Malik Rahim on Black Panthers and Black Resistance in New Orleans (Interview)

Malik Rahim, Brice White
Date Published: 
March 13, 2000

 (Editor's note: This interview as well as "For a Former Panther, Solidarity After the Storm" suggests the experience of building 'Serve the People' programs that have inspired the current 'Solidarity not Charity' model used by Common Ground Collective, co-founded by Malik Rahim.)

The 30th Anniversary of the Desire Shoot-out: An Interview with Malik Rahim


by Brice White

This is an interview conducted on WTUL (91.5 FM) on March 13th, 2000.

Malik Rahim is from New Orleans and is an activist in the Bay Area now and Ahmad Rahman is also an activist and he lives in the Detroit area. They were both members of the Black Panther Party.

I wanted to get you, Malik, to talk about the 30th anniversary of the shoot-out in the Desire projects right here in New Orleans...

Well, I was in the first shoot-out, and at that time, at the time when we first came together to organize a Black Panther Party chapter in New Orleans the governor of this state, McKidden, came on TV and swore he would never allow the Panthers to ever get established in Louisiana. The National Committee to Combat Fascism was the first step in organizing a Black Panther Party chapter. On September the 15th, 1970 there was the first shoot-out between members of the National Committee to Combat Fascism and the New Orleans Police Deparatment, and the second one was the week prior to Thanksgiving in 1970.

Were you from all over the city or were you from one specific area?

Malik: No that's really it, a sister named Betty Toussaint and my first wife Barbara Thomas and I, we came out of Algiers, the Fischer area. Most of the Party members came out of the Calliope projects, and at that time the African American community in New Orleans was one that was very territorial, if you came from the 9th ward you stayed in 9th ward, if came form the 15th ward you stayed in the 15th ward. This was the first time where you had individuals from all over the city coming together. But most of the members came from the Calliope projects and then the Magnolia projects, so those two brought us the most members.

The first house you had was in St Thomas?

Malik: Yes, we started establishing programs in the St. Thomas projects, our education program, our breakfast program, and at that time we were also beginning to organize the crime prevention program. Now, we had only been in existence in New Orleans for about 5 or 6 months, so then we get our eviction notice. And at every place that we would rent, as soon as we would open up our office, we'd get a notice. Our location at the time was at the St. Thomas, our group was having a meeting, and then some people from the Desire housing project came and told us about their plight with crime and asked if we'd come back and help them. With the eviction notice, we decided to move our office to Desire. Our new building was already being occupied by a community activist program called the Sons of Desire. The Sons of Desire was downstairs and we was upstairs.

This was the house on Piety Street?

Malik: Yes, this was the house on Piety. Shortly after we moved in we received an eviction notice there too.

Most people don't know anything about the shoot-out that y'all went through in Desire.

Malik: Well, there was basically 11 of us in the party office at the time, and almost a hundred police with everything from a 60 caliber machine gun and armored cars down to their revolvers. We had about 9 shotguns, and a couple of handguns, .357 revolvers. But everything we had was legally purchased and it was registered to our office. Our position was that African Americans should no longer be lynched or beaten or attacked and have their rights taken away without any form of resistance.. We believed that you had a right to defend yourself, you had a right to defend your community, you had a right to defend your family, and you had the right to defend your honor as a human being.

The reason that we survived the shoot-out was because the community stood with us, they wouldn't leave and allow the police to do their dastardly deeds. During the short period we'd been in the Desire we reduced crime to just about 0%, the Desire projects went from one of the highest crime areas in the city to one of the lowest. It was compatible to any middle class white community by the time of the shoot out. And so the community looked at what we did and they looked at what the police came in their telling them... all these contradictions about what we were gonna do and what was gonna happen, they didn't believe it. They were defiant. They not only didn't believe it, but they stood up for us in the second shoot-out.

Now when we opened our second office in the Desire, 600 police came the second time. 600 police, national guard, and state troopers. And then almost 5000 people came out of the Desire projects and stood between the police and our office and refused to move. That was the reason we survived the second shoot-out. It took them to do a deed that is about the greatest betrayal of morality that I have ever witnessed to get us. They came and raided the office the second time dressed as priests. They borrowed priest's uniforms from the priests here at Loyola who had been coming to our free breakfast program. Those priests had been telling us "We're gonna bring you some more food so you can continue to feed the kids", and then they go and give their uniforms to the police. Betty Toussaint, the sister from Algiers, was shot through the door when they raided the house.

