By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Quanell X used to sell drugs for a living, and now he sold revolution.
Sitting alone beneath African flags, he still seemed to match his police description: five feet, ten inches tall, 200 pounds, brown hair and, of course, the black skin. The face, with particular attention to nostrils and ears, was washed 15 times a day; the hair was cut twice a week; and the whole was wrapped now in an orange suit with matching orange shoes. (There was also a bow tie, but that, he would explain later, was a ''security device,'' which would come off in the hands of any attacker.)
"In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful,'' he began. He invoked the names of all the prophets. He spoke as though all heaven and earth were listening.
But in the SHAPE Community Center, there was only a small throng of mostly black reporters, and it wasn't entirely clear why they had come. The press release had announced a new "community-based organization'' that would assist in "stopping the violence within our inner-city communities.'' This seemed a noble goal, but as it was not yet a noble deed, the release would have sufficed. Yet there they were, a half-dozen reporters with recorders and pads, waiting for Quanell X to make something out of nothing.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press, brothers and sisters, I've called this press conference today to announce to everyone -- black, brown, yellow and white -- that I have decided I would leave the Nation of Islam to form an organization called the MFOI -- Mental Freedom Obtains Independence."
His plan was confusing. He was leaving the local mosque of the Nation of Islam to form a group that would support the Nation. This group would have several goals, but the basic goal would be black unity, and the basic enforcer would be a roving band of gang members.
Quanell had big plans for his "paramilitary wing." To "Pastor Porkchop, Bishop Coward" and other black leaders, he warned, "Sell us out, and tomorrow, the army will be knocking at your door."
When he talked of stopping the violence, he meant police violence. Members of the MFOI would carry video cameras, which would be used to document police brutality. If this evidence did not bring about justice, well, said Quanell, "We will deal with police corruption in the streets by any means necessary." An eye for an eye, a life for a life, he said.
"I say to those corrupt police officers, I hope you are as willing to die as you are willing to kill."
There would be other goals too, of course. Later, Quanell would say that in times of rioting, the MFOI would come to the rescue of black neighborhoods by handing out maps to nice, white neighborhoods like River Oaks and West University Place. Later, he would say that if Louis Farrakhan is ever harmed, black people would kill every white in sight: "Blood will flow in America like a mighty river."
And later, it would turn out that Quanell had not left the Nation at all, but had been excused for a "moral infraction."
But at the press conference, Quanell only said what he wanted to say and then marched out with two nameless bodyguards. His announcement of an army had been most notable for its absence of soldiers.
It wasn't the first time Quanell has declared war. In fact, Quanell has had something unpleasant to say about nearly everyone -- from whites in general to Jews, Arabs, Asians and homosexuals, specifically. During the Million Man March, he made the news from here to Jerusalem when he told a Chicago Tribune reporter:
"I say to Jewish America, get ready ... knuckle up, put your boots on, because we're ready and the war is going down."
Nothing happened afterward, except that Quanell became famous. It was a year and a half later when he called the Houston Press suggesting a profile on himself. He said he had appeared on CNN, on the Jerry Springer Show and in rap magazines. Local newspapers had also done stories on him, but he said these had portrayed him in "too much of a good-guy light." It was his impression that the Houston Press shows ''the true person," and the truth was, he said politely, he's "the most dangerous young black man in the city."
Thereafter, he was so particular about his image that what he chose to conceal was nearly as revealing as what he confessed. He was completely at ease, for example, speaking of his days as a drug dealer, but it never was clear what he does for a living now. He preferred the view of himself as a rap artist. According to rumor, however, he worked in a drug-abuse center as a counselor to indigent teenagers. Was it true that he had a job doing good? "Not necessarily," he said, and the supervisor said Quanell had asked her not to comment.