Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad said Tuesday night that he was kicked in the face by police after being handcuffed during his arrest at a vigil in Hyde Park last week.
“You waited until you got the handcuffs on me and you kicked me,” Muhammad said parenthetically to police while addressing an audience of more than 400 at a meeting in South Los Angeles. The meeting was called in response to community outcries over his arrest.
Police have said Muhammad became belligerent and joined an assault on officers when they tried to arrest him.
Muhammad, 47, was arrested on suspicion of battery of a police officer at the tense scene of a vigil Thursday for 21-year-old gang shooting victim Nahun Beaird. An agitated crowd said paramedics had abandoned revival efforts while Beaird was still moving.
Leonard Farrakhan, chief of staff of the Nation of Islam, told Tuesday night’s audience at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Western Avenue that officials had met with Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton on Monday. “I respect the chief of police, but it’s important for him to know we are on opposite sides working to be one,” Farrakhan said.
He said the Nation of Islam and its supporters are prepared to fight any charges. “We aren’t running from this fight in the street, and we aren’t running from it in the courtroom.”
Among those who attended the meeting Tuesday night were Michael Jackson defense lawyer Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. and Carl Douglas, one of O.J. Simpson’s so-called Dream Team attorneys.
The crowd burst into applause when Farrakhan introduced them. Community leaders also began collecting for a legal defense fund for Muhammad.
Earlier Tuesday, community activists descended on the Los Angeles Police Commission, demanding that officials prosecute and fire officers for allegedly beating Muhammad without provocation at the vigil last week.
More than 120 protesters filled the commission chambers at Parker Center, the downtown Los Angeles police headquarters, to ask that Bratton apologize for the incident and that the department drop charges against the minister.
On Tuesday, longtime activist Danny Bakewell, flanked by Muhammad, demanded a quick and thorough investigation into the arrest, and vowed to lead a 10,000-person march on Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.
“The reason that this happened to Minister Tony is not because he is Minister Tony, it happened because he was a black man,” said Bakewell, publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel and founder of the Brotherhood Crusade. “They beat this brother down ... because he wouldn’t submit and obey.”
Muhammad, whose face was visibly swollen, remained at Bakewell’s side during the commission meeting and at a later news conference but declined to answer questions.
The protesters had already left for the conference when Police Commission President John Mack pledged an expedited investigation.
“Having said that, we are not going to hold a kangaroo court and indict anyone,” said Mack, who recently retired as president of the Los Angeles Urban League. “Those who need to be held accountable will be held accountable.... The stakes are high, and a lot is riding on this.”
Repeating the account he gave reporters last week, Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell told commissioners that Muhammad became belligerent when two officers asked the minister to move two Nation of Islam SUVs that were blocking traffic.
Then Muhammad joined a mob assault on the officers, McDonnell said.
A scuffle broke out as other officers tried to take Muhammad into custody, McDonnell said. Two of Muhammad’s bodyguards were arrested on suspicion of obstruction of justice, he added.
Bakewell reiterated Tuesday that the minister was pepper-sprayed, then kicked and punched on the ground without provocation.
The LAPD earlier released a transcript of a recording on which an officer orders Muhammad to move away, and the minister replies, “Make me.”
Activists dismissed the transcript Tuesday as propaganda. Bakewell said the minister was merely asserting his constitutional right to free assembly.
Activist Tommy Walker told commissioners that the police version of the incident was a lie. Walker said he saw officers attack Muhammad and pepper-spray him.
Activists insisted that Muhammad was a “peacemaker not peace-breaker.”
“I’ve witnessed him bring a cease-fire to gangs at war,” Oscar de la Torre of the Pico Youth and Family Center said during the news conference.
Khalid Shah, leader of the anti-gang group Stop the Violence Increase the Peace, called on the mayor, City Council and police chief to condemn a written statement put out by the police union accusing Muhammad of deliberately baiting officers.
During the meeting, police commanders, commissioners, department supporters and critics agreed on one thing: gang violence must end.
Monica Harmon, a neighborhood community leader, said she supports the officers, adding, “We are all sick and tired of gang violence.”
Outside the meeting, Stan Muhammad, a Nation of Islam member, said the group was “putting gang members on notice. Stop killing each other.”
Bratton was in Sacramento on Tuesday with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He met for two hours Monday with Minister Don Muhammad of Boston, a top lieutenant of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, to defuse community tension arising from the confrontation.