Dispatch From New Orleans: Malik Speaks

by on January 13, 2008 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights, Organizing

Malik Speaks, Part 1

Malik Rahim, founder of Common Ground, spoke today about its past, present and future at the Community Breakfast in the Unitarian Church in New Orleans.
New Orleans, January 12-“The name Common Ground came from Robert King Wilkerson,” said Malik Rahim, one of the founders of the Common Ground Collective. Rahim, like Wilkerson, is a former Black Panther. “The concept of how to organize came from Scott Crow at a meeting in my back yard.”

Malik Rahim was living in Algiers, a part of New Orleans across the Mississippi River from the rest of the city. It was one of the few parts of New Orleans that did not flood from Hurricane Katrina.

“The day before Katrina,” Malik continued, “as I rode around the city, stopping people to ask them what they were going to do, I came to the shocking realization that most who could leave had left. They’d locked up their second cars before they’d let another family use it. Before they’d let another family use their food, they locked it up too.”

“I realized the city wasn’t going to provide nuthin. I spoke to Oliver Thomas and other officials, and they told me it would take two to three days to put together aid.

“I saw we had to organize for those left behind, to give them the capacity to survive two or three days. They were pubic housing residents, the elderly, and, mostly, the working poor.

“In 2004 the city had a mock drill for what to do if a hurricane category 4 or 5 hit the city. They estimated 150,000 wouldn’t be able to evacuate, and 60,000 of them would perish.

“Then come Katrina. After Katrina came I couldn’t say the horrors that existed.

“A segment of America would not help those fleeing because of the color of their skin. They demonized all African Americans. I saw this happening to babies that they refused to rescue. We’re no longer talking about racism, we’re talking about fascism.

“We documented that 19 were killed by white vigilantes in Algiers simply because they were black males not allowed in the neighborhood. Every evening they gave a celebration for how many they’d killed that day. They equated killing African American men with shooting pheasants.

“For three nights, Scott Crow and Brandon Darby stood guard at my home after I had a confrontation with the vigilantes.” Crow and Darby, white activists from Austin, had come to New Orleans at Malik’s request and later rescued Robert King Wilkerson in Mid City, “There were death calls,” Rahim continued, “and they [the vigilantes] made themselves known every day by driving by my home.

“At my request, two black activist lawyers came to help after I saw people who had fainted, and who had infected wounds because of the toxic floodwaters, refused medical treatment. They got as far as Jefferson Parish. Then they got turned around.

“When you tell me you’re denying people not only sanctuary, but, in one of the few places that were not damaged, you’ll deny medical assistance-this is fascism. Scott and Brandon came with weapons, and were allowed in because of the color of their skin.

“Why am I telling you this? Because we need to come together to take the next step.

“So under these horrific conditions we founded Common Ground. Scott, Brandon, Sharon [Johnson, Malik’s partner] and myself. With $50, that’s all we had. And then we prayed. After that we moved on faith. We’ve been moving on faith ever since.

“From the day we founded Common Ground we were monitored by Homeland Security. Anyone who criticized FEMA was. We assumed from the first the police would come.

“We started the health clinic in a mosque I was once a member of. We set up in the mosque after those doctors were denied access, with street medics who were white.

“It was already overwhelming-we were feeding 2-250 people a day in my backyard.

Those who first helped start the clinic were Jamie “Bork” Laughner from DC, Roger Benham from CT, Noah Morris from RI, and Scott Mechanic from Philly. Bork was also active in the recent actions to save NO public housing. She was tasered during the police attacks at City Hall on December 20. The day before she had occupied a building slated for demolition. Police charged her with two felonies, Terrorizing and Carrying a False Bomb. The latter charge was because she locked herself to the building with an empty pipe and a chain.

“We used the mosque until October until we moved across the street [where the clinic still is].

“Why had it exploded into a race war? A certain part of the population wanted no African Americans allowed back in the city. There was a process of demonization and dehumanization, so that the majority of the American population didn’t see us as human beings.

“So one of the first things we knew we had to do was bring back that humanity.

“We had to break the stereotypes. The stereotype held by African Americans that all whites are oppressors and exploiters. Because in Louisiana that’s all we’ve seen, except during Reconstruction. And we had to create a chance for whites to come in and see that we’re not all rapists, looters, criminals and murderers.

“Second, we had to take advantage of white privilege. In America there are some things a black man can’t do. When the governor [Blanco] declared a dusk to dawn curfew and a shoot to kill policy, that only applied to blacks.

