- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan used the Millions More Movement yesterday on the Mall to deliver a searing, 75-minute speech in which he charged the federal government with “criminal neglect” for its response to Hurricane Katrina and urged the black community to self-govern.

“I think we need to look at a class-action suit on behalf of the citizens of New Orleans who have lost everything,” he said. “Since we can’t sue the federal government, we can sue (the Department of) Homeland Security and [the Federal Emergency Management Agency.] The government has not acted responsibly to give (residents) back what they have lost and return them to their homes.”

Mr. Farrakhan asked people to donate one dollar a week to a disaster-relief fund and on several occasions gave the movement’s Web site address.

He also called for a series of “ministries” — including ones for health and human services, defense and agriculture — to fix problems in the black community that he said the federal government has overlooked.

Mr. Farrakhan called for black farmers to unite to make their land productive.

“Farming is the engine of every nation,” he said at yesterday’s event, which commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. “As long as we keep our mouths in the kitchen of our enemy, we will never have” economic freedom.

Mr. Farrakhan also called for reparations for slavery.

Johnny Blackmon, 55, of Pensacola, Fla., said he came to the march in 1995 and was so inspired that he and some friends started a Million Man organization.

The group eventually died out, whether from lack of direction or inspiration. However, yesterday’s event could have been the start of a new beginning, he said.

“I think [Mr. Farrakhan] told us the things we need to do to uplift our people,” Mr. Blackmon said. “I think he gave us the road map. If we can just follow the map, then I feel like the job is done.”

Mr. Farrakhan was the last of dozens of speakers to take the stage on the steps of the Capitol. His speech closed the day and came as the setting sun turned the building into a glimmering backdrop.

Listeners sitting, standing and lounging on blankets formed a thick crowd that started at the foot of the Capitol’s steps and stretched onto the Mall for several hundred yards.

Many nodded in agreement with points in Mr. Farrakhan’s speech, often saying “yes, sir,” or “that’s right,” at key points.

Authorities would not give crowd estimates. But by 6 p.m., Metro reported 331,000 passengers had used the subway system, compared to a typical Saturday ridership of 220,000. On the day of the march 10 years ago, ridership was more than 804,000.

Sgt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Capitol Police reported no arrests or other problems. “It was very peaceful,” he said.

Lesia Banks, 39, of Fort Washington, said she was pleased that women and people of all ages and races were welcome.

“It’s a good idea [to include women] because the family needs support,” she said. “The men cannot do it by themselves.”

Some of Mr. Farrakhan’s views over the years have alienated segments of the population, including the Jewish community and some black leadership.

However, such civil rights groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League supported this year’s event.

He also invited members of the homosexual and lesbian community, which staged rallies on Freedom Plaza.

During the 1995 march, women, whites and other minorities were excluded because the event’s message was focused on black men.

Many of the speakers yesterday presented a more unified vision for the races, compared with that preached by Mr. Farrakhan.

“If the house is on fire, you cannot just save your room, you must save the house,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. “Our vision is inclusive. We are all people of God.”

Mr. Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, shared Mr. Farrakhan’s criticism of the government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and urged listeners to channel their anger into bettering their communities.

“We need millions more to act and react to what we saw in the Gulf (Coast) and Mississippi,” Mr. Jackson said. “Those images were burned into our consciousness.”

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