for troopers who stalk innocent black motorists. Fifty other off-duty NYPD officers linked up with black cops and corrections officers from Trenton and Philadelphia and positioned themselves along suspected DWB checkpoints. “We notified these troopers that if we found anything suspicious we would film it, so I guess they were on their best behavior,” said Adams, adding that the black cops will conduct unannounced random patrols in the future.

TWO YEARS AGO, New Jersey Superior Court judge Robert E. Francis found that racial profiling “was tolerated and in certain ways encouraged at the highest levels in the State Police hierarchy, according to lawyers for the 19 blacks who consolidated their cases in 1990 to fight the charges. Declaring that the state police practiced “selective enforcement” during that period, Francis ruled that if the troopers had any evidence against the defendants it had been obtained illegally and must be suppressed. Many of the defendants, supposedly stopped for speeding, were in cars in which it was alleged that drugs, guns, and other contraband were found. Prosecutors are fighting to reinstate charges, and the case is now before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

“Indeed, this wrong decision has already encouraged many other defendants to pursue similar motions regarding stops on other highways in this state,” the New Jersey attorney general’s office complained in court papers. “[The] defendants utterly failed to prove their pernicious and baseless allegations of racially motivated selective prosecution.”

In legal papers opposing the state’s appeal, William H. Buckman and Justin Loughry, who represent four of the motorists, claim that “to this day the State Police attempts to justify its actions and record … on the Jim Crow notion that at least on the Turnpike blacks are inferior, that they drive worse, and that they therefore attract disproportionate police attention.”

The lawyers argued that state police wanted Judge Francis to “believe that blacks drive worse because they are stopped more. This ‘logic’ is … morally repugnant. Yet it is the essence of the State’s case. Without a shred of evidence, it seeks to blame en masse the victims of a State Police scheme to target blacks … on the Turnpike.

“Refusing to acknowledge [the judge’s] proven and morally reasonable conclusions, the State Police would rather return to a time when such repugnant assumptions were accepted as justification for discriminatory police action … The State’s retreat to stereotype proves … that this is an organization whose culture and values have allowed abuses of power to thrive. It is troubling that the State Police possess the arrogance to ask a court to adopt this throwback to a racist legacy.”

It was just such profiling that allegedly led troopers to pull over the minivan carrying the young basketball players. The troopers said that they flagged down the driver for speeding and opened fire when the van rolled backward and struck one of the troopers and a cruiser. It turned out that the men were on their way to basketball tryouts at North Carolina State University. The troopers recovered a Bible in the backseat.

In the wake of the shooting, scores of blacks, including retired NYPD cop James Powell, have come forward with stories about being demeaned and brutalized during traffic stops on the turnpike. Powell, 56, is suing New Jersey for $5 million for injuries to his back, spinal cord, knee, and wrists and “negligent infliction of emotional distress, shock, humiliation, embarrassment, pain, and suffering.” (The state attorney general’s office declined comment.)

Last December 5, according to Powell, he was on his way to North Carolina when he noticed two cruisers with red lights flashing behind him. (A state police official once testified in another case that a common technique is to follow a vehicle for a significant distance. When the driver keeps checking the mirror, it causes the car to weave.)

Powell pulled over his 1992 Cadillac Seville, but while waiting for the troopers to approach, he heard a booming voice from the cruiser’s loudspeaker order him to put his hands in the air or he would be shot. Powell said he threw up his hands and was told to get out of the car and “make no sudden moves” or he would be gunned down. “I had no doubt that if I had made some type of out-of-the-ordinary move I’d be shot,” said Powell, who was one of New York’s Finest for 14 years.

The troopers allegedly ordered Powell to place his hands over his head, get on his knees, and, for the third time, threatened to shoot him. “He said after dropping to his knees, his arms were twisted by a trooper, he was handcuffed behind his back, and placed in one of the police vehicles,” explained Powell’s attorney, Pace University law professor Randolph Scott-McLaughlin. He added that the troopers searched Powell’s car without his consent and continued to mistreat him even after they discovered his ID, which indicated that he was a retired police officer.

According to Scott-McLaughlin, the troopers had not stopped Powell for any traffic-related infraction but to interrogate him about an earlier dispute in which he was alleged to have threatened some gas station attendants. Powell, who denied threatening the attendants, was arrested, taken to the Moorestown state police barracks, and placed in a holding cell. Scott-McLaughlin argued that the troopers violated Powell’s civil rights by stopping his car “without a reasonable basis to conclude that he had committed a crime or was about to do so.”

PERHAPS THE NEW JERSEY troopers didn’t think they needed to have a reason for stopping James Powell. Former state troopers Kenneth Wilson and Kenneth Ruff testified during a 1996 hearing to suppress the charges brought by the 19 blacks that they were trained to target blacks on the turnpike.

Wilson testified that his instructor, Detective Uke Mannikus, told him that he had determined that Wilson would not, as attorneys Buckman and Loughry put it, “have a problem stopping blacks … He explained that Wilson would find that blacks were the ones primarily trafficking in drugs. He helped Wilson acclimate himself to looking for cars with southern license tags and young black male passengers, preferably two or three in a vehicle. He taught him to look for reasons to stop a car and for probable cause to ‘get into a car.’ Wilson testified that a trooper can find a motor vehicle violation for just about any car on the road.”

Mannikus denied ever telling Wilson to single out young black men, and prosecutors insisted that they “presented extensive testimony about the repeated training and instruction” given to troopers, who also had been warned that “racial profiling was strictly forbidden.”

Wilson was one of three troopers indicted in 1989 by a state grand jury in Trenton for allegedly assaulting and stealing money from a group of men stopped by one of the officers on the turnpike. Wilson plea-bargained with prosecutors and turned against his colleagues, who were later acquitted. He testified that he was questioned by two white internal affairs officers who ignored his allegations of racial profiling by fellow troopers.

“When he tried to tell them about racial profiling, he was told to stick to the case at hand, that he was telling them more than they wanted to know,” asserted Buckman and Loughry in recounting Wilson’s testimony.

Ruff testified he was told to always “look beyond the motor vehicle stop [when it involved] a Black man. However, Ruff did not have a strong interest in criminal enforcement and declined to engage in profiling,” according to the lawyers.

“While on patrol, he often observed troopers [parked] perpendicular to the road … with the high beams or spot-lights on and trained on the turnpike,” Buckman and Loughry wrote. “He often saw a car pulled onto the side of the road by another trooper, with the occupants out of the car, and could tell from the radio transmissions that the stop had not been called in. Sometimes he would stop to render backup in these situations, only to be waved off … In some of those situations he would observe a trooper known to engage in profiling pull up to assist and not be waved off.”

In the fall of 1989, after WOR-TV investigative reporter Joe Collum’s Without Just Cause uncovered massive evidence of state police racial profiling on the turnpike, Clinton Pagano, a top state police official, compiled an internal report claiming that “black people of American, Jamaican, and Nigerian background, and Hispanic people … are the people bringing drugs into and transporting them through New Jersey.” A major portion of Pagano’s report, which wound up in the hands of troopers throughout the state, was devoted to so-called intelligence on Jamaican posses. (Pagano, who served at the discretion of the governor, was replaced in 1991.)

According to Buckman and Loughry, troopers in training were shown a video of Jamaicans that one state police official “admitted was an unsubstantiated and fictionalized presentation intended to impart … that Jamaican posse members are violent. Without attribution or disclaimer, the ‘training’ film featured scenes from a sensationalized, fictional motion picture entitled ‘The Harder They Come.’”

“One such scene portrayed a Black man slashing another Black man with a knife,” the lawyers wrote. “Other portions of the training video showed … news footage of political rioting in Kingston [that had] nothing to do with drug trafficking. The video also showed a likeness of a Black man with dreadlocks in his hair wearing Jamaican-like garb followed by shots of the same black man with short, well-groomed hair and business attire. The voice-over warned that Jamaican posse members can disguise themselves to be indistinguishable from a professional black man.”

Racial profiling for black “drug couriers” may have resulted in the arrest of another police veteran on the Florida Turnpike. The key evidence in the case against Miami-Dade County police major Aaron Campbell was a videotape of Campbell’s April 9, 1997, encounter with overzealous white sheriff’s deputies. Campbell’s apprehension for resisting arrest and battery of a police officer was shown on national TV. He would later tell a jury he felt he had been unfairly targeted and stopped by the deputies because he was a black man. The 27-year police veteran maintained that the incident occurred only because the deputies were using a drug-courier profile when they pulled him over for changing lanes without signaling. He said that once they stopped him, the deputies used excessive force, and that he resisted them only in self-defense. A six-member jury convicted Campbell of resisting arrest, but cleared him of a felony charge of using violence.

THE PRACTICE OF RACIAL PROFILING on the New Jersey Turnpike allegedly has been finessed by some inventive troopers. If a vehicle is headed north, the profiler assumes the occupants are Colombian drug dealers ferrying their contraband to New York. If it’s southbound, it contains crack headed for the Carolinas.

Yet even the best racial profilers frequently miss their mark. From 1984 to 1988, Dr. Elmo Randolph, a black dentist from East Orange, New Jersey, who drove a gold-colored BMW, testified on behalf of the 19 blacks that he was stopped by the state police approximately 100 times on the turnpike.

“He was never issued a ticket or a written warning on any of those occasions,” according to the attorneys, who recount the doctor’s travails in their case histories. “While traveling the Turnpike he would see the troopers sitting perpendicular [to the road] in a cutout where Route 80 feeds into the Turnpike … to observe traffic. After dark, troopers would train their headlights and/or spotlights onto the highway so that they could look into cars.

“Dr. Randolph frequently observed troopers stop black motorists at night using that method. Most of the times that he was stopped, the trooper would obtain his … credentials and go back to the [cruiser]. He would return shortly with the credentials to the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Dr. Randolph would lower his window to be handed the credentials, and the trooper would … look around inside his car. He would be allowed to go on his way, after brief questioning, in most of these instances.”

On several of the stops, however, the officers asked Randolph to open the trunk of his car. “The troopers never asked to search his trunk, but rather they asked him to open it or if they could look in … On one occasion, when he refused to allow the trooper to [look in the trunk], the officer returned to the [cruiser] and sat there with his credentials for 15 or 20 minutes before returning them … and allowing him to go on his way. Dr. Randolph learned that it was easier to simply allow troopers to look in his trunk than to assert his constitutional rights. He could not afford to be late for his patients.”  ❖


From the Village Voice 2021 Spring print edition




Black Interloper

Is Russell Simmons an Uncle Tom?

For several months, the hip hop millionaire has been acting like a black interloper, somewhat like an inquisitive messenger boy for some desperate white politicians trying to get elected. But so far, the influence that Simmons’s friends thought he had among African Americans has not translated into a single victory at the polls.

Although Simmons has been dismissed by some black activists as nothing more than a toothless tiger on his own Phat Farm, his bite may yet prove fatal to the black body politic. The former Mark Green supporter, who remained silent as Green exploited white hot fear of Al Sharpton during the mayoral race, is poised to play a major role in infecting next year’s gubernatorial contest. He is backing Andrew Cuomo’s bid to bar Carl McCall from becoming New York’s first black governor.

Cuomo, secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, has been quoted as saying that McCall is a signatory to a “racial contract” designed to elect minorities. During the mayor’s race, McCall—the only black ever elected to statewide office in New York—was among the coalition of African American and Latino leaders who helped Fernando Ferrer force a runoff with Green. McCall has counted on the coalition helping him next year—and that angered Cuomo.

“Carl would be the second installment in that contract, that racial contract, and that can’t happen,” Cuomo, the son of former governor Mario Cuomo, told several Jewish leaders on the night of Green’s loss, according to The Jewish Week. But some of Simmons’s critics allege that he has negotiated his own “racial contract” with Cuomo to defeat McCall. (Cuomo did not return repeated Voice calls for comment. Pressed further, Jennifer Eason, Cuomo’s PR person, promised that he would call back, but by late Monday he had not responded.)

