In Defense of Black Youth: Defend the Million Youth March!

For the second time in a year, Black youth in New York City are being denied their democratic right to assemble and demonstrate on their own streets.

On Aug. 26, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani announced that he has denied a permit for the Sept. 4 Million Youth March (MYM) in Harlem, being organized by the controversial Khalid Abdul Muhammad and his organization, the New Black Panthers.

Giuliani’s action is a repeat of his attempt to prohibit the Sept. 5, 1998, Million Youth March, which drew between 50,000 and 100,000 people. It took a court order to overturn the mayor’s flagrant attack on the democratic rights of Harlem residents.

Organizers for the Sept. 4 MYM went again to the courts in an Aug. 30 hearing to win back their first amendment rights. But no matter how the judge rules, organizers say, the rally will go on as planned.

“We are not going for a war in the streets,” Khalid Abdul Muhammad announced at a recent press conference. But “I will be there. For the sake of my people, for the sake of our youth, I will be there.”

If Giuliani’s actions at last year’s MYM give any indication, however, it is the mayor and his supporters who are looking for a war in the streets.

After being rebuffed by the court’s decision in 1998, Giuliani and the NYPD tried to limit the size of the first MYM through intimidation, harassment, and threats. On the day of the march 3000 police in riot gear were mobilized. Streets were blocked and subway stations were closed to limit accessibility to the event.

Police sharpshooters were deployed on roof tops and two police helicopters hovered dangerously low over the crowd during the rally. Then, in a provocative act that could have led to immense bloodshed, hundreds of police rushed the stage to turn off the sound as the rally ended.

It was Mayor Giuliani and New York’s “Finest” who tried to turn a peaceful rally into a violent melee-not the rally organizers, whom New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir referred to as “a group that talks about hurting people and hate.”

However, in a new development this year, New York City’s Black Democratic Party politicians have been lining up to condemn the march. Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel, whom The New York Times labeled the “most powerful political figure in Harlem,” has called on Black people to boycott the march.

This hypocritical stance by the Black Democrats gives convenient political cover for Giuliani’s unconstitutional actions-as well as helping to provide a rationale for the police to storm the event as they did last year.


In a recent press release, organizers of the march stated the reasons for a second Million Youth event:

“We believe a second MYM is absolutely necessary because the conditions of Black youth remain bleak. The educational system has failed us, police are murdering, torturing, and abusing us in record numbers, we are filling the prisons, children and babies are suffering from an inaccessibility to quality health care, the unemployment rate among Black youth is soaring, our children are abused in foster care, our elected officials have ignored us, our culture has been maligned by the entertainment industry. The exploitation of Black youth is a multi-billion dollar industry.”

At a time when 40 percent of young Black men are either in prison, awaiting trial, or on parole-and two out of three Black children live below the poverty line-the message being delivered by Million Youth March organizers undoubtedly sends shivers down the spines of New York’s capitalist politicians and their patrons on Wall Street.

The thousands of Black, Hispanic, and other youth who will undoubtedly show up for the march will be there to support the struggle for social justice.

Furthermore, they will be demonstrating in action that the only effective way for the super-exploited Black community to win the fight for social and economic justice is through mass mobilizations independent of the two capitalist political parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

All defenders of democratic and political rights should speak out against Mayor Giuliani’s Gestapo-like tactics and unconditionally support the constitutional right of Black youth and their chosen leaders to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. If Giuliani can do this with impunity to the MYM organizers, he can just as easily do it to all of us.

Finally, assuming the march does take place, there are two preconditions that will assure it is peaceful:

The first is to remove the police from anywhere near the event. They will not be there to protect “public safety.” On the contrary!

The second is for the march to be as massive as possible. The presence of hundreds of thousands of young people and their allies would by their sheer weight make the police think twice about staging a re-run of last year’s assault.

The Editors

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