Mayoral candidates’ hunger for votes knows no boundaries, and so Tommy Wells, Andy Shallal, and longshot candidate Christian Carter headed to Anacostia’s Union Temple Baptist Saturday afternoon for an “emergency townhall” on gentrification MCed by prolific anti-Semite Malik Zulu Shabazz.
Shabazz, a former head of the New Black Panther Party and one-time Ward 8 Council candidate, made his name during a 1994 speech at Howard University by leading an audience in a call-and-response blaming Jews for everything from the death of rebel slave Nat Turner to controlling the Federal Reserve system. He seems to have mellowed since, opting not to mention Jewish people all night.
Instead, Shabazz named entities he thinks are behind “The Plan” to whiten D.C.—-the National Capital Planning Commission and the Financial Control Board (which was suspended 12 years ago)—-and asked the audience to contribute some names of their own. Among them: Vince Gray, mayoral hopeful Vincent Orange, Ward 1 councilmember Jim Graham, and Wells.
Audience members took the mic to discuss the downside of Washington’s economic boom, from the dearth of job-training programs to concerns that residents are abandoning valuable property to move into Prince George’s County. Then there were the remarks of Nation of Islam representative Khadir Muhammad, who lamented the supposed ills of interracial relationships, and Union Temple pastor Willie Wilson, who said he suspects Nelson Mandela was only conciliatory toward white South Africans because he was under the influence of mind-altering drugs.
Wells, who had been working the aisles of the church, left soon after the event began. That was probably for the best, since Wells likely wouldn’t find too many votes in an audience where nonviolence activist Al-Malik Farrakhan would chastise the audience for allowing so many “Europeans” to take seats on the D.C. Council.
Wells didn’t get much better from Shabazz, who warned that the Wells-backed H Street streetcar was “the train marking your destruction.”
Shallal got a more positive welcome, sort of, with Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten urging black residents not to complain that Shallal’s Langston Hughes-inspired restaurant chain appropriated their history when they hadn’t done it themselves.
After thanking the man he called “Brother Shabazz” for letting him speak, Shallal launched into what at first sounded like his usual stump speech. This time, though, Shallal did some things different, reciting Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” and promising to reignite Hughes’ Harlem Renaissance in the District.
“We can bring it back, can bring back that renaissance, that history that’s rooted in the very essence of what makes D.C. D.C.” Shallal said.
Photo by Will Sommer