One thing about living in Chicago – there is always something happening. Be it positive or negative, it is a city with many issues. One of the current issues that is causing a lot of talk and media coverage is the controversy over Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad’s membership on the Governor’s Hate Crime Commission.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Muhammad to the commission in Aug. 2005, the chairperson of the commission is Rev. Willie Barrow, Emeritus, Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
When Muhammad invited commission members to attend the annual Savior’s Day Meeting Feb. 26, at the United Center, little did she know this invitation would soon be the reason for her current problems with some members of the Jewish community. Because Minister Louis Farrakhan used the term “Hollywood Jews” reportedly claiming that they promote homosexuality and lesbianism, some commission members wanted Muhammad to repudiate his remarks.
Although none of the members reportedly attended the Savior’s Day meeting, the excerpts and clips played on TV has caused a fire-storm of discussions while the governor appears caught in the middle. Thus far, he has stood by Muhammad, however, he has denounced Minister Farrakhan’s speech.
Muhammad serves as Chief-of-Protocol to Farrakhan and National director of Community Outreach for the Nation of Islam. She previously served as special assistant to the Commissioners of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, created by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The commission was co-chaired by the late Gov. of Illinois Otto Kerner and by former New York Mayor John Lindsey.
After many days of TV coverage and written commentary, Muhammad made her first public appearance Tuesday to address the issue at radio station WVON.
Reading from prepared statement, Muhammad said: “I was appointed, effective August 29, 2005, to the Governor’s Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He was aware that I was highly credentialed and qualified to serve on the Commission. I will do all within my power to work with my fellow commissioners in producing a report that will prayerfully help to eradicate hate and discrimination against any group or person.
“I am proud of my record over the years in working to break down the barriers of hate and discrimination, as well as to bridge the differences between people,” she added. “I believe in fairness to all people regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or religious beliefs. I respect those who practice the true tenets of their faith, be it Islam Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism or any other religion. Further, I do not condemn members of our society who may be gay or lesbian and have always advocated for their human rights.”
As a guest on WVON radio, hosted by Cliff Kelley, Muhammad requested that she make the following statements involving incidents of crimes she has experienced.
In 1984, she alleges her 19-year-old nephew was home on leave in California from the U.S. Navy. The police, she said, stopped him on the street after he left a friends home. She alleges the police called him derogatory names and arrested him.
He was later severely beaten by police and subsequently put on life support, Muhammad alleges.
Muhammad, the oldest of eight children, and her family decided to end his life support. “That’s a hate crime of which I have experienced,” she said.
Muhammad recalled an incident in 1970, where her sister was stabbed to death in her home by a man who entered her home; and another in 1975, involving the death of her 55-year-old mother death at the hands of unknown robber, who entered her home, robed, raped and torture her, killing her with a hatchet, she alleges.
“That was my beloved mother, now, however you want to say it, that was hate crime,” she said.
Muhammad also talked of her own experiences with discrimination.
“In terms of discrimination, as a very young woman I was a student at the prestigious John Robert Morris School of Modeling. The models went to a beauty salon in San Diego to get their hair done, when I went to get my hair done, he emphatically told me no, because they didn’t do black folks hair,” she recalled. “He didn’t say black folks he used the word N I G G E R.”
Muhammad went on to talk about other cases of discrimination when she was a model with Ebony Fair Fashion, and at the end of the show in Dallas when she and a friend were refused service in the dining room. She complained to management, but she was later advised to leave as soon as possible since President John Kennedy had been assassinated there a month prior.
After her morning radio appearance, Muhammad was joined at a press conference by Leonard Muhammad, Chief of Staff to Minister Farrakhan and Minister Ishmael Muhammad, assistant minister to Farrakhan. Members of the Chicago media were also present.
“One of the reasons why we came to WVON this morning is because what we have to say here at WVON was played in context,” said Leonard Muhammad. “There was no editing; there were no clips. And I’m hoping that today, because we’re making the effort, we don’t want confusion in the community [and] that the press today will play in context what we have to say.”
Responding to television reporter’s question, Minister Ishmael Muhammad corrected a word that was not said at Saviors Day.
“As someone in the media, you have to take more responsibility quoting exactly what was said. You just added two words that the minister never mentioned in his speech,” said. This is the same thing that happen 20 years ago where the media changed a word and characterized the minister’s message regarding Judaism as a “gutter religion” and he never said that. So why is it when the minister castigated black folks and chastised us lovingly for our errors and where we have fallen short in our responsibilities and fallen short in our duties to God, yet you don’t hear the outcry from members of the black community. He points out errors in the Muslim world, yet you don’t hear Arab people or Muslims feeling Minister Farrakhan message were offensive.”
In responding to question as to whether Catholic members on the commission should renounce their religion, Leonard Muhammad responded: “You know obviously there is a double standard and that’s why we’re here because we are not going to stand for it.”