Simmons, according to New York magazine writer Michael Wolff, is “a key member of Cuomo’s posse.” And last month, Cuomo bragged to Wolff that “Russell is more influential than Sharpton,” setting the stage for an encore to the ugly racial politics that engulfed the city after the October 11 Democratic mayoral runoff. Cuomo’s praise of Simmons infuriated Sharpton aide Dedrick Muhammad.

“Andrew Cuomo confuses Russell’s popularity as the hip hop pioneer with Russell’s desire to be popular in mainstream politics,” said Muhammad. “If ‘Russell is more influential than Sharpton,’ how come Mark Green couldn’t get out the black vote after Sharpton bolted? Mark Green’s embarrassment is testimony to the fact that Russell can’t deliver the black vote.” Muhammad is part of a clique inside Sharpton’s National Action Network that is urging the activist to cut his ties to Simmons. Sharpton acknowledged that there is friction in his civil rights group over Simmons. “I respect Russell, but I am getting a lot of questions about him,” the reverend said. “I intend to have a serious discussion with him before 2002.”

Sharpton, Muhammad said, should confront Simmons about not speaking out against the vilification of him by racists in Green’s campaign. “Either you’re naive about these things or you’re an Uncle Tom,” Muhammad said. “He eventually told us that he told Green how despicable the cartoons of Sharpton were. But by the time he decided to reach out to Sharpton, Reverend’s relationship with Green was beyond repair.”

The aide speculated that Simmons’s true aim is to run for political office someday, but in order to attract the white vote he must hobnob with powerful liberals like Cuomo. “He supported Mark Green because he wants to get closer to Cuomo and the Kennedys,” Muhammad said. “It looks like his first goal is to be a power broker and then he’d probably leverage that into running for office. The problem is that he’s gotta prove that he can shift votes, and he has not proven that yet.”

The racial contract to kill Carl McCall’s chances of becoming governor was awarded to Russell Simmons 10 months ago.

On February 5, during an interview on NY1, Simmons accused McCall of ignoring minority firms doing business on Wall Street, as well as not hiring enough blacks and Latinos in his own office. Dismissing the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which McCall has transformed from an almost lily-white asset to one that now places 25 percent of its brokerage business with minority firms, Simmons quibbled. “I would guess about less than 1 percent of all that money was given to anyone black to manage,” said Simmons, sounding like he understood the complexities of such business dealings. Stunned by Simmons’s comments, black business leaders, including David Ormes, president of Ormes Capital Markets, and Ronald Blaylock, president and CEO of Blaylock and Partners, denounced the remarks as “disparaging and grossly inaccurate.” All the executives suspected that the script that the self-described “T-shirt salesman” read from may have been written by Cuomo operatives.

“It is obvious from those remarks that you have a limited knowledge of Comptroller Carl McCall’s impact on our business in the financial community,” 13 of the executives stated in a letter to Simmons three weeks after his NY1 appearance. They pointed out that prior to McCall taking over as comptroller, “minority and women-owned financial firms were essentially shut out of [doing] business with the New York State Common Retirement Fund.” Minority firms suffered, they charged.

“In 1993,” they added, “the Fund, which at the time had assets of $56 billion, did not actively seek or encourage minority firms to bid on retirement Fund business. In fact, only a diminutive level of transactions was performed by the Fund with minority firms.” But all that, the executives explained, “changed drastically” after McCall gained control of the Fund, which is valued at $130 billion today. How has McCall shared this financial pie with minority firms? The executives asked Simmons to consider that:

• McCall, in partnership with Fairview Capital, created the Black Enterprise Fund.

• Hamilton Lane, a minority-owned firm, has extensive dealings with the Pension Fund, including the management of a $400 million “fund of funds.”

• Brown Capital, another minority-owned firm, manages a direct-equity account valued at more than $250 million.

McCall, the executives maintained, steadfastly encouraged minority-owned firms to bid for brokerage business. “He set goals for the Fund’s minority business,” they insisted. “Today, fully 25 percent of the Common Retirement Fund’s brokerage business is with minority firms.” In addition, McCall tapped “numerous” minority firms for contracts involving asset management and private equity deals.

“As one example, the Fund has utilized minority firms to provide services for real estate owned by the Fund,” the executives said. “[McCall] has contracted with minority law firms for legal work in connection with the Fund. Even when dealing with non-minority-owned firms, Carl has encouraged those firms to assign minority employees to work with the Fund. He has also made tens of millions of dollars worth of loans to minority- and women-owned businesses through the New York Business Development Corporation.”

The executives portrayed Simmons as misinformed, and blasted him for claiming that “in his job as State Comptroller, [McCall] didn’t change anything” when it came to integrating the mostly white staff in his office. “Carl McCall has changed the management culture of the Common Retirement Fund, not only by enabling African-American firms to do business with the Fund on a competitive basis, but also by hiring a more diverse workforce,” they said.

After eight years of working closely with McCall, the black executives have seen their businesses flourish. “The business dealings we have entered into with the Common Retirement Fund have led to other opportunities on Wall Street,” they said. “Carl McCall has been an extraordinary leader, committed to giving all qualified firms the opportunity to do business with one of the largest pension funds in America.” They ended their letter by urging Simmons “to do a little research before you dismiss the accomplishments of someone like Carl McCall.”

In response, the rap mogul lashed out at McCall directly, declaring in an April 12 letter to the comptroller that only two of the 13 executives had signed the letter extolling their relationships with him. “I couldn’t help but notice the absence of John Utendahl’s signature,” Simmons said. “When you visited my office, you described Utendahl Capital Partners as being one of your largest and most significant minority relationships on Wall Street.”

Simmons apparently assumed that McCall encouraged the executives to write to him—and he blamed the comptroller for ducking his original complaint. “My comments specifically addressed assets under management as opposed to the brokerage relationships that you focused on,” he argued. “Your letter mentions that ’25 percent of the Common Retirement Fund’s brokerage business is with minority firms,’ which is commendable. However, dollars provided to asset managers are equally, if not more, important to minority firms in the financial services because it’s a viable way for our people to control our own destiny as we create. . . long-term institutions.”

Simmons contended that after McCall took over as comptroller he did not see any significant changes in the way the comptroller’s office dealt with minority firms clamoring to do business with the state. “Based upon your 1999 annual report, the New York State Common Fund has placed less than 1 percent of its total assets with minority managers,” he said. “Additionally, very few of these minority firms are based in New York. This is not the kind of change that I would describe as being ‘drastic’ or particularly effectual within the minority community.”

He challenged McCall to make plain what the executives meant when they described his remarks on NY1 as inaccurate. “My facts and figures are focused specifically on firms that are minority-owned or controlled, rather than firms such as Progress and Alliance Capital which never have been, or no longer are, minority-owned or controlled,” Simmons emphasized. He seized on an alleged discrepancy in the claim by the executives that they had been discriminated against by McCall’s predecessors. “Carl, it is difficult for me to comprehend how your administration could even begin to have a major impact on minorities in financial services when most of your senior staff members, such as John Hull, the chief investment officer, are holdovers from the previous administration, when little to no business was done with minority firms.”

One of Carl McCall’s supporters who examined Russell Simmons’s letter reiterated that it appeared to be a warning to McCall to bow out to avoid a divisive Democratic primary. “The people who wrote Russell’s letter will dredge up every contract that Carl has negotiated with the minority firms,” the supporter predicted. “But Russell knows better: In 2002, he will not get away with what he got away with in 2001.”

Research assistance: Sarah Park


Police Brutality Is Back

Despite the moratorium on negative stories about “New York’s finest,” it is well to remember that Stephen Vincent Benét wrote “Litany for Dictatorships” for alleged victims like Sheretha Anderson, Kelsey Jones, and Devon and Rayanne Thompson—and all those who still “spit out the bloody stumps of their teeth” in the back seats of police cars, in station houses, and on streets marauded by “the skillfull boys.”

All of the alleged victims have leveled the kinds of charges against cops that New Yorkers are familiar with but haven’t heard recently because of their preoccupation with consoling the devastated NYPD. Tom Antennen, a spokesman for the department, confirms that the Internal Affairs Bureau conducted initial investigations and referred the cases—two separate incidents—to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which probes accusations of illegal use of force and discourtesy by police.

After police officers were murdered in the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, the outpouring of solidarity with the department—even in black neighborhoods where cops are reviled for brutal conduct—seemed unbreakable. Gangbangers, blow dealers, skeezers, and stragglers openly bonded with the Five-O. Some drank from the same beer cans as the undercover DTs, and snitched voluntarily on their counterparts in the name of fighting crime. Outcries against racial profiling—echoes from protests over the killing of Amadou Diallo—were smothered in the glad-handing and warm embraces.

But now it appears that some officers have been exploiting the hero worship of the NYPD by waging vicious attacks on members of the suspect class. Civil rights watchdogs claim that complaints about menacing cops, beatings, and wrongful arrests are mounting. “Our files are bulging with charges of police brutality that occurred after September 11,” says J.D. Livingstone, who advised Anderson, Jones, and the Thompsons to file grievances with the CCRB and Internal Affairs. As Benét bewailed, for those who still bear the scars inflicted by the skillfull boys, “We thought we were done with these things, but we were wrong.”

“Courtesy, professionalism, and respect”—the watchwords of an NYPD initiative to win back the trust of African Americans—allegedly were ignored by cops when they responded to a report about noise coming from the basement of a Flatbush home in the early morning hours of October 7.

Indeed, the birthday party that Trinidadian immigrant Rayanne Thompson and her friends had organized at the San Cosa All Fours Club at 347 Lincoln Road had been going nonstop. Around 3 a.m., according to Thompson, an officer assigned to the 71st Precinct station house confronted her in front of the building. He asked Thompson, 30, if she was the owner of the premises. “No, I’m not, but hold on,” she says she replied. “Let me get the owner.”

“Get the fuck away from the door before I arrest your ass!” the cop allegedly shouted, pushing Thompson out of the way.

“You just assaulted me!” said Thompson, a devout Rasta, who began walking behind the officer. Edwin Dick, who was attending the party, told the cop that the building belonged to him, and raced into the basement to turn off the music. Meanwhile, several other officers had responded.

“Get out!” the officer told the celebrants. “The party is over.” Thompson says that as she and others began to leave, she heard a commotion and looked back. She says she saw about five police officers restraining her 45-year-old husband, Devon Thompson, who is also a Rasta, and pushing him against a cupboard. When Thompson asked a female officer why her husband was being arrested, the cop replied, “He touched a cop, and you are not supposed to touch a police officer.”

Thompson says she hugged Devon and would not let go. “But four male cops grabbed me, threw me to the floor, and dragged me by my dreadlocks,” she charges. “When I looked over to my right I saw the officers slam my husband’s head into the cupboard, then they threw him to the floor and started stomping him in his face and head. Two other cops beat him on his back with nightsticks, and they kicked him in his left side several times.”

Thompson recalls that when Dick tried to determine what was going on he was jumped by about five cops. “They threw him to the floor and started stomping on his wrist,” she says. “I could hear him begging them to stop.” While some cops escorted Thompson’s husband and Dick out of the building, leaving her on the floor handcuffed, others “smashed up the basement and took the music and drinks.” After an hour, Thompson claims, paramedics removed her from the basement. “I came outside and saw helicopters hovering above and the road blocked off with a lot of police cars.”

According to Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney who represented Abner Louima, a judge in Criminal Court in Brooklyn dismissed resisting arrest and assault charges against Dick and Devon Thompson on November 15. Rayanne Thompson was not charged. “The behavior of the police in this case is outrageous,” contends Rubenstein, who has filed an $8 million notice of claim against the city on behalf of the Thompsons, and $3 million on Dick’s behalf. “These were innocent people who were doing nothing wrong.” The preamble to the lawsuit alleges “false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution” by “police officers from the 71st Precinct whose identities have not been discovered.” The suit will also claim—in addition to “emotional distress and psychological overlay”—that Rayanne Thompson suffered injuries to her head, back, left shoulder, chest, left leg, and left hip; that her husband, Devon, suffered injuries to his head, ribs, back, left shoulder, face, and hands; and that Edwin Dick sustained injuries to his shoulders, ribs, right arm, right hand, and back.

