The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Defend Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown)

Mar 18, 2002

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the death of a Fulton County, Georgia Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen in a March 2001 shoot-out. The sentence will be appealed.

From the beginning, Al-Amin has stated he did not do the shooting. But from the beginning, he has been prevented from publicly presenting his case by a gag order. This did not prevent the prosecution from broadcasting information insisting he was guilty.

In the same way, Al-Amin was forbidden to state that he believed he is the victim of a government conspiracy against him which has continued over the past 30 years.

Al-Amin was certainly the target of repeated government harassment since his days as a militant of the black movement in the 1960s. The FBI, for example, has 40,000 documents in a dossier they keep on him, but they had never been able to convict him of any charges based on this dossier. In two decades, he has been repeatedly picked up by various law enforcement officials on bogus charges and served time on several of them. He was not the only civil rights and anti-Viet Nam war activist to be prosecuted by various state and federal agencies.

In fact, there was an FBI program to "get" militants of that period, a program called COINTEL-PRO. Thanks to COINTEL-PRO, a number of those active in the South about Jim Crow issues and those active in Northern cities protesting conditions for black people were killed; others remain in prison to this day.

In this current trial, witnesses agreed with the deputy’s own original testimony that the shooter was a different build from Al-Amin. The deputy also described his eye color and hair color as radically different from that of Al-Amin. Witnesses saw someone running away who appeared to be wounded – and the deputy said he had shot this man in the gut. But when Al-Amin was arrested four days later, he had no wound. This deputy’s own testimony should have cleared Al-Amin. Instead, fingering Al-Amin from a photo given to him, the deputy contradicted his own description of the incident.

The prosecution made much of the fact that Al-Amin left Fulton County and went to a small town in Alabama, where he was arrested. Why did he go if he was innocent? Al-Amin had plenty of reason to fear what could happen – 30 years of persecution had proved it.

At the trial, there was testimony from police officers of White Hall, Alabama, the small town where 100 officers of the FBI and various law enforcement agencies converged to arrest Al-Amin. Three residents of White Hall said they saw agents firing at Al-Amin but Al-Amin did not fire at anyone. Two Alabama deputy sheriffs there testified that an FBI agent assaulted Al-Amin while he was lying handcuffed on the ground. The FBI agent kicked Al-Amin in the head, according to witnesses. All the FBI agents, of course, denied it until confronted by the statements of the deputies. This is the same FBI crew which said it found the guns used in the shootings.

The FBI agents said the guns were found in a woods in Alabama in the same general area where Al-Amin was arrested. Yet the guns were not found on Al-Amin. And not one of these sophisticated police agencies bothered to test Al-Amin's hands to see if he had fired the guns. What’s more telling – the guns were not even tested for fingerprints to see if Al-Amin had actually picked them up.

This government case – full of holes as it is – was able to convince a jury because the judge systematically muzzled the defense lawyers as they tried to bring in evidence to support their case.

Al-Amin now joins a long list of those who have militantly opposed the government's point of view and paid the price for it. A number of them have died at the hands of government agents.

H. Rap Brown, as Al-Amin was called before his conversion to Islam, was a SNCC activist who urged people to defend themselves when under attack.

In the racist town of Cambridge Maryland in 1967, a town in which the Ku Klux Klan was part and parcel of the city police and government, Brown bravely said to people, "This town is ready to explode ... if you don't have guns, don't be here ... you have to be prepared to die." Brown was not one of the numerous black leaders who would later tell people to go home and let them handle the problems. He was active in the fight for civil rights, for the right to vote, against drugs in the black community.

Brown also opposed the war in Viet Nam. His famous statement, “No Vietnamese ever called me ‘nigger’,” was picked up by thousands of young black men of the time.

The dead end of “Black Power” may have led Brown to convert to Islam – which itself offers no prospect to the problems of this racist and class society. But this did not prevent the state from using the link between Islam and September 11 to help inflame public opinion and the jury pool. The judge certainly would not allow the trial to be postponed sufficiently to avoid this.

In any case, what we really see here is that the government finally “got” one more person from its COINTEL-PRO hit list.