Million Man March Anniversary Marked Outside U.N.
NEW YORK (AP) _ Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan gathered thousands of black men, women and children to rally today against violence and injustice on the first anniversary of the Million Man March.
Farrakhan, speaking at a podium ringed with bulletproof glass, returned to the city of his birth for what he called ``this greatest day, this day of atonement, recognition and responsibility.″
The minister told the crowd, ``I come not as an enemy, but as a friend.″ He then launched into his topic: ``Can the United Nations avert the war of Armageddon?″
The crowd packed Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the United Nations for a ``World’s Day of Atonement.″
It opened with a Muslim prayer and a memorial to influential blacks throughout U.S. history: Harriet Tubman, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X and recently slain rapper Tupac Shakur.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani stayed away, saying the demonstration would be overshadowed by Farrakhan’s ``rhetoric of hatred.″ Some in the crowd disagreed.
``It’s not about Farrakhan,″ said Jerry Walter, 56, a retired city worker from the Bronx. ``It’s about respecting yourself, your family and your community.″
Walter called last year’s march in Washington ``the best thing I ever did.″
Organizers said the rally would issue a worldwide appeal against exploitation and violence, and call upon nations to repent and atone for injustice.
The Rev. Al Sharpton told the crowd they should take credit for New York City’s drastic drop in crime since 1993.
``Crime is down because love is up,″ said Sharpton, who plans to run for mayor next year. ``Crime is down because hope is up. Giuliani didn’t lower crime. Crime is down because we lifted ourselves up.″
Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of South African president Nelson Mandela, appeared on stage but didn’t speak. Farrakhan and former NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis were expected to speak later today.
Chavis accused Giuliani Tuesday of ``racial insensitivity,″ for saying he would boycott the rally.
``It appears Mayor Giuliani needs atonement,″ Chavis said. ``If he would avail himself to meet ... Farrakhan, his views would change.″
Last year, the Million Man March attracted hundreds of thousands of people to Washington for a day of racial solidarity. Organizers of the New York rally expected a far smaller crowd and got permits for only 50,000 participants.
Police had no estimate by early this afternoon, but it seemed to be at least 10,000.
``They couldn’t give us a fair count″ last year, activist Dick Gregory told the audience, echoing complaints that the Million Man March crowd was underestimated by officials.
Some supporters of last year’s march who were not participating this year cited confusion over this year’s message. Last month in St. Louis, fewer than 500 people attended a conference organized by the same people.
A Jewish group unsuccessfully tried to get a court to either override police and let it demonstrate outside the rally or revoke Farrakhan’s permit.