To the white cop who had participated in a raid on a Flatbush home across the street from where Sheretha Anderson and her friend Kelsey Jones were standing on the morning of October 30, both 23-year-old women looked like truants cutting classes.

“Aren’t you ladies supposed to be in school?” the bike-riding, uniformed cop who Anderson and Jones would come to know as Officer Bello allegedly barked. “How old are you?” they say he asked. “You look like truant students.” The women insisted they were not students, gave their ages, and explained that they were on their way to a doctor’s office. When the officer turned his attention to another pedestrian, Anderson and Jones continued walking toward a bus stop.

“Didn’t I tell you bitches to show me some identification?” Anderson and Jones say Bello shouted on approaching them. Anderson says that she and Jones were surprised by the cop’s outburst. “In disbelief, we started cursing, telling him that he was disrespectful,” Anderson recalls.

“Now you’re resisting arrest,” she charges Bello said. “You’re going to jail.” According to Anderson, Bello “grabbed Kelsey by the arm and twisted it, and threw her” against an iron gate. Anderson says she and Bello got into a tug of war over Jones. “I tried to free Kelsey, but he was being too aggressive with her.” Anderson let go of her friend, and whipped out her cell phone. As she headed back to her apartment to notify her stepfather, Bello radioed for backup.

Anderson says when she turned around she saw several police vehicles converging at the scene. While some cops blocked off the street, two others raced toward her. One of them, Anderson claims, ripped the phone from her hand. Then both of the officers shoved her into a phone booth and “started to handcuff me with a lot of hostility.

“I told them to stop being aggressive with me because I am pregnant,” Anderson recalls. But the cops allegedly ignored Anderson and forced her into the back seat of a squad car. She began vomiting. “One of the officers told me to vomit out the window and not in the car,” she claims. Upon their arrival at the 69th Precinct station house, Anderson and Jones once more were challenged on their claims that they were in their twenties. A check revealed they had no criminal records.

“When Officer Bello realized we didn’t have any criminal charges against us, he took the cuffs off, and apologized for the misunderstanding,” Anderson says. “But I felt that the damage was already done, and that an apology was unacceptable. My best friend and I were traumatized by the incident. My wounds will heal quicker, but Kelsey has a sprained wrist and she pulled two muscles in her leg. The 69th Precinct will never heal the emotional pain of two young black women who were assaulted in the street by their cops.”

Research assistance: Sarah Park


Bloomberg Radio

Fiercely competitive African American radio personalities led by Pierre “Pepe” Sutton of Inner City Broadcasting and Bob Slade of Emmis Communications waged an on-air assault against Mark Green in the waning days of one of the most divisive mayoral races in the city’s history.

The carpet bombing of the Green campaign—an angry, uncoordinated response to the racial profiling of Reverend Al Sharpton and Fernando Ferrer by Green and some of his white aides—may have swayed the 25 percent of black voters who helped put novice Republican Michael Bloomberg over the top. Daily, up-to-the-minute commentaries were so openly anti-Green that some listeners teasingly began to refer to WLIB-AM, WWRL-AM, WBLS-FM, and WRKS-FM as “Bloomberg Radio.” Slade, the moderate lead anchor on WRKS’s The Open Line and The Week in Review, suggested that the stations be dubbed “the 25 percenters” for changing the minds of that percentage of black voters.

To those who criticize his stations for currying favor with Bloomberg, the general manager of WLIB and WBLS, Kernie Anderson, noted that former mayor David Dinkins, Green’s most vocal black supporter, hosts Dialogue with Dinkins on WLIB, and openly campaigned for the public advocate on his show. On the other hand, Anderson pointed out, Sharpton, who backed Ferrer, co-hosts Sharp Talk with ultra-black nationalist Alton Maddox, and stumped for Ferrer on his program.

Fatiyn Muhammad, the politically connected producer of The Open Line and The Week in Review, said that after Green’s camp complained that this reporter, who was a guest co-host on The Open Line, was too tough on Green when he appeared on the show in early October. Muhammad said that when Green rejected an invitation to return, he offered the entire hour to the mayoral hopeful. Five days before the election, however, Green backed out and instead recommended hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, who had disparaged Ferrer in a New York Post article, referring to the Bronx borough president as “this Puerto Rican guy.”

“I told them that we are not going to bring on any of Mark Green’s surrogates,” Muhammad recalled. “After The Open Line on the Sunday before the election, one of Green’s people called and asked to substitute Reverend Floyd Flake. I told her, ‘First you give us Russell Simmons, now you give us Floyd Flake. That’s insulting to our show and to our audience.’ ”

Queens-based WWRL, which is owned by Access 1 Communications, was the first black station to court Bloomberg. Early in the campaign, Bloomberg found a sympathetic ear in famed broadcast journalist and DJ Rennie Bishop, the station’s program director, who co-hosts The Morning Show with Sabrina Lamb. At the outset, Bishop grilled Bloomberg on racially motivated stops and frisks and police brutality, two issues of paramount concern to undecided black voters. “They [cops] have to tell you why you were stopped and apologize if they don’t arrest you, and [the NYPD will] have somebody call later on to make sure they did,” Bloomberg promised. “Those kinds of things are practical. . . . ”

In a follow-up complaint, Bishop brought up the “S” word. “[S]ince Mayor Giuliani has been in office he has refused to sit and dialogue with prominent African American leader Reverend Al Sharpton; would you meet with Reverend Sharpton, at least to hear his views and understand what [his] concerns are if you are elected mayor?” Bloomberg’s affirmative response resounded with black listeners.

“If I am the mayor, I will meet with anybody who represents a significant number of the electorate,” he said. “I think that you have to be the mayor of all the people. I think you have to get everybody’s views, and it has nothing to do with whether you agree or disagree.” Bloomberg was interviewed on three separate occasions, on air, by Bishop and Lamb.

When it was all over, Green had received 75 percent of the black vote—10 percent less than a Democratic mayoral candidate would ordinarily get. “But that 10 percent difference that went to Bloomberg could be attributed to the activist role black radio played in allowing Bloomberg to appeal to the black community,” asserted Inner City’s Anderson.

** Two weeks before the election, African Americans jammed the switchboards of the black radio stations and black-oriented programs on WRKS, responding to emotional appeals for racial justice by talk-jock firebrands such as Charles “the Cutman” Ethridge, James “The Third Answer” Mtume, Bob Pickett, Mark Riley, and Conrad Muhammad. The radio activists—all avowed Democrats with the exception of Muhammad, a former Nation of Islam minister, and Pickett, a conservative Republican—went full tilt for Bloomberg.

Because of his vow to defend the controversial legacy of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the liberal DemocratturnedRepublican had been cast in the unseemly role of a billionaire Barabbas by some black and Latino voters, who in their vengeful attempt to crucify the Great White Hope—Mark Green—themselves were accused of rejecting a savior.


“Inner City Broadcasting has never before broken with its Democratic roots,” declared Sutton in his Editorial on Our Times, which ran on WLIB and WBLS. “After two consecutive disappointing political seasons, one for the presidency and recently for a Democratic mayoralty,” he added, “it may be difficult to maintain focus on the goal of political empowerment—but maintain we must. . . . We cannot allow the Democratic Party to take our votes for granted.”

The usually cool-headed Sutton, the son of former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, wrote the editorial after a Daily News article claimed that four Green aides had been present at a secret meeting in which the idea of using racially tinged imagery to derail Ferrer’s campaign was discussed. The plan, according to the newspaper, was to galvanize white voters against Ferrer by highlighting the Bronx borough president’s relationship with Sharpton.

The day after the October 4 meeting, anti-Ferrer fliers and posters began appearing in predominantly white areas of Brooklyn. Several days later, thousands of anonymous phone calls were made in which voters were told that Ferrer would “hand the keys to City Hall” to Sharpton. Some of the fliers featured a New York Post cartoon that showed Ferrer kissing Sharpton’s buttocks. The Daily News reported that the same cartoon had been passed around at the October 4 meeting, with suggestions that it be used against Ferrer. At about the same time that the fliers were disseminated and the phone calls were made, the Green campaign ran a TV ad questioning whether voters could “trust” Ferrer as mayor.

Sutton blasted the white media, lamenting that “our hope for a Black-and-Latino-led resurgence of a great New York was dashed by a desperate candidate and a disingenuous liberal press (led by The New York Times).” He argued that the ambivalence among some black leaders toward Green should not be bottled up. That, some say, was his signal to blacks to consider embracing the political Barabbas Bloomberg on the eve of his crucifixion. “In former Democrat Mike Bloomberg we have a man that has shown his desire to improve our quality of life and participation in the economic mainframe,” Sutton said.

Green, however, is “a man who sees our cry for inclusion as divisive,” a not-so-subtle rebuke of the public advocate for berating Ferrer’s argument during the campaign that the city was partitioned into two New Yorks. “Who do we vote for?” Sutton asked. There should be no question which candidate baffled black voters must rally behind. “We say at WLIB/WBLS, vote for Mike Bloomberg, who sees us not as troublesome numbers but as an asset on New York’s balance sheet,” Sutton concluded. “We like Mike. Again, we may have been disappointed in the past, but the future belongs to the patient, the practical, and the righteous. . . . VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!”

Two days before the contest, the battle for the black vote exploded on Sunday Night Live, the talk show hosted by former Nation of Islam minister Conrad Muhammad on WBLS. Muhammad, also known as “the hip hop minister,” had invited both Mark Green and Michael Bloomberg to make last-minute pitches to his listeners. Green bowed out, but in what was now becoming a tired routine, sent in his place Eric Adams, the outspoken black NYPD lieutenant who is the leader of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, who was one of Green’s point men in the black community.

During a tumultuous exchange with Muhammad and Wayne Gillman, WLIB’s news director, who was Muhammad’s guest co-host that night, Adams accused “black radio” of being unfair to Green. “Black radio—all the stations—have given a distorted view to our public,” Adams charged. “I hope that you let the public know that the candidate [who’s] running against Mark Green supported apartheid that strangled our people in South Africa. This candidate made some very degrading statements toward women, and I have two sisters, so I am disturbed. . . . ”

As far as Gillman was concerned, “the horse” had already bolted from the barn. “Many of our black business leaders, some of our elected officials, [and] Giuliani Democrats, are considering crossing over to the Republican Party to vote for Michael Bloomberg,” contended the veteran journalist, whose audience on sister stations WLIB and WBLS is 90 percent African American and West Indian.

Muhammad weighed in, pointing out that influential African Americans like Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine; Barbara Ann Teer, director of the National Black Theater; Wilbert Tatum, publisher emeritus of The Amsterdam News; and Tom Watkins, publisher of The Daily Challenge—the city’s only black daily—had long tuned into Bloomberg. But Adams insisted that Bloomberg bought that support; that “money has been put in our community.”


A caller from Brooklyn picked up on Adams’s accusation. “I am surprised,” the male caller said. “I’m wondering if WLIB and WBLS have been bought.”

“Why do you ask that question?” Muhammad fired back.

“I see you guys supporting Mike Bloomberg, who embraces racial profiling, apartheid that we’ve all fought against in this city,” the man protested. “And as an African American, I’m insulted that we spend our money with the two stations that you represent. You are being used as an agent or tool. . . . to divide our community and to discourage our people.”

Inner City’s Kernie Anderson denied any underhandedness, explaining that both Green and Bloomberg spent a lot of money on campaign commercials with his company. “The amount of money that was spent on black radio is probably astronomical because everybody was trying to go after [us],” Anderson emphasized.

Over at “Radio Free Harlem”—the in-house moniker for white-owned WRKS, which broadcasts the black-oriented programs The Open Line and The Week in Review—Charles Ethridge was “cutting up” black leaders for supporting Green in the face of the candidate’s refusal to apologize for playing the race card.

