By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It was really a lot like a Marx Brothers movie--except that these guys had guns.
"Get him out of here, man, before I put a cap in his ass," said Rollie Dean Brazier, defense minister of the New Black Panther Party.
It was 6:40 p.m. last Wednesday, and I had just gotten out of my car, and it was clear that Brazier--holding a serious-looking shotgun and strutting a chestful of extra ammo--had not come to shop. He and his fellow New Black Panthers, dressed in trademark black military garb, had come here to pour some more gasoline on the racial skirmishing they'd helped start seven months ago over at the Dallas school board.
Since that time, the New Black Panthers had managed to go from being backup singers to John Wiley Price and his Warriors--leaders of the protests at Townview magnet school--to being the star attraction in the current push to unseat new Dallas school-board president Bill Keever. The New Panthers had stolen the spotlight on May 23 when Keever, presiding over his very first meeting, had decided to set a new tone for his administration by insisting that the New Panthers, who like to stand at public meetings for obvious reasons, sit down. They, of course, refused. Keever called in the cops. In the ensuing melee, three Panthers were wrestled to the ground and arrested.
Which, naturally, drove the New Panthers' media currency way, way up--especially after the Panthers threatened to show up at the next school-board meeting on June 11 with more than 100 shotgun-toting men in tow. The board canceled its meeting.
It was 48 hours later; the city was shaking in its boots and the national media were circling like buzzards in the hopes that things turned ugly. The New Black Panthers--clearly giddy at all this newfound attention--had scheduled this mall "rally" to keep the pot boiling.
In about an hour, the Panthers would hold a press conference inside the mall to announce that the Fruit of Islam, the Nation of Islam's security force, would formally join them in their war on Keever. The Fruit was led by former Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Muhammad, a strident black nationalist from New York with a national reputation for saying incredibly disparaging things about white people, especially Jews and gays.
And Brazier and his fellow Panthers were waiting outside the mall for Muhammad--who had done a road show with the New Panthers in arson-plagued Greenville--to arrive so they could formally escort him inside the aged, shabby-looking building, where the Nation of Islam keeps its local headquarters.
Until then, defense minister Brazier would have to settle for threatening an unknown, unemployed black resident of West Dallas named William Hopkins. Hopkins had been watching the whole school-board saga unfold on his TV, and he had decided to come to the Panthers' rally to offer his perspective on the events at hand.
"I've been sitting in the house in West Dallas--just a poor black guy, didn't have a job or nothin'. I just came out," Hopkins told me. "I just told them, 'Let's try to talk this over. Let's put the guns down.'"
Lest you think Hopkins is some kind of diplomatic hero, he'd also come to the mall to get some advice from the New Black Panthers on a problem he'd been having with DISD. Hopkins' son had been robbed and knifed by a fellow Kimball High School student--and even though the incident had occurred off campus, and even though the Hopkins family didn't initially report the incident to the police, and even though Hopkins had been conspicuously absent, according to the school principal, from his son's life in the past--Hopkins had made repeated, unannounced visits to the school last semester to loudly demand that school officials take action against the offending "Mexican kid." On his last visit four months ago, Hopkins was arrested the minute he walked in the door.
Hopkins had brought to the Panthers rally a file full of well-worn documents related to his case. But none of the Panthers wanted to hear it--least of all Brazier, who must have been having a bad gun day.
"Get rid of him, man, before I tear him a new asshole," Brazier said angrily. "I'm not in the mood. I don't want to hear it."
He also didn't want to be asked about it.
"No--no matter what you say," Brazier barked at me as I walked up to the group with my little reporter pad. "This is a private conversation." I took one step closer. "No! See your way out--right back over to where you came from."
As I turned away, the mall's Muslim security guard, Brother Hakim Muhammad--a bald-headed guy in a tight beige suit, a white shirt, and a tiny bow tie--yanked Hopkins aside. "I heard all the way inside the building that they want to shoot you for what you said," Muhammad told him. "Anything that happens to you, it's on me. And I don't have an insurance policy. Hey, it's the wrong place. And the wrong time."