A well-known Midtown Kingston community activist is accused of recruiting gang members into a black radical group, selling illegal guns and advocating violence against police in a case with roots in the four-decades long hunt for an alleged cop-killer from an earlier era of American radicalism.
But friends and neighbors of Ismail Shabazz say they don’t believe the 60-year-old grandfather — despite the sometimes-inflammatory rhetoric posted on his Facebook page — is a violent revolutionary.
Shabazz, previously known as Gary Faulkner, was arrested on Henry Street around 11 a.m. on Friday by FBI agents and Kingston police. A short time later, officers and agents swarmed around his home at 80 Prospect St., where a tattered red, black and green flag associated with the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s hung from the porch. Inside, framed photos of ’60s-era black militants adorned the entryway.
It was inside the modest two-story home where, Ulster County prosecutors allege, Shabazz sold six illegal firearms to undercover federal agents. According to the district attorney’s office, Shabazz sold weapons on five separate occasions between May 2014 and May of this year. The sales allegedly included a pair of assault rifles, two loaded handguns, an unloaded revolver and a sawed-off shotgun with a defaced serial number. Cops say FBI surveillance picked up Shabazz discussing training members of the New Black Panther Party to disarm police officers and how the firearms he sold could be used to kill cops.
The alleged gun sales stemmed from an investigation that was, Carnright said, related to the ongoing hunt for 1960s radical and alleged cop-killer Assata Shakur. Shakur, also known as JoAnne Chesimard, was a member of the original Black Panther Party in the early 1970s. In 1977 she was convicted of the May 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. In November 1979, she escaped from prison, with help from members of a Black Panther Party offshoot. In 1984, she was granted asylum in Cuba, where she is believed to remain to this day. In 2013, she was added to the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.
Shakur also became a cause célèbre in radical political circles. According to Carnright, Shabazz — who said he was a member of the original Black Panther Party as a teenager — was among her admirers. On his Facebook page Shabazz frequently referenced the fugitive and his support for the New Black Panther Party. In 2013, Shabazz attended a Harlem rally, organized by the NBPP, to support Shakur.
According to Carnright, it was apparently at this rally where Shabazz made contact with an undercover FBI operative. “They had feelers out in regard to [Shakur] and an FBI informant was introduced to him at a rally,” said Carnright. “Shabazz tried to recruit him into the New Black Panther Party and as a result the feds start an investigation, introductions are made and eventually you have the sale of the firearms.”
Carnright said that his office was involved in the case early on and worked in tandem with the FBI investigation. The probe was ongoing when, Carnright said, he discussed the possibility of bringing state-level weapons charges against Shabazz. Carnright said he was concerned that, given Shabazz’s volatile rhetoric and alleged efforts to recruit members of the Bloods street gang into the Black Panthers, authorities were running out of time.
“You have this person making a lot of noise about overt acts of violence against police officers and selling guns to felons,” said Carnright. “It got to a point where I said [to federal authorities], ‘We’ve got do something — are you going to make the move or am I?’ And they said we should go ahead with a state prosecution.”
On Friday afternoon, Shabazz was being processed at KPD headquarters and awaiting arraignment in Kingston City Court. He’s been charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a Class C felony. Carnright said that Shabazz may also face federal firearms charges.
But back at 80 Prospect St., friends and neighbors remained skeptical of the charges. They recalled Shabazz as a relentless critic of local police and an advocate for Kingston youth in their encounters with cops on the street. Several speculated that Shabazz’s militant rhetoric on Facebook may have drawn the attention of authorities.
“He’s very family-oriented, he goes to work, comes home, takes care of his wife and grandkids,” said neighbor Dawn Johnson. “I’ve never heard of him wanting to cause a ruckus with nobody.”
Tony Johnson, who said he was Shabazz’s nephew, said that he suspected that his uncle’s frequent denunciations of Kingston police and accusations of brutality and corruption may have sparked the investigation. Johnson circled the block on a bike shouting “free Ismail” as he passed a knot of cops on the sidewalk outside of 80 Prospect.
“He’s an outstanding citizen,” said Johnson. “He never said to attack any police, he just told us how dirty they are.”