“The thing that I find outstandingly amazing is the rapidity with which the black elected [officials] and ministerial representatives of our city fell in line,” the acid-tongued co-host proclaimed. “I can find no excuse [by] any one of them—including Reverend Sharpton, who has called for a boycott, which he backed off of.” Sharpton, Ethridge fumed, waffled on the question of his support for Green. “We have a black political leadership that is willing to go and sell out the black voters to the Democratic Party. . . . ”

Last Sunday, Michael Bloomberg placed a thank-you call to The Open Line. But it was co-host James Mtume who reminded all the Johnny-come-latelies that it was black talk-show activists like himself, Bob Slade, and Bob Pickett who first sold Bloomberg to African Americans. “All the stations that have black talk spoke out on this first, [and] everybody else came on a little later,” bragged Mtume, the legendary musician who wrote the theme for the TV series New York Undercover.

In closing out the “victory broadcast,” Pickett, a former New Jersey administrative judge, put Bloomberg’s win in its proper context. “What it says is that if you give black folk information they will take that information, absorb it, dissect it, and make the best possible decision they can make,” Pickett opined. “I am proud of all talk radio for pitching in these last four weeks and giving our folk information they needed to make a critical decision. And I congratulate . . . the 25 percent of you [who] changed your minds, and I also congratulate the 75 percent of you who did not. . . . Maybe! Maybe! You learned a lesson.”

Peter Noel is a co-host of WRKS’s The Week in Review and a commentator on WWRL’s The Morning Show.


Lunch With Arafat

GAZA CITY, PALESTINE—As Al Sharpton sped along a dusty road in the Gaza Strip to a historic meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat last week, he and a top aide, riding in the backseat of a black Mercedes Benz, imagined the look on Jesse Jackson’s face. It would be one of disbelief, they conjectured, as Jackson watched his rival dodge the crossfire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and become the premier black statesman on the world stage—brokering peace through shuttle diplomacy.

Since the Taliban embarrassed Jackson—by denying he had an agreement with them to negotiate the handover of Osama bin Laden and the release of eight Christian aid workers detained in Afghanistan—Sharpton, 46, has been maneuvering through the ranks of the civil rights movement, vowing to lessen Jackson’s political influence abroad. Sharpton’s aide predicted that following the meeting with Arafat (and a high-profile huddle earlier the same day with Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres), Sharpton would emerge bigger and blacker than Jackson; and “the poor little fat boy from Brownsville” who grew up parroting the politics of Jackson’s PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) might even be invited next by the Taliban to negotiate the release of the Christians.

“Outside of Colin Powell, you’re probably the only prominent African American today who top Israeli and Palestinian officials would meet with,” the aide told Sharpton. “Jesse can’t do it. Farrakhan can’t do it. This is unprecedented.” After commenting on how the visit with Arafat might play back home, Sharpton began to think about “right-wing zealots in New York’s Jewish community” who’d long portrayed him as “a friend of the terrorist Arafat” when in fact he’d never met the man.

“Finally! Finally we meet!” said a grinning Arafat as he grabbed Sharpton’s hand in an upstairs office of his headquarters overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” replied Sharpton, who seemed awestruck as he tightened his grip on Arafat’s hands, which have grown feeble and shaky over the years from Parkinson’s disease.

“He trembled; he looked pale; he was much smaller in stature than I’d imagined,” Sharpton later recalled about his host, who was clad in his traditional olive military uniform and keffiyeh headdress. “I remember asking myself, ‘Is this the Yasir Arafat who for decades some have called the world’s most dangerous terrorist?’ ”

During their fleeting introduction, a lot had crossed Sharpton’s mind. He remembered growing up in the civil rights movement and advocating—when it was unpopular to do so—that the Palestinians had the right to a homeland. He remembered that the dovish Wyatt Tee Walker, the former top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had described Palestinians as “the niggers of the Middle East” when equating their struggle to that of black Americans to get to the Promised Land that King gave his life for.

Sharpton recalled thinking that in some quarters it is still considered a crime for high-profile blacks to coddle Yasir Arafat. He thought about the firing of Andy Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN, for meeting with a Palestinian official during the Carter administration. “I remembered that 22 years ago Jesse Jackson got in trouble for embracing Yasir Arafat,” he said. “For many years they used that photo against Jesse. I remembered that I was in Washington during the signing of the Camp David Accords with President Clinton, watching some of the same leaders who had condemned Jesse for hugging Arafat jostle each other on the White House lawn for the opportunity to shake Arafat’s hand. All of this was on my mind as I was looking at Arafat and shaking his hand.”

In a moment loaded with all of this history, the two leaders hit it off. After they posed for photographers, Arafat aides kicked out the media. Sharpton, flanked by Jewish attorney Sanford Rubenstein and his closest aides, Dedrick Muhammad and Edward Harris, wasted no time bringing up the subject of random killings of Israeli citizens by Palestinian gunmen. On October 28, the day Sharpton arrived in Tel Aviv, five people were slaughtered in two separate incidents by gunmen who were killed by Israeli police. Since the assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi on October 17, more than 50 Palestinians have been killed as Israeli army and tanks assaulted towns and villages in the West Bank classified as Palestinian-controlled areas under Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

According to Muhammad and Harris, Sharpton let Arafat know in unequivocal language that he was “extremely disturbed” by the targeting of civilians. Sharpton explained that he, like many African Americans, has come face to face with terrorism. He told Arafat about 12-year-old Travis Boyd, a friend of his two daughters, whose mother is buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Arafat interrupted Sharpton and waved off a translator. “I denounced what happened in the World Trade Center,” Sharpton aides quoted an animated Arafat as saying. “You should tell people I donated blood to the victims. I consider it one of the most horrific acts in the history of mankind. I have rejected Bin Laden misusing the Palestinian cause. What he did has nothing to do with Palestine. It had nothing to do with Islam.”


Once more, Sharpton raised the issue of the killing of the five civilians. “Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said you should stop the killings; that you could control the militants even if you don’t directly control them now,” the activist said. Arafat repudiated the killings, but denied that his people were involved. Sharpton then asked Arafat if he would announce publicly that he’d be willing to resume stalled talks with the Israelis. “I do want to resume talks with the Israelis,” Arafat proclaimed. “Though the Americans and the Vietnamese were at war, the peace talks never stopped. They never said, ‘We’ll only talk peace if the problems go away.’ There are always problems. They need to come back to the table with no conditions.”

Several times Sharpton invoked the role of special envoy, urging Arafat to take serious measures to immediately end the ongoing violence and return to the negotiating table. But the shrewd veteran of the Camp David and Oslo accords probed to ascertain whether the street preacher from Harlem was in way over his head. “Are you aware of the Mitchell Report?” asked Arafat, referring to the document that called for an end to violence, a crackdown on militants by Palestinian security forces, and a freeze on construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharpton seized the moment for levity. “Last Monday I met with Henry Kissinger, who also mentioned the Mitchell Report to me,” he said. “I never believed I’d live long enough for Henry Kissinger and Yasir Arafat to instruct me in the recommendations of the Mitchell Report in one week.” Arafat chuckled. As the leaders joked, an Arafat aide pulled back a sliding door that divided the meeting room from a dining area.

“Come, let’s have lunch,” said Arafat, ushering the delegation toward a massive table laid with platters of food. Arafat arranged the seating, putting “Sharpthin” (the name some friends gave the slimmed-down activist after his three-month stint in a federal prison) across from him. “They served us lentil soup, some rice, some lamb, and chicken,” Sharpton recalled. “We continued to talk about the violence over lunch.”

During the meal, Arafat departed from diplomacy to display his own sense of humor. He began to tease Rubenstein about the garlic Rubenstein was sprinkling in his soup. “This is good for you,” he said.

“It’s good for your cholesterol,” Rubenstein responded. Sharpton shook his head and smiled at the jousting Jew and Arab, pontificating on the power of garlic in soup. “I thought about this Jewish lawyer from Court Street sitting with Yasir Arafat,” Sharpton said later. “I thought about how all life really comes together in basic stuff like putting garlic in soup.”

They talked for another 40 minutes. Again Sharpton said he appreciated Arafat’s statement that he would take steps to control violence and combat terrorism. “President Arafat seemed perplexed, asking why the world wouldn’t cover, in a credible way, his condemnation of terrorism and attacks on Osama bin Laden,” Sharpton said. “He kept reiterating, ‘It is important to me that you tell the world that I do not want the Palestinian cause to be misused by Bin Laden.”

Arafat also expressed a desire to visit the twin towers. “I would love to see Ground Zero to show my sympathy for the victims, just like you have come to Israel to show your sympathy,” said the man who was hounded out of Lincoln Center six years ago by Mayor Rudy Giuliani during a summit of world leaders in New York. “But given the politics, I don’t know if I would be welcomed.”

Sharpton laughed. “I am inviting you to come to New York to speak at the House of Justice,” the activist said. “I extended the same invitation to Mr. Peres this morning. Maybe I’ll have you do a double sermon in one day.” The leaders and their aides giggled. Suddenly, Arafat rose from his chair. “I want to give you this gift,” he said pointing to a red-velvet-upholstered box an aide was holding.

“This is handmade in Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus,” Arafat said, describing the box’s contents. It was a hand-carved rendition of the Nativity Scene.

“I was shocked,” Sharpton said. But it wasn’t because the Muslim leader had given him a Christian gift. Arafat’s gift caused Sharpton to reflect on the sermon he’d preached at his House of Justice just hours before departing for Israel. “In my message I talked about growing up in a broken home, and how I had to depend on a friend who was born in the Middle East, in a little town called Bethlehem. I used to sing my favorite song, then turn toward Bethlehem. I said that I owed it to my friend from Bethlehem to fight until I had erased the blood from the streets of his hometown.”


After Sharpton handed the box to Dedrick Muhammad, Arafat locked arms with the minister. “He took my arm to hold himself steady,” Sharpton later recalled. Arafat then showed him artwork portraying the Torah, the Koran, and the Ten Commandments in Arabic hanging on a wall. Pointing to a picture of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s first president, Arafat revealed that he himself had been a soldier in the Egyptian army.

“Who is the leader you most admire?” Sharpton asked.

“Mao Tse-tung,” Arafat replied briskly.

“Why Mao?”

“Because Mao Tse-tung is the only leader who fought four occupying forces, and beat them all—at a time when so many of his people were addicted to opium,” Arafat explained. “He got them off opium and freed them from occupation. He was a phenomenal leader.”

The discussion about Arafat’s hero clearly energized him. He seemed to have bonded with Sharpton as they walked hand in hand toward the door leading to a flight of stairs. Arafat stopped briefly and showed Sharpton a picture of Jerusalem by night. He told Sharpton how he grew up in his uncle’s house in Jerusalem and how he used to pray in the temples of the Old City.

“Look at this,” Arafat said pointing to the photo. “I’m not anti-Israel.”


Take It or Leave It, Mark Green

Can Mark Green win back the hearts and minds of black and Latino voters?

If the shunned Democratic mayoral nominee wants to atone for participating in the most divisive political campaign since Ed Koch’s 1988 assertion that Jews would be crazy to vote for Jesse Jackson, he must bow to a list of six conditions, the Voice has learned.

These conditions are contained in a strongly worded letter that Brooklyn assemblyman Roger L. Green, the powerful chair of the state’s Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic Caucus, quietly dispatched to Mark Green four days after the bruising October 11 runoff.

Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Roger Green’s choice for mayor, narrowly lost; partly because Mark Green operatives—fearing the city’s Public Advocate might lose—shamelessly appealed to white New Yorkers’ anxieties about police protection and economic survival in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In retaliation, Green has been treated like a pariah in black and Latino communities.

