Written by Minister of Information JR Valrey
Saturday, 05 July 2014 16:47
| Kevin Weston, maker of media-makers
I remember being 17 years old and amazed at how articulate the young writers were that I met at Youth Outlook magazine. They were politically astute on everything that was brought up. Some of them, like Kevin Weston and Malcolm Marshall, were soft spoken, while some of the others, like Ri’Chard Magee, Charles Jones, Cash, Ladii Terry, Krea Gomez, Lyn Duff and Hanif Bey, were ghetto-hardened.
At this time in my life, I was searching for who I wanted to be. I would come to the Youth Outlook meetings and just listen, because at the time I did not feel like I was sharp enough in the mind to have a conversation at the level on which they were speaking. I remember thinking that I have to get to that level.
I would read all of their pieces and research the topics that were discussed at the meeting. At the time, I was just writing for extra money. I had not yet seen the power of writing and journalism.
Right around that time, the Million Man March took place and Kevin and Ri’Chard went. I remember how the pieces they wrote made me feel. I couldn’t believe that my new potnas, my homeboys that I would see on a daily basis during the summer, could write with such passion for the young Black experience.
I started to work on pieces even though I was only half-confident in my abilities. I remember writing my pieces over five or six times before I would take them to Kev to review. When he gave his OK, I took my writing to Nell Bernstein for final editing.
The next year, as a senior at St. Joseph Notre Dame Catholic High School in Alameda, I joined the school newspaper. My mother made me attend Catholic private schools for most of my life, trying to shelter me from the ills of the ghetto.
SF Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff and columnist Kevin Weston at an early New American California Media (later New America Media) banquet in about 1996
While I was an editor at the school paper, I started writing about controversial topics, like Muslim basketball player Mahmud Abdul-Rauf refusing to stand for the national anthem during NBA games. My argument was that he was paid to handle the basketball, not salute a country that our people had been fighting for centuries to end slavery and for our human rights to be acknowledged.
There was a firestorm of controversy around this piece. The newspaper advisor, a light-skinned Black Cuban, Mr. Grant, asked me in an after-school meeting if I would be willing to pull the story because the school administration was not comfortable with my stance. I refused. He backed me, and it was printed.
Later on that year, Kevin had me and a female writer write a piece for Youth Outlook about the racism that Black youth experienced in Bay Area private schools. Both were eventually printed in an Examiner newspaper column.
In my piece, I talked about how my white history teacher had ignorantly said that all Blacks looked alike – while we were reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” in class. I disagreed with her in class, arguing that Black people can look as different as African leaders Mandela, who had tightly curled hair with slanted eyes and dark brown skin, while Qaddafi had a tan complexion with stringy big curls. She reluctantly acknowledged my comments at the time, but I was driven to make sure that the world knew how enraged I felt at this white woman’s ignorance.
Days after the piece came out in the newspaper, I was called into a meeting during school, where six or seven teachers grilled me and school administrators threatened to sue me for defamation of character. The school even went so far as getting a good friend of mine at the time to turn on me. He argued with me in front of the administration, saying that I was lying. I brought a Chinese girl, who ended up being the valedictorian, in to say that she heard the teacher make the comment.
Spooked by the turn of events, because I did not know my rights, I called Youth Outlook to talk to Kev and Malcolm about what I should do. Kev and Malcolm took it upon themselves to call the school, acting as major editors at the Examiner, and threatened that if the administration kept harassing me they would assign more stories on the topic to be printed, and they would be willing to duke it out in court. The school knew that the newspaper had high-powered lawyers to deal with these types of issues.
This kiss sealed the wedding of Kevin and Lateefah on Sept. 1, 2012.
A day or two later, the history teacher came to me and said that she had a religious epiphany: Jesus came to her in a dream and told her to drop the issue. I thought to myself half-jokingly that the white racist teachers at my school considered my journalism mentors to be Jesus. I was sold on the power of journalism from that day forward.
