With minutes ticking on the court-allotted time for the Million Youth March, event leader Khallid Abdul Muhammad delivered a blistering speech against police, Jews and the city's mayor to rouse the crowd.
It may have fired up police more. A few minutes after the event's 4 p.m. deadline, as Muhammad wrapped up his speech, police helicopters flew down low on the crowd and took to the stage, angering attendees and prompting some to throw bottles at authorities.The result was a violent end to what had been a peaceful march and a barrage of accusations on who was to blame for the event's ugly end on Saturday.
"I think he should be arrested and incarcerated," Police Commissioner Howard Safir said Sunday of Muhammad, a former Nation of Islam official. "He invoked a crowd to kill police officers. He then had people throw chairs and barriers at his request at police officers."
But Malik Shabazz, legal counsel and national coordinator for the Harlem rally, said that police officers had incited the violence. Muhammad had finished speaking by 4:01 p.m. and the crowd was being cleared out when police "attacked the stage," he said.
Any charges brought by the city against Muhammad for inciting violence "won't be worth the paper they're written on," Shabazz added.
Sixteen police officers and five civilians were injured. A Dallas man was arrested before calm was restored.
About 3,000 police officers - some in riot gear - were deployed at the controversial black rally, which Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had unsuccessfully tried to stop but managed to curtail with a court-ordered, four-hour time limit. Police say at least 6,000 people showed up, but others at the scene placed the figure at twice that.
Muhammad, a former aide to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, was dismissed from that position after a 1994 speech in which he referred to Jews as "blood-suckers" and insulted Pope John Paul II, homosexuals and whites.