On the one hand, Roger Green’s letter, published here for the first time, reads like a black politician’s indictment, charging that Mark Green betrayed African Americans and Latinos. On the other, it’s a take-it-or-leave-it challenge to a Democrat some blacks are calling a turncoat liberal. The Voice obtained a copy shortly after the assemblyman, Al Sharpton, and Bronx Democratic County boss Roberto Ramirez stormed out of an October 19 unity rally that concerned Democratic Party officials had hastily organized to hype Ferrer’s surprise endorsement of Green. In the letter, Roger Green refers to the six conditions as a “bill of particulars that could address the growing divisions that threaten the political solidarity within the Democratic Party and social solidarity of our city.” This is what he says Mark Green should do:

  • “Apologize for those remarks that you made which were associated with the Happy Land fire, and which were perceived as devaluing the lives of victims and the suffering of families connected to this tragedy.
  • “Disassociate yourself and your campaign from anyone involved in the construction and promotion of negative advertisements that demeaned the competence and character of Mr. Ferrer’s leadership.
  • “Disassociate yourself and your campaign from anyone who participated in the racial denigration of Mr. Sharpton during this campaign.
  • “Support the appointment of a Latino as the next New York State Democratic Party chair.
  • “Support a person of color as the next speaker of [the] New York City Council.
  • “Support the [gubernatorial] candidacy of [African American state comptroller] H. Carl McCall.”

Mark Green’s dream of occupying Gracie Mansion may hinge on the political stock he places in the assemblyman’s solution for healing the widening rift between the “Two New Yorks.” But Mark Green may decide it’s not worth it because Sharpton wants political revenge for portraying him to moderate white voters as the Osama bin Laden of New York.

“I am going to the Wailing Wall to promise God that I will not support Mark Green for mayor,” Sharpton vowed before departing for the war-torn Middle East last Saturday.

When Al Sharpton bounded off a hotel podium packed with high-ranking Democrats two weeks ago in downtown Manhattan, he was visibly disgusted by their lukewarm condemnation of the right-wing tactics Mark Green had resorted to in order to defeat Fernando Ferrer in the mayoral runoff.

Hot on Sharpton’s heels was former jailmate and political gadfly Roberto Ramirez. But as Sharpton raced to a back exit—muttering invectives, swearing to God that neither Mark Green nor the Democratic Party would embarrass him ever again—a voice called out to the civil rights activist, “Al! Al! Al!” On the fourth appeal, Sharpton spun around. He came face to face with Roger Green, his critic during the Tawana Brawley fiasco, who had become a close ally in recent months. Green began to console the whipping boy of the radical populist right, whom candidate Green had been reluctant to chastise.

Tears that had brimmed in Sharpton’s eyes after he watched Ferrer’s feeble embrace of his former rival, gushed as he stared at the sallow-faced Green.

“Do you believe this mess?” Sharpton asked.

“Unbelievable,” Green replied. “That in there was unbelievable, Reverend.”

As both leaders headed toward the lobby, Green whipped out a copy of the October 15 five-page letter he had written to Mark Green. Like many disillusioned African Americans, Green struggles to redefine the once vaunted liberal. “What are you?” the assemblyman asks Green in the letter. “Progressive? Neo-liberal? Neo-conservative? Conservative Democrat?”

In the letter, Roger Green expresses his “disappointment with the tactics and tenor” of Mark Green’s campaign. This race for Gracie Mansion, he complains, “took on the characteristics of racial insensitivity, racial divisiveness.” According to him, the views that he has so carefully outlined in the letter, regarding Mark Green’s behavior during the campaign, “are now widely prevalent within the African-American and Latino constituency of the Democratic Party.” Green, he contends, derailed an effort by grassroots voters to “build a coalition of conscience around a progressive political agenda that transcends race and ethnicity.”

In damning detail, he revisits Green’s attacks on Ferrer. He begins by recalling the October 7 televised debates, in which Green belittled and blasted Ferrer for mentioning the city’s 1977 blackout and the Happy Land Social Club fire that killed 87 people in the same context as the September 11 terrorist attacks. “To compare this catastrophe, the mass murder of 5000 people, 100,000 jobs lost, $100 billion hit in the economy, to the Happy Land fire, and the blackout of 1977 . . . shows a lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the economic impact, the safety impact, and the federal impact,” Mark Green said.

Roger Green argues that “there is no evidence” that Ferrer made the comparison. “[M]any African-American and Latino voters have concluded that your statement was a calculated attack that was intended to reinforce the cynical manipulation of a New York Times editorial that inferred that Mr. Ferrer was ‘borderline irresponsible’ for having the temerity to suggest that some areas outside of the financial district should serve as host for the recovery effort,” the assemblyman writes. “The unintended consequence of this demagogic tactic extends beyond the arena of electoral politics and public policy. I believe your statement, taken in context with your negative advertisements, raises some serious questions about your commitment to social solidarity. By driving a calculated wedge between the surviving families of the World Trade Center [disaster] and the Happy Land fire, you unwittingly devalued those human lives touched by these tragedies and enthroned a mean-spirited moral relativism.”

What impact might such a message have on whites? “I . . . fear that this misguided attack may give some the impression that suffering associated with a tragedy, which occurred in a borough that is predominated by African-Americans and Latinos, can be marginalized and dismissed for the sake of one’s political ambition,” Green notes. In Mark Green’s desperation to win, the assemblyman charges, he ignored “the historic importance” of Ferrer’s campaign to African Americans and Latinos.

“By engaging in an orchestrated attack on Mr. Ferrer’s competence, your campaign stimulated fear among some white voters who still harbor doubts about the leadership skills of African American and Latino elected officials,” Green states. “In addition, your condescending criticisms and negative advertisements [about] Mr. Ferrer betrayed the aspirations and ideals of a growing African-American and Latino electorate which has supported your numerous elections, including [to] the Office of Public Advocate. Be advised that most Latino and African-American voters viewed these attacks as a disrespectful condemnation of our collective character.”

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Mark Green’s campaign was his “repeated attacks” on Ferrer’s “Two New Yorks” theme, Roger Green points out.

“As an elected official who has had the opportunity to work with you toward the identification and resolution of problems facing ‘the other New York,’ I believe your attacks were divisive and disingenuous,” Green writes. “Your numerous publications, including reports issued by your office that have underscored the abuse and mistreatment of New Yorkers [by] the city’s police department, provide overwhelming proof that there are communities throughout this city who have been deprived of basic justice and have suffered from economic and social isolation.”

In the letter, Green, who is chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families, cites “empirical evidence” that there are two New Yorks: “By the end of 2001, New York City will have an additional 32,000 children designated as orphans because of the HIV/AIDS crisis. More than 89% of these children are African-American and Latino children.”

Because of Mark Green’s credentials as an outspoken liberal, black politicians like Roger Green had “assumed” that the wannabe mayor would “align [himself] with Mr. Ferrer’s theme, which sought to eliminate those fissures that have created the reality of two New Yorks.” As Green explains it, “We had some expectation that your self-avowed progressive identity would have inspired you to express political solidarity concerning those divisions that exist in this city.” That would have been the right thing for the Great White Hope to do. But he did nothing.

“Many members of the Latino and African-American community believe that you and other leaders of the Democratic Party, who profess to be ‘progressive,’ have a moral responsibility to articulate the differences that surround the lives of those children born and raised in the South Bronx as compared to the lives of children born and raised in the Yorkville and Turtle Bay neighborhoods of the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” Green maintains. “When you charged that Mr. Ferrer was being ‘divisive’ for truthfully articulating the unfortunate class and racial differences that continue to trouble this city, you squandered an ideal opportunity to build a coalition of conscience across racial and ethnic lines that might address those pressing issues facing future generations and the next mayor of our city.”


Mark Green, You Can’t Hide

Mark Green, a Rudy Giuliani in the making, may have replaced the ironfisted Republican mayor as the most hated white man in the African American community.

Last Saturday, I sat riveted to my chair in Al Sharpton’s House of Justice listening to the black activist read the Harlem riot act to the two-tongued Democrat, who many blacks now believe stole the mayoral runoff election from Fernando Ferrer. Sharpton, his jowly cheeks pouted in characteristic bullfrog ire, accused Green of remaining silent while racial alarmists—white editorial writers, columnists, and cartoonists—portrayed him as the man who would be the real power behind the mayoralty if Ferrer were to win.

The day after the election, Green, according to black activists and political leaders, launched a half-hearted attempt to repudiate the Sharptonphobia and reject the racialization of New York. His plea to people close to Sharpton is intended to get the angry kingmaker to put aside hurt feelings and come out in support of him against Republican nominee Michael Bloomberg.

But blacks like me are too traumatized by the racism that Green failed to put in check. We don’t hug and make up that easily, bro. It’s like being raped by a great uncle: You don’t ever want to embrace the scumbag again.


Blacks like me, however, should isolate Green. We should not invite him into our ‘hoods or houses of worship. Avoid him like white anthrax powder.


When I saw my sista friends—the term-limited City Councilmember Una Clarke, and her daughter Yvette, who will take her place—smiling and walking the streets with Green after his tainted victory, I lost it. Why are they, including my brothers—former mayor David Dinkins, Eric Adams of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, and Assemblyman Denny Farrell—still bootlickin’ and buckdancin’ for Green?

Those African Americans—all 29 percent of them who gave Green the edge over Ferrer—should sit out next month’s election in protest. Force Green to rely on the 66 percent of whites and 60 percent of Jews who swept his main African American backer, Dinkins, into office in 1989. Blacks like me, however, should isolate Green. We should not invite him into our ‘hoods or houses of worship. Avoid him like white anthrax powder.

As Al Sharpton whipped the crowd into an anti-Mark Green frenzy—threatening to sit on the sidelines and watch the battle between two Jewish candidates—I felt vindicated.

For several years, long before a politically hungry Sharpton dined on bagels and croissants at Green’s home, I remember warning Sharpton that Green was a phony white liberal who would some day turn against us niggaz. Shortly before Sharpton ran for the Senate in 1993, he and I argued bitterly over Green. I said that the “honky with hubris”—my code name for Green—should not be trusted. Sharpton balked. Such rhetoric, he cautioned, might be construed as racist; I was not to repeat that ugly phrase in his presence.

Sharpton, who boasts it is not in his DNA to be an Uncle Tom, had matured. In the ensuing years, he flatly rejected my “talking black” approach to Green’s brand of liberalism, frowning on epithets he believed to be divisive. I perhaps was the first to realize that the Baptist preacher had had an epiphany about race.

Sharpton later would buy into David Dinkins’s vision of the city as a “gorgeous mosaic” and desire to be part of the ethnic tapestry. He wanted to embrace the two New Yorks—a tactic, he asserted, that would help shed his image as a racial polarizer. He took the high road, cutting a wide swath that seemed to distance him from the racial politics of the past. Suddenly, he was forming formidable alliances with Jewish politicians like former Mayor Ed Koch, who’d heretofore resented his bawdy style of black advocacy, but now touted him as a conciliator.

Mark Green was one of the politicians who began to exploit Sharptonmania. This spring, Green and his wife took Sharpton and his wife to the opening performance of Judgment at Nuremberg, a Broadway play about the Holocaust. At the same time Green was trying to kosher Sharpton, he was riding his coattails to popularity in the African American community. During my in-your-face quarrels with Sharpton over Green, he never once flip-flopped on his opinion that Green was an “inherently decent” individual. In light of Green’s frontline battle to stamp out racial profiling and loud rebuke of brutal cops, Sharpton praised him as a civil rights leader who’d saddled himself with the task of liberating African Americans from Giuliani’s political stranglehold.

But where was Green’s outrage when the bigots were gangbanging Sharpton and the Latino kid who grew up playing stickball on Fox Street?

Al Sharpton’s critics—egged on by Mark Green’s negative eleventh-hour advertising blitz—played on the unfounded fears of whites and Jews; fears that ultimately robbed Fernando Ferrer of his dream of occupying Gracie Mansion. In the run-up to the October 11 runoff, media henchmen with alleged ties to Green or his operatives bombarded Sharpton daily with a barrage of stinking satire that reeked of racism.

