But on Thursday night, police in New York say they spotted him wearing a bulletproof vest in Harlem, stopped him and found him carrying a loaded, unlicensed handgun. He was jailed on $75,000 bail on charges of illegal gun possession and the illegal wearing of body armor.
He'll be in court in Manhattan today for a status hearing. He faces a mandatory minimum of 3 1/2 years and a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted. His defense attorney couldn't be reached for comment.
Shabazz was in New York to help plan a September march commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Million Youth March, according to the national minister of justice and information for the New Black Panther Party, who would give his name only as Imam Akbar. He said the march will be held in Harlem during the National Black Family Convention from Sept. 5 to 8.
Akbar said that he has spoken with Shabazz in prison and that he's holding up well.
"The Panther adapts to whatever environment he's in," Akbar said. "If he's there, he'll only raise the consciousness of those behind the walls."
Party leaders have dubbed Shabazz a "political prisoner" and plan a rally and fundraiser Monday night at a Harlem soul-food restaurant.
"All black and oppressed dark people of the planet must rally behind this black united front and fight the efforts of the white devils and black sambos by any means," the group wrote on its website.
Shabazz has long been a thorn in the side of Philadelphia authorities, organizing marches against "white oppression" as head of the party's Philly chapter.
Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said Shabazz is one of the more outspoken of the New Black Panthers, a group Segal said is the most "militant, anti-Semitic African-American organization in the country."
"It's something to say if you look at the entirety of its membership that King Shabazz is one of the most vile in his language," Segal said. "But as absurd and offensive as his language is, he has every right to say what he thinks. However, when you unlawfully possess a weapon, that is illegal and then you're going to get in trouble."
Segal said that after the polling-place ordeal in 2008, leadership of the New Black Panther Party claimed Shabazz had been put on probation, but that was "all sort of lip service."
"There are times like this it remains to be seen whether they'll distance themselves from him or not," Segal said. "They're sort of hot and cold on him."
With his distinctive dreadlocks, black military garb and tattoos such as "Kill Whitey," Shabazz has been an eye-catching, ear-assaulting presence most frequently near the Clothespin statue in Center City, preaching racial extremism and distributing the party's semiannual newspaper.
Akbar said a man he referred to only as "Minister Michael" will be taking over some of Shabazz's duties until his "release from captivity."
Segal said it's unclear what the effect of Shabazz's absence would have on the party.
"It will be one less anti-Semite and racist in their organization," he said. "But I don't expect the organization to fold if he happens to be put in jail."
On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo