By Corey Muhammad
The N.Y. state Supreme Court handed down the decision against officers who filed a $1.15 billion suit against the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in New York, the Nation of Islam, local Muslim officials and the National Black Theatre Workshop, from which the mosque then rented meeting space.
The case was dismissed in its entirety, despite Police Benevolent Association (PBA) efforts. The PBA represented the officers and spent millions on the case, according to Muslim lawyers.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined Final Call requests for comments.
The lawsuit stemmed from a 1994 incident where police officers, who Muslims assert had weapons drawn, tried to force their way into Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, during a Sunday worship service. The officers purportedly were responding to a 911 call of a robbery in progress.
Muslim men, the Fruit of Islam (F.O.I.), standing outside the mosque told officers there was no robbery. Officers could enter the mosque, but weapons were not allowed in the religious house, the Muslim men said. The officers, Muslims assert, cursed and tried to force their way inside.
A stand-off ensued, with armored vehicles outside the mosque, rooftop snipers, SWAT teams, barricades and angry Harlemites–concerned about the massive police show of force–in the streets outside the mosque. After hours of negotiations, 300-500 people–women, children and men–were able to peacefully exit the building, around midnight on the cold winter night.
Police later admitted the call was bogus and procedures, put in place since 1972, were violated. The incident drew harsh criticism of police and newly inaugurated Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, for his handling of the incident.
Atty. Abdul Arif Muhammad, general counsel for the Nation of Islam, called the decision a victory for believers in Islam, and gave great credit to the New York legal team, composed of lawyers Barbara Emmanuel, Elana Makin and Jacques Leandre. Larry Pershay assisted attorneys on the case. The attorneys, members of Mosque No. 7, donated their time to defend the faith and their mosque, said Atty. Arif Muhammad, who provided direction for the legal team.
This wasn’t a legal case but a defense of Islam, the right of freedom of worship, and a strong stand against outright attacks on the Black community, he said. Politicians, pastors, Islamic leaders, entertainers and activists rallied to defend the Nation of Islam and condemned police conduct, he noted.
“The community must understand that a sign of what this victory represents is what God will bless us to do if we unify and if we stay together,” said Atty. Arif Muhammad. “If we are hoping to put an end to police brutality and mob attacks, it is time to unite and really come back to God and seek his protection and help. He will grant us protection,” Atty. Arif Muhammad added.
With no one hurt in the initial attack, an accused Muslim given probation for an alleged assault on police and the suit dismissed, the Muslims and community were victorious, he said.
On three separate occasions, Nation of Islam attorneys were successful in having the plaintiffs’ complaints thrown out. On a fourth attempt by the plaintiffs, Judge Bertram Katz dismissed the case. The statute of limitations on the case has run out and the judge rejected a default judgment requested by the plaintiffs, said Atty. Arif Muhammad.
“They (the plaintiffs) abandoned the rules of procedure dealing with fair play to handle this matter. They became so frustrated,” said Bro. Larry.
Sis. Elana said, “The odds were against us in the sense that we were up against a very well-financed law firm who had tremendous resources. They attempted to bury us in stacks of paperwork and we’re very grateful for this outcome.”
“For five and a half years we have been in court proceeding after court proceeding defending ourselves against both physical and legal aggression. The attack on our Mosque No. 7 was an attack on the entire Black community, as well as communities of good will, and other houses of worship,” commented East Coast Regional Minister Benjamin F. Muhammad.
The January 9, 1994 attack also cast the spotlight on the Guiliani administration. Mr. Guiliani refused to meet with Black leaders about the incident. He angered many by declaring, “They (Black leaders) are going to have to learn how to discipline themselves in the way in which they speak.”
“It was the first indicator of how the mayor would deal with our people and his insensitivity and disregard for us,” said Atty. Arif Muhammad
Since this ordeal, the mayor and police officials have been besieged by charges of police brutality, lawsuits, a federal investigation, hearings by the Congressional Black Caucus, protests and sparked national debate on police brutality.
Two officers face sentencing in connection with the 1997 sodomy attack on a Haitian immigrant in a police precinct bathroom, others charged with lying about the incident face trial. Thousands have been arrested in protests over the fatal February 4 police shooting of unarmed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo.
While under the leadership of Min. Farrakhan, Muhammad Mosque No. 7 was attacked by police officers in 1972, again responding to a false emergency call. One officer was killed by another officer’s weapon.
As a result, established police protocol calls for a high-ranking New York City police official to be present whenever there is a dispute involving a house of worship. The agreement further permits supervisors accompanied by an escort to enter a house of worship with weapons.
(Saeed Shabazz, Rafika Soaries and Drayton Muhammad contributed to this report.)