The New York Post led the attack. On October 4, the Page Six cartoonist, who’d depicted Sharpton as the master puppeteer and Bozo the Clown, delivered the ultimate insult. A grotesquely caricatured Sharpton had ballooned: The Svengali is bending over backward while the impish, frail-looking Ferrer licks his fat ass. “You’re the best Freddy, the very best!!!” Sharpton responds. Says Ferrer, “Thanks boss.” Two days later, on Page Six, Ferrer, the puppet in the “Al and Freddy Show,” is sitting on the lap of his obese ventriloquist. “Let me assure you that Freddy Ferrer is his own man,” the dummy Ferrer proclaims.

By October 7, the Post’s campaign of denigration had joined Sharpton and Ferrer at the hip in one massive blob. “Sorry Al,” Ferrer says to his Siamese twin, “but if I’m gonna win this election, I’m gonna have to distance myself from you.” On the eve of the election, the Page Six cartoonist drew Sharpton as Fat Albert and a beanpole Ferrer on their knees against a white backdrop, daubing the floor jet black and painting themselves into a corner with their “Two New Yorks Campaign.”

“Now what?” asks Ferrer, glancing at the dumbfounded, farting powerbroker.

Last week, in an indirect way, Al Sharpton unmasked a phony white liberal.

As the audience broke up at the House of Justice, one of Sharpton’s followers pressed a copy of Randall Robinson’s book, Defending the Spirit, A Black Life in America, in my hand. “Read pages five and six,” she said. “When you’re done, come back and tell me that Mark Green is not a closet racist.” In the book, Robinson, the president of TransAfrica, recounts a classroom confrontation he and five other blacks had with Green while they were students at Harvard Law School in the winter of 1967. Robinson writes:

Professor Fried is superciliously droning on in a vaguely British accent about how the visitation of annoying or unpleasant conditions upon a neighborhood (grating noise or belching smoke, for example) can constitute a tort or cause of action for a civil lawsuit.

“Can anyone think of an actionable nuisance we haven’t touched on today?” asks Professor Fried.

“What about black people moving into a neighborhood?” suggests Mark Joseph Green, liberal Democrat of Cornell University and Great Neck, New York.

A thoughtful discussion ensues. Henry Sanders looks at me. We five blacks in fact all look at each other. Our faces betray little. In any case, the privileged young white scholars are oblivious. There are legal arguments to be mustered, pro and con. The discussion of whether or not the mere presence of blacks constitutes an inherent nuisance swirls around the five blacks. We say nothing. We cannot dignify insult with reasoned rebuttal. The choice is between ventilated rage and silence. We choose silence.

Mr. Green does not prevail and is foreclosed from extending his argument. Encouraged, he might have made Harvard Law School a plaintiff in a theoretical nuisance suit against the twenty-five blacks admitted to its class since 1970.

Doubtless Mr. Green will not remember his attempt to expand the definition of nuisance as a tort. Thirty years later I will not have forgotten.

Does this mean that Mark Green harbors latent racist opinions about blacks? I told the Sharpton supporter that Robinson’s story about a phony white liberal speaks for itself.

Additional reporting by Marissa Moss


Ground Hog

Seizing the opportunity to eclipse political rival Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, once scorned by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, stood shoulder to shoulder with him at Ground Zero last week, wiping out in 15 minutes of ‘shameful grandstanding’ Sharpton’s eight-year battle to portray the mayor as hostile to African Americans.

Black and Latino leaders incensed by Jackson’s power play are “discussing ways of punishing him,” says Dedrick Muhammad, field director of Sharpton’s Harlem-based National Action Network. Jackson’s audacious show of solidarity with Giuliani, arch-nemesis of the city’s black-led civil rights movement, inflamed his already combustible relationship with Sharpton. Several of Sharpton’s aides have denounced Jackson’s unannounced visit. “This was a cowardly ambush for the purpose of shameful grandstanding,” Muhammad charges. Jackson denies his trip to New York City was political. “Eighty of my friends, waiters who worked for Windows on the World, perished,” he says. “My grief transcends everything else. My feelings for my lost friends were the issue. It had nothing to do with the mayor.”

Jackson says that an American Red Cross board member invited him to inspect Ground Zero. “They offered to escort me to the site, but when I got there the mayor was conducting the tours, just as he had done for others,” he insists.

It happened on Al Sharpton’s watch, a sneak political attack executed in the waning hours of last Tuesday’s Democratic primary—on the very day that Sharpton was preoccupied with the goal of electing Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer the city’s first Latino mayor.

Ever since hijackers crashed two jumbo jets into the twin towers, Giuliani has stood guard at the entrance to the world’s most notorious graveyard, waving through friends and political allies while allegedly denying entry to foes. Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, the city’s highest elected black official, watched from the sidelines as Giuliani escorted a parade of high-profile national and foreign dignitaries into Ground Zero. One by one, they congratulated Giuliani for his “strength” and “compassion” in the aftermath of the attacks.

On primary night, as black and Latino leaders and prominent businesspeople flocked to the Puck Building in Greenwich Village to celebrate Ferrer’s victory—he won 36 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff with Public Advocate Mark Green—political gadflies overheard a torrent of complaints and questions about Jackson. “I talked to Jesse yesterday, and he never told me he was going down there with Giuliani,” Sharpton videographer Eddie Harris quoted a top black elected state official as saying. “We are not going to be disrespected,” the politician fumed. “Why would he come into town and do this?”

But there were more questions than answers. “Why didn’t Jesse touch base?” Harris then heard a wealthy black businessman ask. “Who did he talk to? Who agreed to this?”

“How could he come to town on the day we’re trying to get Ferrer elected mayor and stand with Giuliani?” queried one well-known Latino community activist.

According to several campaign workers that night, Sharpton and the other black and Latino leaders were equally troubled by Jackson’s blatant snub of Bill Thompson, the former Board of Education president who won the Democratic primary to become the city’s first African American comptroller. “Jesse Jackson, the creator of the Wall Street Project, didn’t endorse Bill Thompson for such a powerful position,” a contributor to Jackson’s project lamented. “He did not pass out a flyer, did not go to a subway stop. But he rushes to Ground Zero with Rudy Giuliani. On the day that a Rainbow ticket is winning in New York, he is totally uninvolved. He is standing with the anti-Rainbow mayor. What is wrong with this guy?” (Jackson wishes his critics would note that he promoted Ferrer’s candidacy in several radio interviews.)

In the search for answers, a Ferrer campaign contributor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asserted that maybe Jackson had lost so much ground in black New York political circles that he did not even bother to volunteer to campaign for the Rainbow candidates. “Maybe he did this in desperation, to get some attention from us,” the Ferrer supporter surmised.

Muhammad, the Sharpton aide, says he heard a black political analyst pepper a Jackson defender with these questions: “In the eight years Rudy Giuliani has been in office, did he invite Jesse to Gracie Mansion? Did he invite Jesse to City Hall? Has Giuliani ever attended Jesse’s annual convention of the Wall Street Project? Is it not true that when David Dinkins was mayor Jesse was given police security and treated like a V.I.P. when he came to town? Don’t you think that Giuliani is using Jesse? How does he explain not endorsing the Rainbow slate? How could he come to town and not campaign for them?”

According to Muhammad, the analyst contended that if Giuliani was trying to unite his city he certainly missed a unique opportunity to do so. “He said, ‘Giuliani did not want to reach out to people like Sharpton, Carl McCall, or C. Virginia Fields,’ ” Muhammad recalls. “He said, ‘This is a fraud that Giuliani has orchestrated for his own political ends,’ that Giuliani ‘choreographed the visits to Ground Zero so that only certain people would get maximum PR,’ making it appear that his black political opponents like Reverend Sharpton didn’t care.”


Al Sharpton swore that Jesse Jackson’s foray into New York for a detente with Rudy Giuliani caught him by surprise. He said that the day before the primary, his mentor called him.

According to Sharpton aide J.D. Livingstone, who hooked up a three-way conversation, Jackson said he was coming to the city and wanted to “touch base” with Sharpton when he arrived. After Jackson inquired about the well-being of the activist’s wife, Cathy, and teenage daughters, Dominique and Ashley, Sharpton told him that the girls had been consoling a survivor, 12-year-old Travis Boyd, whose mother is presumed dead in the World Trade Center rubble. Livingstone recalls Sharpton suggesting that Jackson reach out to some African American aid workers who were toiling near Ground Zero or engage in a range of relief efforts in mostly black neighborhoods. Again, Jackson promised to reach out to his protégé.

At about eleven o’clock on the morning of the primary, Livingstone put through a call from Jackson to Sharpton on his cell phone. Livingstone says Jackson seemed eager to let Sharpton in on his New York itinerary. He allegedly told Sharpton he was scheduled to speak at an elementary school and afterward would swing by the Red Cross to meet some of its officials. He then asked where Sharpton would be that afternoon. “Sharpton said he would be in the streets campaigning for Ferrer and Bill Thompson, and later he would tape a show for the Fox network,” Livingstone recalls.

Upon leaving the Fox studios in downtown Manhattan, Sharpton was confronted by a reporter who pointed out that while Sharpton was accusing Rudy Giuliani of exploiting the World Trade Center tragedy by seeking to extend his term in office, Jesse Jackson was at Ground Zero, standing next to Giuliani and praising his leadership. “Doesn’t this smack of Rudy being accepted by a lot of people in the civil rights community?” the reporter asked.

Sharpton stiffened. “He was in shock,” an aide claims. Sharpton told the reporter that Giuliani should be commended but that he was not prepared to sweep eight years of the mayor’s ironfisted rule over his African American constituents under the wreckage of the twin towers. “I remember saying, ‘Rudy seems sensitive now because he has been insensitive to our community for eight long years,’ ” Sharpton confirms. “I said, ‘We had gotten so used to the mean and insensitive Rudy.’ ”

As a disgruntled Sharpton resumed campaigning, Livingstone again connected one of Jackson’s aides to Sharpton. This is how Livingstone recalls the conversation:

“You know that Reverend Jackson is still trying to touch base with you later today?” the unidentified aide said.

“Get in touch with me?” Sharpton screamed. “He just left Ground Zero with Rudy Giuliani! How could y’all do this?”

“What do you mean?” the Jackson aide shot back. “He got involved with the American Red Cross. They brought him there.”

“Do you realize that Giuliani has snubbed Carl McCall, C. Virginia Fields, and other people that were critical of him? They were not allowed to speak at the memorial at Yankee Stadium. He knows that Giuliani is under attack by me. This only gives Giuliani cover. Is Jesse mindful of the fact that Giuliani is trying to use us, one against the other?”

The Jackson aide, according to Livingstone, said Jackson would contact Sharpton later to offer an explanation. Jackson called as Sharpton sped to the Puck Building to revel in Ferrer’s win. According to Muhammad, who was traveling with Sharpton, the two Baptist preachers argued bitterly. This is how Sharpton aides reconstructed the details of that showdown:

“I think you absolutely violated our territorial integrity by being there with Giuliani,” Sharpton said.

“Al, everybody’s coming to see him, heads of nations,” Jackson explained.

“That’s not the point!” Sharpton shouted. “I think this is an absolute outrage. I’m going to deal with both of y’all!”

“We don’t need to get into a spat over this,” Jackson replied.

Sharpton, the aide recalls, was inconsolable.

“You always do this thing,” Sharpton charged. “You come in here and screw us and then turn around and act like you don’t understand. I feel absolutely violated by this. Why would you give cover to Rudy Giuliani on a day like this?”

“I’ll call you later,” Jackson pleaded. “That’s not the way it is. You need to defend me.”


“Defend you?” Sharpton bellowed. “I’m the one out there telling people that Giuliani did us wrong.”

“We’ll talk later,” Jackson said.

Muhammad says that Ferrer’s supporters sensed the rage in Sharpton as he entered the ballroom of the Puck Building. “One by one, they came up to Reverend Sharpton, asking him, ‘What was that all about?’ and ‘Is Jesse Jackson crazy?’ ”

Jesse Jackson may have believed that he pulled off a public relations coup by being the first prominent black leader to visit Ground Zero. But unbeknownst to Jackson and many in the media, Sharpton, absent the fanfare, beat Jackson to the tragic scene.