“When I couldn’t get to to Gretna [just west of Algiers], where I used to live, and where my family owns property, I realized we had to learn how to use white privilege to serve those in need.” Rahim reported that white Common Ground members could get into Gretna, and go to other places where African Americans were banned, especially during the curfew.

“I’m proud to say, “Malik Rahim continued, “we’ve served over 180,000 people. Even one of the white vigilantes came to the health clinic, to get help for his mother. He looked down the whole time.”

To Be Continued.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

David G. Urban January 16, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Malik Rahim (aka Donald Guyton) is a former Blank Panther involved in several violent shoot-outs with police in his early days. He was convicted of armed robbery and served 5 years.

His story of the aftermath of Katrina builds in sensationalism each time he tells the story. In a Sept. 5, 2005 interview with Democracy Now! he talked more realistically about what was going on after Katrina.

He said in that interview, “Most of the looters and the people that was doing wrong that was stealing for all of the wrong reasons have done left .”

There was no mention of white vigilantes shooting down blacks, as he so blithely asserts in the January 13, 2008 speech at the Unitarian Church in New Orleans.

In that 2008 speech, three years later, he now asserts, “We documented that 19 were killed by white vigilantes in Algiers simply because they were black males not allowed in the neighborhood. Every evening they gave a celebration for how many they’d killed that day. They equated killing African American men with shooting pheasants.”

Odd, I think, that Malik Rahim fails to mention Algiers is 42% black, especially after saying black males were not allowed in the neighborhood.

I have written Mr. Rahim for copies of the “documentation” he claims he has about these 19 killings of blacks in Algiers by white vigilantes. I doubt if I get a response, but I, and several other journalists, am anxious to see whatever he produces.

Mr. Rahim also does not mention anything about the lawsuit he filed against the former owners of the building in which he originally started Common Ground. In that case, he used community volunteers to help clean up the building, then “billed” the owners $480,000 for 32,000 hours of volunteer labor. Then he placed a lien against the building. This was simply extortion in his attempt to force the owners to sell the building to him. It failed.

As for Common Ground, there are two charities with 501(c)(3) status: Common Ground Health Clinic, which lists income of $393,913 (in 2006), and also Common Ground Relief.

Neither one, however, except for the one income figure, lists anything with pertinent financial data, officers, expenses, other income, and so forth.

I have also asked for this information also. All public charities must provide it.

I find it astonishing that no one, including your online enterprise, is challenging the statements made by Malik Rahim in his speech. Instead, you reprint his words and give legitimacy to a man that anybody interested in the truth would find suspect. Apparently, as long as he leans in the right direction, all is forgiven or ignored.


David G. Urban January 16, 2008 at 4:45 pm

I have Common Ground Health Clinic’s 2006 Form 990.

It lists $393,319.00 in income (from direct and indirect public support), and $195,285.00 in expenses.

The expenses are divided into two categories: Program Services $86,589.00, and Management and General $108,696.00

Under the Program Services expenses, the biggest items are salaries ($45,000), Volunteer and Patient meals ($10,415), Community Stipends ($6,428), and $5,602 for Volunteer, Staff and Patient Tra, whatever that is.

Under Management and General, the biggest expenses are for Rent ($18,979), Accounting Fees ($12,963), Contract Medical Services ($10,969), and $9,793 for repairs.

When all is said and done, less than 10% of the $393,000 in income seems to have gone to actually helping patients at the clinic.

This may be only the sign of an initial start-up; it takes time to get organized and there are additional expenses. The Health Clinic still lists $200,000 in cash. What is troubling is that Part III of the form, where program accomplishments are supposed to be listed in detail, and the costs associated with them, -this whole part is left blank. It lists only the $86,589 in “Program Expenses” but, as I said, half of that was in salaries ($45,000).

What did the Common Ground Health Clinic actually accomplish in 2006? How many people did it serve? How did it serve them? What were the actual costs spent in this service?

Hopefully, the Form 990 for the year 2007 will be more forthcoming.


Michael Steinberg January 18, 2008 at 2:22 pm

In response to the above comments:

Malik Rahim has consistently spoken of white vigilantes operating in Algiers in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the September 3, 2005 issue of San Francisco Bayview newpaper, he stated, “There are gangs of white vigilantes near here riding around in pickup turcks, and any young Black they see who they figure doesn’t belong in their community, they shoot him. I tell them ‘Stop! You’re going to start a riot.’ ”

In an October 24, 2005 interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now he said, “During the aftermath, directly after the flooding, in New Orleans hunting season began on young African American men. In Algiers, I believe, about 18 African American males were killed. No one really knows the overall count. And it was basically murder. It was murder by police or vigilantes that was allowed to run amok.

