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Activist's Alleged Beating Investigated

Najee Ali says Nation of Islam minister's bodyguards beat him after a loud argument.

November 09, 2005|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police are investigating allegations by community activist Najee Ali that he was beaten by bodyguards of Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad after a news conference Monday.

Ali said Tuesday that he and Muhammad got into a loud argument about why so few reporters had attended the news conference at which the two activists called for clemency for murderer Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

Ali told police that he called Muhammad "a liar" after which one guard "cold-cocked" him in the face. Other bodyguards then kicked him when he fell to the ground, Ali said.

Los Angeles Police Capt. James Craig said detectives took a police report from Ali and are investigating.

"One of the security people for Muhammad apparently didn't appreciate what Najee said and battered him," Craig said. "We are seeking to determine the identity of the security person or persons involved.

"There are no allegations Minister Muhammad struck anyone," he said.

Muhammad could not be reached for comment, and his attorney did not return calls.

Some activists expressed dismay that two well-known African American figures were involved in an assault case.

"These men are pivotal community leaders, and I think this is to the detriment of black activism and political empowerment," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst and friend of both men.

"Is this a personal thing or does it reflect something deeper -- a political rift?"

He said Muhammad and Ali are part of a younger, more media-savvy, rising group of leaders.

"There is a vacuum of political leadership in the black community," Hutchinson said, adding that several longtime community leaders have retired in recent years.

"I have noted definitely a jockeying for political leadership in the black community," he said.

Muhammad is the Western states head of the Nation of Islam. Ali is the leader of Project Islamic Hope, which has spoken out on police misconduct and other issues. Ali also is the son-in-law of W.D. Mohammad, a prominent Black Muslim and son of the founder of Nation of Islam.

Ali said the incident began after the noon news conference in Leimert Park when Muhammad shouted at him over how few reporters had showed up.

Ali responded that he didn't have "a magic wand" to beckon reporters, he said. According to the police report, an unidentified member of the minister's security staff told him that "he could not talk to the minister like that."

The bodyguard then "struck Najee's face, causing him to fall down to the ground," according to the report.

Ali told the investigating detective that after he had made comments critical of Muhammad that appeared in The Times last month, an unidentified Muhammad security staff member allegedly told him that "they were going to get him the next time they saw him," the report said.

Both Ali, 42, and Muhammad, 47, are controversial figures.

Supporters call them passionate voices for justice in the African American community who are not afraid to take on the Los Angeles Police Department and other powerful institutions.

Last year, then-Mayor James K. Hahn appointed Ali to a special committee that was monitoring a police beating probe of a Compton man, just hours after Chief William J. Bratton on CNN described him as "one of the biggest nitwits in Los Angeles," a remark for which the chief later apologized.

Ali, however, resigned from the committee after questions were raised about a hit-and-run case in which authorities accused him of crashing into another car and then running into a movie theater. In October 2004, Ali was convicted of hit-and-run and perjury and sentenced to six months in jail.

Muhammad is credited with improving relations between the Nation of Islam and other religious communities as well as with law enforcement since arriving in Los Angeles a decade ago.

Muhammad, however, recently appeared with his face swollen and bruised, alleging that it was due to an Aug. 25 beating by LAPD officers.

Police said Muhammad assaulted an officer during a vigil and was hurt while struggling with police.

Authorities are still investigating that incident.

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