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Harlem Residents Unsure of March

August 22, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ On a typical day, the thoroughfare outside the S&B Barbershop in Harlem buzzes and blares but Barry Hicks keeps his eyes on the heads he shaves. What he can’t picture is a million or even a thousand extra bodies outside on Malcolm X Boulevard.

``I’m going to be truthful with you,″ he says of the Million Youth March, which organizers are planning for Sept. 5. ``A few bad seeds are focusing on a confrontation with the police. And that is taking away from the march.″

While the event’s planners battle the city for a permit, the people who live and work along the boulevard worry about violence. Many say they support organizers’ right to march in Harlem but aren’t sure what their agenda is.

One of the rally’s organizers is Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan’s former aide who was dismissed from the Nation of Islam after a 1994 speech in which he referred to Jews as ``bloodsuckers″ and insulted the pope, homosexuals and whites.

Muhammad says the march is designed to give urban black youth a forum to protest social conditions, from police brutality to exploitation in the music industry. He has invited gang members to participate. Organizers predict a turnout of about 170,000.

That theme of protest makes this event different from the Million Man March organized by Farrakhan in Washington in 1995 and the Million Woman March held in Philadelphia last year. Organizers of those marches had said they were aimed at forgiving and healing.

Farrakhan plans a competing Million Youth Movement march in Atlanta the same weekend.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has condemned the Harlem rally as a hate march and refused organizers a permit for Malcolm X Boulevard. The city also said the march would be too disruptive in a residential area, and offered two bigger, more out-of-the-way sites.

Organizers filed suit in federal court Thursday to force the city to allow the march in Harlem, citing the neighborhood’s historical and cultural significance for blacks.

They also have been trying to allay fears.

``We are not bringing (people) here for violence,″ Craig Muhammad, a march organizer from Newark, N.J., told reporters last week.

``Giuliani claims to love the family,″ he said. ``Do black families count? Or is it only white families that count?″

Resident Luther Smith says words like that make some locals uneasy. That and the fact that most of the organizers are from elsewhere.

``The planning of an event of this magnitude never reached people on the ground,″ said Smith, an aide to Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, who opposes holding the march in Harlem. He said residents have complained they were given neither proper notice of the march nor an agenda.

``Frankly, there are people who find the tone objectionable and repulsive,″ he said.

For the last dozen years, Malcolm X Boulevard _ also known as Lenox Avenue _ has been the epicenter of the neighborhood’s revitalization efforts. It’s now known for tourist stops such as the soul food restaurant Sylvia’s.

Some residents say this is simply the wrong time for a big demonstration.

``They should have talked to the community and come up with another venue in Harlem,″ said Hicks, 28, the barber at S&B. ``They’re already starting in a hostile environment. They already have a little attitude. Everyone is just being stubborn. It’s all political now.″

The Rev. William Burnett, who moonlights as an S&B barber, leaned against the large picture window and pointed to a row of boarded-up buildings across the street.

``Is it to get the neighborhood rid of drugs? Is it for bettering the housing?″ asked Burnett, 62.

Baba Koita, who owns a store filled with West African crafts, supports organizers’ right to call the march, though he hasn’t decided whether he will keep his store open that day.

``I might be out of town,″ he said. ``But I have no fear. Business has been good.″

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