The Washington Post reported on December 4, 2005, In the days after Katrina, Malik Rahim sat on his front porch …and watched mostly white militias patrol the streets with rifles and pistols.”

As to “Algiers is 42% black, various neighborhoods there are predominantly white or mostly black. Algiers Point, where Malik Rahim has lived for many years, is prdominantly white. The location of the Common Ground Health Clinic is located in an Algiers community that’s mostly black.

As to the building “in which he originally started Common Ground, there nothing in what’s written above to identify it’s address, location, or where and when the lawsuit was filed. In Malik Speaks, Part 2, which will appear here soon, he does speak of an apartment building that Common Ground managed for seven months and had an agreement to buy and turn into a housing co-op, an agreement the owner violated after much labor had been done to fix up the place. Stay tuned.

Malik Rahim helped start the Common Ground Health Clinic, but has not a hand in running it for quite some time. It’s currently governed by a 7 member Board of Directors, including Noah Morris, one of its original four founders.

The Executive Director of the clinic is Antor Odu Ndep, who was the first Health Educator of the Tulane Xavier Center of Excellence in Women’s Health,

The clinic’s Medical Director is Dr. Ravi Vadlamundi. In a statement handed out at a press conference held in New Orleans yesterday in support of the reopening of Charity Hospital, a public hospital for the indigent and uninsured, Dr. Valamundi wrote:

” I am the volunteer medial director at Common Ground Health Clinic…I have been working there since October 2005. I am simultaneously a family physician at Tulane University and have been working there for six years…We see about one hundred fifty to two hundred patients each week.”

The clinic is currently open four days a week, for a total of 14 hours per week. For more info, go to http://www.cghc.org.

The clinic has been providing free health care for over two years in New Orleans. An article about its history and service to the community appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine April 13, 2006 issue.


scott crow July 13, 2008 at 8:45 pm

To address David above , even though I feel it is a partial waste.
I have a couple of things.

I know there were racist vigilantes driving in truck around Algiers because I was there. I didn’t imagine it, I lived it, so I don’t need some skeptical armchair internet dude to question it.

The reason we didn’t talk about it often initially is that we were under attack not just from those assholes,but also the local police who turned ablind eye to them, but selectively targeted us for harrassment
often. You ever had guns in your face or laid face down on the ground with guns in your back?

It was traumatic and stressfula dnyes we were armed–hell half the white population was. I am proud that I stood in armede self defense against those racist assholes and lived to tell.

In the larger Wes Bank area Black men could not walk around although it is a predominantly Black area without the vigilantes–who looked like the Klan minus the hoods in the back of their trucks messing with and possibly killing them.

I personally saw to bullet riddled bodies in Algiers–one we covered up with corrugated metal because no one would come clean it up. Who killed these men? The vigilantes? The cops?

The woodlands:
We sued the Woodlands complex, which had been abandoned by the owners years before, after they had agreed verbally to sell it to us. We , with many residents and volunteers, moved in and began rehabbing the place–apratment by apartment–after giving them a large sum as a down payment. We had childcare, a beauty salon
and resident housing. The owners after two onths saw the land grab other developers were doing and saw they could sell it for more. Even though we had put money and time into it. We essentially made the property more valuable and the pwners took advantage of our naiveity. So we sued. Easy enough.

The Clinic:
Hearing you even question the clinic–of which we actually opend four in various parts of the city–makes me think you are a really bvig asshole who obviously wasn’t anyhere near New Orleans when it snak in the ocean. So listen up.
When there were NO medical services for miles, we served thousands, yes I said thousands of people for FREE.
Red Cross , FEMA and the military sent people to our clinics and often came themselves. We have been known on the ground as the places where you will get not only the best treastment but also treated with dignity and respect. The Center For Disease Control
came to us early on because our staff kept the best records of ANY clinics in NOLA. They were able to track emerging patterns and outbreaks from our records. Did I mention all of our services
are free? We opened clincis in communities that had no other health providers close BEFORE the storm.
And since I know you are not in the Health industry, I don’t know if you heard but it cost money to run FREE clinics.

I hope that clarifies things and if you ever read this again you will
not take haphazard media interivews made under great duress
as the whole truth at any given time. We didn’t have professional
media PR firms or slick advertising, we are all community organizers. What did you do when the levees broke?
I risked my life for people I knew and others I didn’t to make their lives better. Is that a crime?

So cut us some slack.

From the concrete jungle in the Gulf Coast Basin
scott crow


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