Date: Sat, 12 Sep 98 12:01:33 CDT
From: Workers World <>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Cops Riot: Racist Attack on Million Youth March
Article: 43041
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Cops riot: Racist attack on Million Youth March

By Vanessa Lewis, Workers World, 17 September 1998

New York—The Sept. 5 Million Youth March was scheduled to end at 4 p.m. here in Harlem. As final speaker Khalid Muhammad ended his remarks a mob of police in riot gear stormed and occupied the stage. There they viciously beat and clubbed people.

From the stage they threw others down to the ground. Police sprayed people backstage with pepper gas. Not even reporters from the major networks were spared.

Simultaneously, a police helicopter buzzed directly overhead, making several passes to intimidate the people just a minute after the clock struck 4:00.

The scene could have been Birmingham, Ala., 1964.


Harlem, N.Y., the site of the controversial struggle around the Million Youth March, became a police state the morning of Sept. 5 when upwards of 3,000 cops completely occupied this predominantly Black community. Yet tens of thousands of people took part in the rally, which the cops and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had constantly attacked and tried to undermine.

Following a federal judge’s Aug. 26 decision upholding organizers’ right to hold the demonstration in Harlem, the rally took place on Malcolm X Boulevard between 118th and 124th Streets in the heart of the Black community.

Police fenced off the boulevard from 116th to 118th Streets.

The two blocks served as a military encampment behind the stage.

Cops dressed in riot gear stood by on horseback, on motorcycles, in vans and buses, with tractor trailers and a water cannon at the ready. They occupied rooftops, the intersections of each block, and the center of Malcolm X Boulevard.

Erica Ford, New York organizer for the MYM, called the cop deployment an army ready for war.

The police presence and restrictions on movement denied many thousands more their right to attend the rally. Participants were forced to walk at least six blocks from the closest available transportation to 119th, 120th or 123rd Street—depending on which police officer you talked to—in order to get onto Malcolm X Boulevard.

Black youths were met with an intricate series of barricades like something set up to control cattle. The police refused to let march participants onto Malcolm X Boulevard until 12 noon. Only then they pushed the barricades aside and allowed people to take the street.

Under orders of the New York Police Department, the Metropolitan Transit Authority shut down the major subway trains and all buses within 20 blocks of the march. The occupation and the transportation cuts affected all Harlem community members, keeping many captive in their own homes and making others more than two hours late to work.

One person commented that Giuliani ordering the police to attack the stage in full view of television cameras was reminiscent of Chicago Mayor Richard Daly’s attack on anti- war demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

In a statement to reporters after the police riot, Giuliani said, We should be very proud of [the police].


Million Youth March organizers faced the Giuliani administration’s attacks every step of the way toward holding the march in Harlem, once the center of Black political struggle in the country. Giuliani went to extraordinary lengths to try to keep the event away from the heart of Manhattan’s Black community.

When a judge forced the city to grant a permit for the march from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Labor Day weekend, it was a victory for the organizers.

But Giuliani declared war on the Million Youth March. He called it a hate march. He said the decision to uphold its organizers’ constitutional rights was wrong.

He declared that it would not go on a minute longer than 4 p.m., and that after 4 p.m. the march would be treated as an illegal assembly.

And so a police riot began sharply at 4:01.

In his news conference after the precisely orchestrated psychological warfare, humiliation and violence against thousands of peacefully assembled Black people, the mayor called for the arrest of Khalid Muhammad for inciting a riot.

But it was Giuliani who incited a police riot. And it was not the first time.

While campaigning against New York’s first Black mayor, David Dinkins in 1992, Giuliani supported one of the biggest racist riots in the city’s history. Thousands of off-duty cops, some in uniform, mobbed the steps of City Hall carrying signs reading Dump the washroom attendant.

Wielding beer cans and guns, they assaulted and fondled women, attacked African American elected officials and other people passing by, and blocked the Brooklyn Bridge.


Even bourgeois columnists not necessarily known for progressive views were horrified by the cops’ actions at the Million Youth March. Prominent riot-control experts joined this criticism of Giuliani’s orders.

Dean David H. Bayley of the School of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Albany, said, From the beginning, it seemed clear the mayor and police wanted to make a point. This looks more like politics than tactics.

New York Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin likened the police actions to fascism, the police barricades to something like the Maze prison in Northern Ireland, and wrote that never before had anybody seen anything like the Sept. 5 cop riot.

Rudolph Giuliani would never, but never treat an entire neighborhood of white people the way he treated the people in the vicinity of Lenox Avenue on Saturday, wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. The threat to the peace came from Mr. Giuliani’s police. This was Harlem, not Vietnam.

Anthony V. Bouza, the Police Department’s Harlem commander in the early 1970s, said the Black community is owed an apology.


March organizers held a news conference the next day to announce that they would file a lawsuit against Giuliani and the NYPD. They said they plan nationwide actions to denounce the racist violence.

The march’s New York youth organizer, Erica Ford, said, Despite all attempts to come together in peace and address our issues—the demands for reparations [for slavery], an end to police brutality, for self-reliance and control of our communities, the release of political prisoners and prisoners of war—we were met with an atmosphere of confrontation [by the police].

Attorney Roger Wareham said, We have political prisoners who are serving time for crimes they did not commit. We have a mayor whose fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime yesterday.

Civil-rights attorney Michael Tarif Warren added: This is an issue of criminal conduct on the part of the NYPD, and a criminal order on the part of the mayor’s office. Giuliani is a catalyst for creating unrest within this city. He is a dangerous man who is not only dangerous to the Black community, but to all communities.

The group called for a nationwide boycott of the Walt Disney Co., which has plans to build in Harlem, and for nationwide actions on Black Solidarity Day, Nov. 2. It is asking all Black people to take part in a general strike, and not work, shop or go to school that day.

And during the Sept. 5 rally, MYM organizers announced that next year another MYM march will take place in the predominantly African American community along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

Larry Holmes, a national leader of Workers World Party, was present at the march. He said: ‘Giuliani’s occupation of central Harlem and police oppression of the rally in the light of day, in front of the media, is not only a violation of the African American community, but is moreover a threat to the democratic rights of all people who engage in rallies, protests and struggles.

Giuliani’s attack, Holmes continued, demands a unified and massive response by the entire progressive movement.