Malik Shabazz defends activism; criticized as an 'interloper'

Attorney Malik Shabazz leads demonstrators during a protest against police brutality and the death of Freddie Gray outside the Western District station in the Sandtown neighborhood on April 22.
Attorney Malik Shabazz leads demonstrators during a protest against police brutality and the death of Freddie Gray outside the Western District station in the Sandtown neighborhood on April 22.(Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

Malik Shabazz knows that many don't want him here in Baltimore. And for them, he has bad news.

"I'm here for the long haul," Shabazz told reporters Friday at a news conference after Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that six officers would be charged in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.


"They can say what they want about me not being invited, or being welcomed here," said the national president of Black Lawyers for Justice. "Justice comes about through men like me coming on to the scene and taking a hard line. And I take a hard line for justice."

The 48-year-old will lead a second march Saturday, at which he expects thousands. The group led hundreds last week from the Gilmor Homes housing project where Gray was arrested to a rally at City Hall.

On Saturday, Shabazz plans a march with the same route and added a youth march starting at North and Pennsylvania avenues, which experienced the worst of riots that broke out in the city Monday. Shabazz promised that the latest rally would not only be bigger but feature a sound system and more speakers.

Not everyone is pleased that Shabazz still has a platform in the city.

Since his arrival, political, religious and community leaders have denounced Shabazz as a self-interested agitator.

Earlier this week, prominent African-American leaders who were listed by the group as participants in the rally planned for Saturday say their names were used without their knowledge or permission.

"He's an interloper who's here for his own personal aggrandizement," said Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat. "I don't think he has any intention of fixing the problems here."

The flier also listed the name of Prince George's County Del. Aisha Braveboy. She said she sees no role for herself as a Prince George's resident in organizing protests in Baltimore.


"Legitimate civil rights groups in Baltimore City, I believe, are adequate to take care of Baltimore City," she said. "They don't need me organizing in a community that already knows how to organize."

Shabazz also said the Rev. Jamal Bryant, leader of the Empowerment Temple and spiritual adviser to the Gray family, would attend the rally Saturday.

But Bryant said he has no plans to attend because he is traveling to Chicago to speak to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition.

"That's the only march spearheaded by somebody outside of Baltimore," Bryant said. "I've just been participating in the Baltimore efforts."

Shabazz said that he would ask Mosby to attend the rally at City Hall on Saturday. "Finally somebody has represented the constituents they were elected to represent," he said of Mosby.

Shabazz also congratulated the city's youth, who engaged in a violent exchange with police Monday that sparked a night of rioting throughout the city, for starting a "Baltimore rebellion."


"Whether you like what they did or not, they are part of the reason why we're here," Shabazz said. "The eyes of the world would not be in Baltimore, and justice would not be in Baltimore if there were not some uncompromising youth … who beat them streets, beat the pavement, and stood up to the police."

Fliers advertising the march for Saturday were toned down from previous ones that advertised a rally against "the brutality of the Baltimore Police Department" and proclaimed, "Shut 'Em Down."

Revised leaflets went out Friday advertising a youth rally "against police brutality and in support of the pain and suffering of Baltimore."

Shabazz is a Washington lawyer who has made anti-Semitic statements in the past and previously served as the national chairman of the New Black Panther Party. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Washington, D.C., City Council.

He says those who reject his presence in Baltimore are "scared of the power structure" and don't like his tone because he is "uncompromising."

They are the "middlemen who have compromised the interest of the community," he said.

He also took some credit for officers being charged.

"I'm part of the reason those arrests took place," he said. "We're part of that reason. Because if you didn't deal with them, you would have had to deal with us."

Still, Shabazz said he expects Saturday's protest to be peaceful.

"We expect no incidents ... as long as these men don't come around us with all these guns pointing them in our face, as long as they back off," he said.

Glancing behind him at National Guard officers posted at City Hall, he said: "Don't start no stuff, won't be no stuff."