The head of the Philadelphia chapter of the New Black Panther Party was arraigned on gun-possession charges in Manhattan, N.Y., on Friday night.
Maruse Heath, who has a tattoo on his face that reads “Killy Whitey,” was allegedly carrying a loaded, unlicensed gun and wearing a bulletproof vest when he was stopped by police in Harlem on Thursday night.
Heath, 41, also known as King Salim Shabazz, was charged with possession of an illegal .25-caliber handgun and wearing illegal body armor. He was held in lieu of $75,000 bail, according to the New York Post.
“It is no crime to belong to the Black Panther Party,” said Heath’s attorney, claiming the organization does “charity work within the local community, outreach to the homeless and works with at-risk youth who are at risk of becoming criminals.’’
“It is my understanding that the New Black Panther Party is the functional equivalent of the KKK,” Assistant District Attorney Christopher Ryan told the court.
Heath also has a 2008 arrest for intimidating voters by standing outside a polling place in paramilitary garb.
“I don’t believe there’s any justification for the stop,” said Heath’s attorney. “It’s very dark — 10:30 at night. They grabbed him by the shoulders and cuffed him and he was in custody.”
The New York Police Department has long been criticized for its stop-and-frisk procedures. The New York Civil Liberties Union said the campaign raises concerns about racial profiling and illegal stops. According to the NYCLU report, more than 4 million innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and interrogations on the street since 2002. Black and Hispanic people are often targeted.
Ryan argued it was the massive, size-52 ballistic vest that Heath was wearing that led NYPD to stop him.
“A 52, sized as regular men’s clothing, is clearly obvious,” he said. “He was stopped, and a loaded handgun was taken from his pocket.”
If convicted, Heath could face a mandatory minimum of three and a half years.