Panther Leader Makes Hay With Case
Malik Zulu Shabazz
When Logan County, W.Va., resident Karen Burton pleaded guilty on Feb. 7 to a violent hate crime charge in connection with the torture and sexual assault of a mentally diminished black woman, New Black Panther Party Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz was quick to declare victory.
"I think our interest in the case, our advocacy, has been vindicated," the leader of the black supremacist hate group told the West Virginia Gazette. "We will stay active in the case to see that those that harmed Megan [Williams] will be brought to justice."
Soon after six white people, three of them women, were arrested last September for allegedly raping, beating and terrorizing Williams for six days in a case that generated nationwide outrage, Shabazz announced that he was the victim's new "legal adviser," and began organizing what he called "an awareness and fundraising campaign."
Whenever speaking to the media on behalf of Williams and her family, Shabazz identified himself as the head of Black Lawyers for Justice, a group he founded in 1996. Few of the hundreds of media accounts on the Williams case have reported Shabazz's leadership role in the New Black Panther Party.
Last Nov. 3, Shabazz led an estimated 1,000 protesters on a march from the state Capitol building to a rally in front of the federal courthouse in Charleston, W. Va., where he called on federal and state prosecutors to file hate crime charges in the Williams case. (Burton, who allegedly stabbed Williams while saying, "This is what we do to niggers around here," was at press time the only defendant in the case to be charged with a hate crime. The case was complicated by the fact that Williams had had a prior relationship with one of the defendants.)
After the rally, Shabazz announced that he'd collected at least $5,000 on Williams' behalf, and has since continued to solicit donations to the Black Lawyers for Justice's "Megan Williams Fund."
Two weeks after the "March for Megan," Logan County Prosecutor Brian Abraham petitioned the court to appoint a legal guardian for Williams. "The people in her social sphere and the people around her may be allowing things, media events, that are not in Megan's best interests or in the best interest of her case," Abraham told the Gazette.
Shabazz challenged the guardian petition and it was denied. But Abraham had good reason to be wary of Shabazz's role in Williams' life. The New Black Panther leader has a checkered past when it comes to representing the financial interests of his clients. As first reported last November in The West Virginia Record, the Washington, D.C., Bar Association disciplined Shabazz in 2006 for mishandling a $160,328 settlement awarded two children in a civil action against the District of Columbia. The bar issued an "informal admonition" to Shabazz for failing to safe-keep a client's property, and two other violations of the bar's Rules of Professional Conduct for "failing to timely secure a court-appointed guardian to receive and manage the proceeds of the settlement," and for holding on to the settlement check for so long that it was voided.
Meanwhile, Abraham said that Burton has agreed to provide testimony against the other defendants, who could still be charged with hate crimes. "I have an obligation to uphold my oath and enforce the laws of West Virginia and, by extension, to represent the interests of Megan Williams," he said. "I will not base my decisions on any special interest."