On September 16, the first Sunday after the attack, police officers sympathetic to Sharpton guided him and attorney Michael Hardy through several checkpoints for an hour-long visit to Ground Zero. “Police officers and firefighters were surprised,” recalls Sharpton, who organized blood drives and counseling. “Some asked for my autograph and took pictures with me to show their families that I was concerned about them.”

Sharpton says that none of his previous visits to strife-torn regions in Africa and Haiti prepared him for what he saw at Ground Zero. “I went to the killing fields of Rwanda, witnessed slavery in Sudan, and saw abject poverty in the slums of Haiti, but there was something haunting about Ground Zero,” he remembers. “I never thought I would see something like this. It is an eerie feeling that you cannot get out of you.”

As Sharpton stared at the twisted remains of the once majestic twin towers, he remarked in the presence of a high-ranking white NYPD cop that he had been to Ground Zero before, the Ground Zero that some refer to as the African Burial Ground. “Three hundred years ago my ancestors went to Ground Zero, and we’ve been fighting for a final resting place, an African burial ground, for years,” he explained to the mystified cop. “No one cares that they are still under that rubble. No one hears their cry. We can’t even reclaim their bones. Three hundred years later, the government is doing to us what they did to my ancestors: They’re trying to make us invisible in lower Manhattan.”

The next morning, a shaken Sharpton called Secretary of State Colin Powell. During their 10-minute conversation, Sharpton expressed reservations about the Bush administration’s warmongering. “I told him I was concerned about the war, but that I felt that terrorism must be fought at all costs, and that I was willing to lead a fact-finding trip to Israel and Palestine,” Sharpton says. Powell, he claims, promised to give him a full briefing on the Middle East, similar to the one he got before visiting the Sudan. But he warned Sharpton to be extremely careful in that region.

Later that day, Sharpton contacted Governor George Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “I called them to object to calls for the Democratic primary to be postponed,” says Sharpton, who rebuffed suggestions from aides that he ask Pataki to escort him to Ground Zero. “I could have asked the governor to take me there in front of all the cameras, but I didn’t,” he says. If he had, that’s where the New York Post’s Steve Dunleavy—combing “through white-hot shock, tears of mourning, and steel anger of revenge”—might have found him. Instead he later asked, “Where the hell is our great community leader, the Rev. Al Sharpton?”

“I’d been all over the place,” Sharpton declares. “The media ignored the black presence and now condemns us for being ignored.” Unlike Jackson, Sharpton refused to upstage top black state and city officials for a photo op. “I felt that Carl McCall and C. Virginia Fields should be respected.”


Homeland Terrorism

I for one do not really think the “new war” will be fought overseas. . . . I feel the real war is gonna be at home. We [hear] language about “finding their supporters and their organization.”. . . I fear that the government is going to use this as a pretext—and I’m going to say the I-word—to go after those groups and individuals who have stood up against the Israeli lobby in this country. They will use this as an opportunity to empanel grand juries, to go after financial records, to do everything they can to repay their friends in the Middle East. And we know who their friends are. . . .

—Radical attorney Stanley Cohen, speaking to Muslims in Passaic County, September 22

This is the kind of Israel bashing that infuriates the Jewish Defense Organization, a band of anti-Arab and anti-black extremists who once called for the assassination of the Reverend Al Sharpton. But because it is illegal for the JDO to openly sanction the murder of people like Cohen, it has spewed the type of incendiary rhetoric that could get him killed in the wake of the outrage over the terrorist attack on America.

Last week, after the Voice first reported that Cohen might defend Saudi Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden—if he is captured and brought to justice for the massacre at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—the JDO left a threatening outgoing message about Cohen on the group’s answering machine. Although the message stops short of calling on supporters to exact “infinite justice”—what the Bush administration has promised to deliver to the terrorists it suspects are behind the suicide bombings—it makes plain the fate the JDO wishes would befall Cohen.

This is what callers will hear on the two-minute-long recording:

A vicious bombing by Arab and Muslim terrorists against America, the same Arab and Muslim terrorists that want to destroy Israel and also want to destroy America. And yet an attorney by the name of Stanley Cohen, a self-hating Jew, may become the lawyer, and offering to be the lawyer for Bin Laden, the Arab terrorist. Stanley Cohen defended Hamas terrorists and now is defending Bin Laden. Stanley Cohen’s office, for your information, is located at [address deleted], and that’s in Manhattan. His office number is [deleted]. Stanley Cohen is a traitor to the Jews. He is a traitor to America and all the victims of the World Trade Center bombing, all those innocent people of all different backgrounds. Their fingers point at this greedy pig, Cohen, and they scream out for justice.

Boycott! Don’t ever use Stanley Cohen as an attorney. Spread the word about what he is. Give his phone number to all your friends. . . . Stanley Cohen, self-hating Jew. Stanley Cohen, traitor to America. Stanley Cohen, traitor to Israel. Stanley Cohen, garbage that needs to be swept into the bag and run out of town, permanently, legally, and effectively. Stanley Cohen must be driven from New York, legally and effectively. Jewish Defense Organization intends to do it.

The ponytailed Cohen, who believes that his detractor, a male JDO member, is “in need of some major doses of Thorazine and a good shrink,” considered the threat serious enough to file a complaint with the FBI. It mirrors a similar one that three Washington, D.C.-based Muslim organizations lodged with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, alleging that the JDO’s virulent criticism of Cohen amounted to a hate crime. “They, Jews themselves, are targeting me as a Jew, in violation of the law,” asserts the 47-year-old Cohen, who has skirmished with the JDO before. In 1995, while Cohen was defending Hamas political leader Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, about six angry JDO members swooped down on the attorney’s Lower East Side office. As Cohen recalls, “They basically were confronted by about 50 of my clients from the projects and they ran home quickly.”

Cohen claims that after his picture appeared in the Voice, and after the JDO recorded the voice-mail message, he began “receiving hundreds of phone threats, including faxed threats from Israel.” He said that during his defense of Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, he got about a dozen faxed threats from Israel; this time he received half that amount. The venomous protests call for this “self-hating Jew” to be “blown up” and “thrown out with the rest of the Arab trash you represent.” Cohen has hardened in the face of the threats. “If Osama bin Laden arrived in the United States today and asked me to represent him, sure I’d represent him,” he vows.

Last Saturday, leaders at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in New Jersey introduced Stanley Cohen to about 300 bewildered Muslims by playing the JDO’s wild threat to get rid of him. Cohen tried to mask his nervousness with humor. “I’m not sure what I can say after that wonderful greeting by my friend on the phone,” he says referring to the male voice on the JDO’s answering machine. “I hope he has a sister. I can marry her and call him brother-in-law.”


The Muslims—men, women, and boys—chuckled. But amid the FBI’s wide-ranging investigation of their community’s suspected involvement in the September 11 attacks, what the Muslims of Passaic County had invited Cohen to talk to them about was no laughing matter. The FBI seems to be hauling in any Arab or Muslim with ties to Bin Laden’s associates. Hundreds of people nationwide are being questioned or held on immigration charges. Many of the Passaic County Muslims feared agents would be knocking on their doors next, and wanted to know about specific rights they once enjoyed under the Constitution. Cohen told them they did not have to cooperate with the FBI, federal prosecutors, or police. But if subpoenaed by a grand jury, they must respond.

According to Cohen, the typical FBI approach is, “This is a horrible crime. We know all of you are offended. We know all of you want to help us to rid America of terrorists, because terrorists make you look bad.” Some Muslims tape-recorded Cohen’s remarks; others took notes. Even the most intense FBI probes, Cohen charged, never violate the sanctity of houses of worship. “They’ve never done that at Saint Paddy’s, they’ve never done it in my synagogue,” he said. “They do it at mosques.”

The bottom line, the lawyer emphasized, is to shut up. “If you tell them things that are inconsistent with information that others provide, you could end up not [being] charged with any other underlying crime, but arrested and indicted for perjury or obstruction of justice,” he warned. “That’s how many people in your community have been singled out in the last 10 years—not because they’ve committed crimes, but because people forget things, people’s memories fail.”

If the agents persist, ask them to put their questions in writing, Cohen advised. “They don’t do that, because there [would be] a record of the truth, and they don’t want a record of the truth,” he alleged. Contact a lawyer, the attorney added. “I suspect that once you see the questions, you’re gonna realize this has very little to do with these horrible crimes but much more to do with spying on your community,” he said.

But the FBI has argued that its broad sweep of Arab and Muslim communities yields crucial evidence. Agents in a Dallas suburb arrested a Palestinian whose name turned up in the address book of of Wadih el Hage, a former personal secretary to Bin Laden. Ghassan Dahduli is appealing an immigration court deportation ruling for obtaining a work visa through fraud, authorities said. Dahduli’s name surfaced in records introduced at El Hage’s trial earlier this year. El Hage and three other Bin Laden disciples were convicted of conspiring to murder Americans.

Cohen dredged up the case of El Hage and Moataz Al-Hallak to illustrate his argument about guilt by association. He recalled that prosecutors tried to suggest there was a money-laundering conspiracy involving El Hage and Al-Hallak, a Texas-based imam whom he represented last week during questioning by a federal prosecutor in Washington.

“How were [El Hage and Al-Hallak] connected?” Cohen asked with a hint of sarcasm. “Really sinister.” Cohen said that after El Hage was involved in a car accident several years ago, he won a $10,000 settlement from the insurance company. He decided to return to the Sudan and appointed Al-Hallak power of attorney. As requested, Al-Hallak accepted the check, put it in an account, wrote a check out to El Hage, and mailed it to him. “The story was that Moataz had sent money to Osama bin Laden,” Cohen scoffed. “For a guy who’s got $300 million, he needed the $10,000 from an insurance settlement.”

Cohen also told the story of the FBI’s attempt to link Al-Hallak to terrorists who may have tried to use a crop duster to wage chemical and biological warfare against the U.S. On Sunday, the government grounded crop-dusting planes across the country. It was the second time that agricultural pilots had been told not to fly since the attacks. Responding to questions about the latest grounding, the FBI said that it was one of the steps the bureau has taken out of “an abundance of caution” and “in reaction to every bit of information and threats received during the course of this investigation.”

Three Middle Eastern men inquired about crop-duster planes during visits earlier this year to a single-runway airport in Belle Glade, Florida, The Washington Post reported Sunday night on its Web site. One of the men has since been identified as Mohamed Atta, believed to be one of the suicide hijackers in the terrorist attacks. The Post also reported that government investigators found a manual on crop dusters among the possessions of Zacarias Moussaoui, who currently is in federal custody.


Cohen said that about three years ago someone approached Al-Hallak, asking for his help in hiring a pilot to fly a crop duster for an agricultural project run by the then Sudan-based Bin Laden. Al-Hallak, according to Cohen, had no such contacts. But a few weeks later, Al-Hallak was introduced to someone who had some pilot training. He said Al-Hallak gave the pilot the name of the man who was spearheading Bin Laden’s crop-dusting project. “Well, the two men got together,” Cohen recalled. “They essentially turned this crop duster into a plane that somehow made it across to the Middle East. Although it broke down in Canada for six weeks, and in Britain for six weeks, the plane, eventually, with God as my witness, crashed of its own weight crop-dusting in the Sudan. That’s the connection! The air force of Osama bin Laden.”

In the aftermath of the attacks, a top FBI agent told reporters that the agency was looking for Moataz Al-Hallak for questioning. During his speech to the Muslims in Passaic County, Cohen maintained that agents knew all along where to find his client. “For days, they disseminated misinformation,” he charged. After refusing to allow the FBI to interrogate Al-Hallak, Cohen spent six days “begging” federal prosecutors to intervene.

“I said, ‘Moataz wants to talk to you. This is a horrible crime. He wants to help,’ ” Cohen remembered. “I said, ‘Gimme a subpoena.’ No subpoena was issued. Everyone said, ‘We’ll get back to you.’ But no one returned calls.” Last week, Cohen took Al-Hallak to Washington. He presented the imam to the media and released a four-page letter he had written to Assistant U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks, renewing Al-Hallak’s offer to be interviewed by prosecutors. On his way back to New York, Cohen received a call from Patrick Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney who had grilled Al-Hallak before a grand jury in connection to the deadly embassy bombings in Africa.