And here in New Orleans, like many places in the country, this was the first time that there was an act of armed defiance against the white power structure where the blacks that participated in it had survived. And they were hell-bent on making sure that since we had survived that we would spend the rest of our lives in Angola. This is our 30th year since then, and this is a part of history that our youth and the youth of this nation need to know about. Not only what we did and accomplished, but what caused the condition for the emergence of the Black Panther Party. It has to be known, it cannot be a part of history that is just kicked on the side.

Maybe you could talk more specifically about some of your programs.

Malik: Well, by the time of the shoot-outs we were feeding somewhere in the neighborhood of about 300 - 400 kids every morning, Monday through Saturday. We did this six days a week....

And in most cities around the country the first sickle cell awareness and sickle cell associations was established by members of the Black Panther Party....

How did you all fund these kind of programs?

[ . . . ]

We went out and asked for donations from within the community, we had supporters that worked who consistently gave donations, we sold papers, buttons, we raised the funds to make things happen.

I know there was a national Black Panther paper, were there also local ones?

Malik: No, but there was always room for local sections. All chapters submitted articles to the Panther Party Newspaper. In that same period of time [as the shoot-out], I believe it was in 1970, you can correct me if I'm wrong, J. Edgar Hoover had declared the Black Panther Party to be the greatest threat against national security. After that statement it was all out war against the Black Panther Party, I believe that almost 300 party members around the country were assassinated and countless others was incarcerated. I believe at one time almost 60- 70 % of our fundraising effort went to political prisoners. The money went to supporting, to making sure that we were kept aware of their conditions....

It seems like now is a time where a lot of people are starting to get organized and get politically active around the country. I was wondering if you guys could talk about that or why you became politically active in the first place?

[ . . . ]

Malik: I would just like to add that conditions like we have now, they bring about a contradiction. By that I mean in California, on Mardi Gras day, proposition 21 was passed. This proposition means that now in California they can try 14 year olds as adults. Now they gonna send 14 year old boys to prison. The authorities think that this 14 year old person is rational enough to pay the ultimate consequences of being executed or being sentenced to life, but is not rational enough to vote, or drive, or drink, or buy cigarettes. I believe that when any injustice is allowed to exist, that that is an injustice to everyone in that community or society. The injustice that is happening to Leonard [Peltier], the botched surgery, where they have basically fused this man's jaws shut, where this man has got to smash his food and suck it into his mouth. Some may say it was just an accident, but one of the FBI agents that Leonard was charged with killing, was shot in the mouth. This is the kind of thing that is going on...

You have issues, like MOVE, in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, where they literally dropped a bomb on the MOVE house, which is just like in Tulsa Oklahoma in the 1920s. African Americans veterans who had just come home from the war stopped a lynching of an African American man, and it caused a whole town to be destroyed. The white power structure flew over this town and actually dropped kerosene and burnt Tulsa down. You have these type of conditions that are in existence, you have people like Mumia who, because he took the stand and because he was a reporter that spoke the truth he was have men here in Louisiana who are political prisoners in Angola, who have spent he last 28 years in solitary confinement. That's 28 years locked down, 23 hours a day, Monday through Friday. Weekends 24 hours. They have took beatings, they have suffered some of the worst conditions that a man can suffer and survive. They have withstood this for 28 years.

Something is drastically wrong when the priorities of a nation are not to serve its citizens but to incarcerate them. The entire HUD budget for 2000 is 23 and a half billion for this entire nation, this nation on the other hand will spend almost 36 billion dollars on prison. Their is a mentality that part of our society is disposable and that is what we are seeing with the current increase in incarceration. And we have two million people incarcerated, two million people! And something like 800,000 of those come out of HUD and subsidized housing.

These kids from the projects have a lot of knowledge, not necessarily the ABCs, but how to survive, how to defend themselves, what to do in case their is a shooting. Most kids in this society have never seen someone killed, but if you go to any public housing development in this city and as soon as a child can form some kind of concept of death they can say they have actually seen someone getting murdered. There's no form of psychologists that are sent to these projects to help these kids deal with what they've seen, no one is there to help them like in Columbine, those kids just have to survive.

And even though this country is experiencing it's most prosperous economic boom in its history, in public housing we are still dealing with unemployment that can run up to 70 And 90 percent. So you still have this. Here you have a direct relationship with poverty and crime, it's not based on race because in poor white areas and during the depression you can draw the same conclusions. And right now we possess the tools to cure this problem and that's what has to be done, we have to find solutions. We are making the appeal process shorter and the execution process quicker. Now we even have a Republican governor in Illinois who has put a moratorium on capital punishment. People need to come out and get involved, regardless of who you are, because this is something we must stop. I am a member of the International Action Center and I am the executive director of Prison Rights Union. And people can contact these groups if they want to get more involved.

Ed. note: This version of the interview has been taken from
Benjamin Greenberg's blog, Hungry Blues.