Shabazz plans rally for thousands Saturday

Shabazz plans rally for thousands Saturday.

Malik Z. Shabazz, the Washington-based lawyer who helped plan protests that began peacefully but ended in violence Saturday in Baltimore, is helping to organize another, even larger rally for this Saturday, he announced Tuesday.

Shabazz said the "massive national rally" would address "the burn behind the burn" — the anger over social disparities and injustice that he suggested led to Monday night's unrest.

The rally will be a "clear articulation of the demands of this community" in the wake of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, said Shabazz, the former head of the New Black Panther Party and now leader of a group called Black Lawyers For Justice.

"We will be back here for a massive rally against police brutality and in support of the pain and suffering of Baltimore," he said.

Shabazz expects as many as 10,000 protesters to come to City Hall, a total that would dwarf the 1,200 or so who marched from the Western District police station to City Hall and then the Inner Harbor on Saturday.

Black Lawyers For Justice will sponsor the rally, with local lawyers J. Wyndal Gordan and Billy Murphy and activists Davon Love and the Rev. Cortly "C.D" Witherspoon also scheduled to attend. The group called for a noon gathering and 2 p.m. start time.

City officials and other leaders have repeatedly said that local protesters remained largely peaceful after Gray's death but that outsiders pressed for tougher action. Saturday, about 100 demonstrators broke windows and accosted police and citizens as night fell. On Monday, rioting broke out across the city.

Shabazz, 48, and Nation of Islam members helped plan last Saturday's march. Shabazz was heard saying, "Shut it down," just before violence broke out.

"The rally we conducted here was very disciplined and very civilized. We are not responsible for whatever happened after that," Shabazz said. "When the words 'shut it down' were uttered, it only meant within the context of lawful and legal civil disobedience."

A veteran organizer in high-profile civil rights cases, Shabazz is included in the "extremist files" of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watch list that includes Aryan Nations and Ku Klux Klan leaders.

The Alabama-based law center describes Shabazz as "a racist black nationalist with a long, well-documented history of violently anti-Semitic remarks and accusations about the inherent evil of white people" and a man "particularly skilled at orchestrating provocative protests."

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Anti-Defamation League also list the New Black Panthers — which Shabazz left in 2013 — as a hate group.

Some in Baltimore are concerned about the plans.

The Rev. Alvin S. Gwynn, Jr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore, said his group has been meeting with other pastors to find ways to "speak with one voice" — and said "outside agitators" are complicating the effort.

Activists like Shabazz "aren't' trying to solve the problem. They're trying to use this situation to gain a platform for their own agendas," he said.

The Rev. Louis Wilson, pastor of New Song Community Church in Sandtown-Winchester, said it can be harmful to view complex issues like the Gray case through one prism, including race.

National spokesmen have a tendency to "impose a master narrative" that might not mesh with local conditions, he said, adding that Shabazz does not speak for all African-Americans.

"I've talked to people who wish he'd just stay away," Wilson said.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the governor didn't want to comment on individual activists but had a broader message.

"Peaceful protests are one thing, but the governor will always enforce law and order," he said.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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