Fitzgerald invited Cohen and Al-Hallak back to Washington. “We spent three hours, just sitting with prosecutors, no FBI, as was his right,” Cohen told the Muslims in Passaic. “As I had suspected, 95 percent of the interrogation had nothing to do with this crime. It was general intelligence information he wanted about the community, about organizations overseas. Yes, there were some questions about this horrible crime, and yes, Moataz was shown 20 photographs and asked: Did he know anyone? No. Had he ever spoken to anyone? No.” He said that after viewing the pictures, Al-Hallak burst into tears. “They’re children,” Cohen quoted the imam as saying. “They’re children, these boys.”

The feds, Cohen bragged, had nothing on Al-Hallak. “We left,” he said. “The No. 1 terrorist that everyone in the country was hot to find, and to interrogate, and to jail, walked out—not arrested, not charged, not subpoenaed, back home with his family.”

The JDO HAS a history of issuing vicious threats. In 1991, lawyers for the Reverend Al Sharpton accused JDO leader Mordechai Levy of calling for the death of the civil rights activist. Levy had erroneously blamed Sharpton of inciting attacks on Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights. At the time, Levy’s attorney denied the allegations. Now the JDO wants to strong-arm Stanley Cohen and run him out of town—a tactic that should attract the attention of the new Office of Homeland Security. But Cohen, whose clientele includes accused cop-shooters and drug-dealing gangstas, has all the protection he needs. In Loisaida, where la familia watches Cohen’s back, the JDO is persona non grata.


The Usual Suspects

It is September 16, Day Six of the manhunt for the collaborators in the suicidal dive-bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Activist attorney Stanley I. Cohen—the man some say might defend terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden if he is captured and brought to justice in America—is in his fourth-floor loft in Loisaida, pacing and fretting. For the past 10 hours, Cohen has been mulling over an anonymous communiqué someone has been circulating to Arab and Muslim leaders, calling on them to “refuse to participate . . . as a point of principle and . . . of self-defense” in the FBI’s far-reaching investigation into the attacks.

Cohen is worried: Arabs and Muslims, current and former clients as far away as Texas, are frantic. Some are considering going into hiding because of what the FBI is asking them to do. The communiqué alleges that the FBI is twisting the arms of some imams to get approval for agents to “hold assemblies with members of our communities at which they propose to project slide shows of photographs depicting Arabs and Muslims [from] whom they are seeking more information.”

According to the document, “It is the FBI’s hope that community members will recognize the persons in the photographs, and then submit to interviews with agents, detailing all they know. Their proposed slide shows can only be regarded as ‘fishing expeditions’ at best, creating a coercive forum in which they can pursue any fanciful line of inquiry, no matter how unrelated to the current events.” At worst, the communiqué warns, “such assemblies would give [the FBI] unlimited scope to stain any unfortunate Muslim’s reputation with guilt by inference, making our community leaders, religious teachers and scholars easy targets for those who would wield the weapons of insinuation, rumor, and character assassination.”

Cohen sighs and begins counting would-be casualties on his fingers. In “the first war of the 21st century,” as President George Bush put it, the usual suspects—those Arabs and Muslims linked to terrorism abroad and hate crimes at home—will be the first to call him.

Five days earlier, after returning from his office near the smoldering ruins of the twin towers, an antsy Cohen tries to hunker down in what he calls “my ground zero.” His three phones, which he believes have been monitored by the FBI for the past 15 years, have been ringing nonstop. On this somber Wednesday afternoon, Cohen barks at his growling chocolate Labrador retriever, Sadie, hangs up on a call, and answers the ear-splitting ring from his cell phone.

The caller, Cohen would tell this Voice reporter later, was Said Assi, the father of Mazin Assi, a 22-year-old Palestinian American who was charged with two other Arabs in the attempted firebombing of the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel in the Riverdale section of the Bronx last October. Mazin and co-defendant Mohammed Alfaqih, 19, will be the first to be tried later this month under New York’s new hate crime law. The third, who was 15 at the time and has not been identified because of his age, will be tried in Family Court. Attempted arson carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, but as a hate crime the maximum punishment is 15 years.

Immediately after the World Trade Center tragedy, Said began raising concerns about a pending neurological examination of his son; the trial was three weeks away, and he wanted Cohen’s advice on resolving an insurance problem.

But Cohen, who, along with attorney Lynne F. Stewart, is representing Mazin, has heard Said’s voice break before under emotional strain. He can tell that the hardworking immigrant is frightened—that he’s petrified by the anti-Muslim fervor building in New York City in the wake of the kamikaze-style bombing of the World Trade Center by suspected Muslim extremists. Cohen can’t guarantee Mazin’s safety, but he cautions Said to keep his son shuttered and off the streets. After hanging up, Cohen is more determined than ever to petition the Supreme Court in the Bronx for a four-month delay.

“I do not want to change the venue,” Cohen says defiantly. “I want my client tried by people of color in the Bronx. I want my client tried by a jury of people who understand the difference between anger and hate, a people who understand the legitimacy of fighting back.

“What I don’t want is for Mazin Assi to be tried in this anti-Arab climate that is so pervasive right now. I think Muslims will be lynched all over the United States in the coming weeks. I think the FBI is going to whip up such fury that it will replace the hysteria caused by the shark attacks this summer. I can’t have a young Muslim man tried in this light.”

Cohen gives his word to Said Assi that he will do all he can to protect his son’s constitutional rights. He isn’t bluffing. The firebrand throwback to the ’60s represents Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, the Hamas political leader who was jailed in New York and then turned over to Jordan in 1997.


It is now 6:30, and Cohen seems more accurate in predicting the type of calls he’ll be fielding this evening. “I figure it is only a matter of time before the FBI and other delusional, paranoid wannabes start bothering clients of mine,” he scoffs. “Already, they are being harassed, intimidated, and frightened.”

Cohen’s rant is interrupted by another phone call. “FBI!” he announces. “What took them so long?”

The caller, Cohen says, identified himself as a special agent in the FBI’s field office in Dallas. He told Cohen the agency was looking for Moataz Al-Hallak, a Muslim imam who was the former spiritual leader of several mosques in Texas. Al-Hallak previously was questioned by prosecutors in the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa linked to Osama bin Laden. “We refused to talk to them,” Cohen recalls. But one subpoena later, Al-Hallak was dragged before a federal grand jury in New York.

“He went into a grand jury and answered questions honestly and truthfully,” Cohen says of Al-Hallak, who never was charged with wrongdoing. “I think he embarrassed the government because the grand jury got to see a soft-spoken, articulate, and charismatic Islamic leader who isn’t a bomber, who isn’t crazy, and who isn’t involved in terrorist plots. I thought that as a result of that the government had decided to leave him alone—but apparently not.”

Al-Hallak left the Northeast on Monday, the day before the attacks on the World Trade Center, and traveled to Texas, according to the feds. During verbal sparring with the agent, Cohen learns that the head of the FBI field office had held a news conference earlier, mentioning Al-Hallak as someone the FBI would like to talk to. He says the agent told him they want to question Al-Hallak about whether he told people about the attacks before they occurred. “They said that he was not a suspect, that they were interested only in talking to him, and by making this fact public they hoped he would come in voluntarily,” Cohen claims.

It took several phone calls to track him down. Cohen caught up with Al-Hallak, now a teacher and religious leader in another state, as he was driving back home from a road trip. “Much to his shock and outrage, the FBI is sullying his character and bullying him,” Cohen says. “His attitude to all this is, ‘Here we go again.’ ”

Cohen and Al-Hallak debate their next move. Under no circumstances should Al-Hallak talk with the FBI. If approached, he should remind them that his attorney is Stanley Cohen. “My concern is,” says Cohen later, “that given the histrionics, given the environment, given the demagogues who are rampaging with their little American flags and their body counts, this holy man, a large figure with a big, black beard and dressed in Islamic religious garb, could be slaughtered on the highway. He could be killed by people who obviously would see that he is a Muslim and assume that he is a bad guy involved in what happened in New York.” Cohen accuses the FBI of endangering Al-Hallak.

As the phone calls subside, the upcoming trial of Mazin Assi dominates Stanley Cohen’s concerns once more. “What drives an Arab American young man to attack a synagogue, assuming that prosecutors could prove he even did it?” the attorney asks.

He says that Mazin’s family, Palestinians who were expelled from Israel, emigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1974 after languishing in refugee camps. “They are not anti-Semitic,” he contends. But like many Arab Americans, Mazin was deeply disturbed by stone-throwing young Palestinians being gunned down by heavily armed Israeli soldiers.

Cops allege that in the early morning hours of October 8, Mazin, Alfaqih, and the 15-year-old, enraged by the violence against Palestinians, went to a liquor store, bought a bottle of cheap vodka, and made Molotov cocktails. The three allegedly told investigators they were looking for a synagogue to vandalize, and Adath Israel at 475 West 250th Street was the first one they drove by, just hours before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Two of them got out and one threw a bottle with flammable “purplish liquid” at a window. The device did not ignite. According to police, one of the assailants placed another Molotov cocktail at the entrance to the synagogue, which also fizzled. Finally, someone allegedly threw a rock that crashed through a window.

In one police report obtained by the Voice, investigators said that a member of the synagogue found the Molotov cocktails—”one broken and one intact, as well as a rock . . . outside a broken door” of the temple. “While the broken bottle was singed and the intact bottle had a burned rag sticking out of it, there was no fire damage to the building or grounds,” the report stated. “The damage to the building consisted of a broken glass entrance door possibly caused by the rock.” A rabbi and other leaders at the synagogue “all stated that there were no recent, unusual incidents or threats,” the report noted.


Police and Mayor Giuliani labeled the attempted firebombing a hate crime. Citing “ongoing tensions in the Middle East as well as the Jewish high holy days,” City Hall beefed up protection of both “Israeli and Palestinian houses of worship and meeting places” in the 50th Precinct.

On October 10, cops detained 12 Arab Americans in connection with the attack on the synagogue. Eight were released the next day, and their arrests were thrown out. Cops pinned the crime on Mazin and his cohorts. But Cohen protested the alleged mistreatment of his client by police.

“Mazin Assi, who has a serious diabetes problem, a low IQ, and speaks some English, some Arabic, is in and out of both worlds,” Cohen offers. “He was interrogated literally around the clock, and denied access to insulin. The cops told him they would get him some only after he told them he did it. Paramedics eventually showed up but said they didn’t have the authority to give him an insulin injection. The cops said my client made a modified confession or admission about his role. He was then taken to a hospital, given an injection of insulin, and taken to court. He became very ill, went into insulin shock, and remained in intensive care for three days.”

Mazin, who sat in jail for seven months because he couldn’t make the stiff $100,000 bail, was released in June after posting half of the money. Cohen chastised Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson for making a big deal out of nothing.

“Rob Johnson, whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for, is in my opinion being driven by the need to court the synagogue or pro-Zionist lobby in the Bronx,” he charges. “This is a case that can reasonably be done away with, in which all sides can benefit.” Johnson would disagree. “This particular case having happened at the time it did, on the eve virtually of Yom Kippur, and at a time of strife in the Middle East, is of particular importance to the entire city, and we are going to treat it that way,” the D.A. said shortly after the men were charged.

Late into the night on Day Six, Stanley Cohen is still reassuring Arabs like Said Assi, steadfastly refusing to consider the possibility that Mazin could be convicted and that the penalty would be severe—a way for jurors to send a message about hate crime in the age of the “new war.” He then consults with Moataz Al-Hallak before retiring to bed. Al-Hallak, he reiterates minutes later, will not voluntarily cooperate with the FBI. “If they want him to come talk, there is this wonderful document that says, ‘We command,’ ” he declares. “It is called a subpoena. Subpoena us and we will come in and do what we have to do.”