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He's walked the streets at night, trying to close crackhouses. Walked the grid of the city's African-American neighborhoods, calling on business owners who weren't African-American with suggestions -- some say ultimatums -- that left them silent and subdued. Marched publicly on the Arab-owned liquor stores around Cass Avenue, trying to push them and their products out of the African-American community. Walked swaggering young gang members into union offices to get them jobs. Threatened boycotts and pickets. Taken young people in hand when no one else would.
His methods can be read as dedicated activism or heavy-handed pressure tactics; his props can seem like thought-provoking symbols or crude, thoughtless gimmicks. He calls racism when no one else dares -- and he sees racism everywhere. Habitually suspicious, he refused to be interviewed or to provide information for this story, and he warned those close to him not to cooperate, convinced the story would be a racist attack. At the entrance to his inner sanctum, silence dropped like a guillotine blade.
But Shahid is far too public, and too loud, to silence everyone -- and he strikes a different chord in each person he meets. He's been called, in varying tones, St. Louis's Malcolm X. His dedication to young people has been compared to Sidney Poitier's in To Sir With Love.
He makes some people proud and others ashamed.
He makes everybody nervous.
Beige, with narrow arched windows, Masjid al Tauheed stands on San Francisco Avenue just west of Kingshighway, its name painted in the bright clear green of Islam. Someday a dome will rise above those letters, just as Shahid rose above the script of his youth.
Born Anthony Ray Jones, he grew up on St. Louis's North Side and turned ten in 1965, the year Malcolm X was shot and Martin Luther King Jr. led the Selma march. Young Anthony acted out the frustration burning all around him, and he took his share of corporal punishment from his teachers at Williams Middle School -- among them the Reverend Earl Nance Jr.'s late mother.
Anthony later thanked Mrs. Nance for the discipline.
But it wasn't enough to keep him out of trouble.
At eighteen, Anthony Ray Jones was convicted of robbery in Evergreen, Illinois. Ten years later, in 1983, he was convicted of illegal use of a firearm in St. Louis. Then he was drawn into the American Muslim movement, and it transformed him.
He changed his name to Anthony Fatiha Shahid, and he traded the restless openness of his youth for fierce conviction. Friends say he was drawn first to the gentler, more mainstream branch and only later to Minister Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam. But whatever the journey, by the late '80s he was known as a minister, exhorting young people to the Islamic precepts he believed could give his race dignity, responsibility and real freedom.
He was also driving the city cops crazy, showing up when they were trying to make an arrest and automatically haranguing the officers for unfairness. It's said that on at least one occasion, he goaded onlookers to take the suspect back from the police, nearly starting a neighborhood riot.
"Shit-disturber," the higher-ups decided, and put the word out to be wary. But even the chance of getting arrested didn't faze Shahid. He cruised the streets, vigilant for any sign of a brother getting hassled. Then he started showing up at police-board meetings, calling particular officers and policies racist.
In 1991, Clarence Harmon became chief of the St. Louis Police Department. He set up a police-chaplaincy program, putting one of his captains in charge of finding trustworthy clergy willing to counsel officers, their families and the families of victims in times of tragedy.
In the summer of 1994, word flew through police headquarters: Their favorite troublemaker, Anthony Shahid, was walking the streets in a blue jacket with CHAPLAIN stenciled on the back, flashing a chaplaincy badge and continuing his harangue of police methods.
Harmon was furious.
Shahid claimed the fury was personal: He'd recently mentioned the chief on the radio, criticizing him harshly for marrying a white woman.
Harmon said there was nothing personal about it: Shahid had two felony convictions on his record.
In July 1994, the chief issued a written order to all officers, saying, in essence, don't go get him, but the minute he shows up someplace, get that badge back. The next time Shahid showed up at a police-board meeting, he was stopped and stripped of all official accoutrements before being allowed to proceed.
Six months later, he filed suit against Harmon in U.S. District Court, saying the chief had violated his civil rights and seeking $50,000 in redress. He didn't win his suit, but he did get under the skin of his reserved, by-the-book enemy. Now a private citizen, Harmon contents himself with a terse, "I know Anthony Shahid. I have nothing good to say about him."
In one observer's opinion, "Anthony might have cited a white wife, but in his heart, he hated Clarence because he wouldn't give in to him the way others have."
For whatever reason, Harmon grated on Shahid's already raw nerves. By contrast, Shahid found inspiration in the political platform and easygoing style of Freeman Bosley Jr. Back in the '80s, as Shahid's religious convictions deepened, he'd decided to start the Tauheed Youth Group to work with young black men in the city's roughest neighborhoods. Bosley had come to some of their meetings. When he campaigned for mayor, Shahid provided extra security, and after Bosley won the election in 1993, Shahid went to work for the city, helping defuse gang problems in parks and recreation centers.
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