My confidence grew as I wrote and conversed more and more with the Youth Outlook team of writers. In the late ‘90s, Kev wrote under the name Poe Hymm for a politically radical Black newspaper called the SF Bay View. It was the first time I ever saw the writing of someone I knew in a Black newspaper.
I would search far and wide for the paper every time it came out, so I could read Kev as well as some of the others who were writing at that level. It would take me years to build up the courage to approach the Ratcliff family, the publishers of the paper, to see if they would be interested in my writing. At this point, I have been writing for the paper almost non-stop for the last 14 years.
On another occasion, in ‘96, Kev told me about a Black revolutionary youth organization that he helped to found and invited me to a Young Comrades meeting in Emeryville, a city right outside of West Oakland, to discuss an upcoming Huey Newton birthday party that they were organizing and that Tupac was scheduled to perform at.
Kevin, the superstar of Black Media Appreciation Night on Nov. 26, 2012, only two months after his very close brush with death, had the crowd smiling through tears. JR organized and hosted the unforgettable event. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
We missed the meeting, but when I went to the conference, at Castlemont High School, a few weeks later, I was inspired by the legacy of the Black Panther Party and the community organizing of the young people and Panthers who put this event on. I joined the Black political Oakland-based organization the Young Comrades, and that was the beginning of my organizing in Oakland, California.
Kev always supported me when I was mired in controversy. In 2008, I called Kev to let him know that fellow local Black reporter Chauncey Bailey had just been murdered. A few days later he asked me to come to a meeting of journalists who were talking about organizing a consortium of writers to write about the impact that this murder would have on the Bay Area, the Black community and journalism.
At Kev’s invitation, I came and listened for the most part. At the first meeting, Robert Rosenthal of the Center for Investigative Journalism formed the Chauncy Bailey Project (CBP), then zeroed in on me and asked me if I would be willing to let the CBP writers write some interview questions under my name, for $1,500, since the defendant, Yusuf Bey IV, made it plain that I was the only journalist he would do interviews with and that he trusted.
I refused. I told them that I was a reporter and not the police. It was not my job to try and trap people.
I also told them that I would be interested in investigating police involvement and corruption in the Chauncey Bailey case. They were definitely not interested in that angle. After my initial refusal, Rosenthal called Kev and told him that he had phone records that said that I was on the phone with the accused while he reportedly staked out Bailey’s house the night before he was murdered.
Kev asked me to come in because he did not want to talk to me on the phone about the severity of the threat that Rosenthal was issuing. I met with Kev about the accusations and agreed to come to another Chauncey Baily Project meeting. When I did, Rosenthal offered me $3,000 to write about where the Bey family went after the FBI and local authorities trashed and destroyed their homes and the Black Muslim Bakery.
Sometimes love trumps basketball – at least for a minute. Kevin, a big sports fan, was up to attending the Warriors game in Oakland May 1 with his beloved Lateefah.
Again I refused. I wanted to write about police corruption in the case, and again they were not interested in such a thing. Rosenthal flew into a rage at the meeting, turning red as a strawberry, and threatened to have stories written about my relationship with the accused that could eventually get me subpoenaed in one of the biggest murder cases of the decade. I stood strong.
A few days later, Bob Butler, who was then president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association, called me and tried to intimidate me into doing an interview with him about my relationship with the Beys for the Tribune. I asked him why he was lapdogging for the system – helping Rosenthal try to intimidate me in a case that was filled with police and governmental corruption.
I did not do the interview, so Butler, at the behest of Rosenthal, published an article in the Oakland Tribune irresponsibly mentioning me, trying to make me look like a possible suspect. A police officer even visited my listed address looking for me soon after this incident.
I struck back with articles in the SF Bay View newspaper detailing how Rosenthal, Butler and the Chauncey Bailey Project were trying to intimidate me into becoming their journalistic informant. They responded by doing a cover story on me in the Eastbay Express on April 8, 2008, calling me an agent provocateur in the title of the story.
Kevin was in my corner the whole time, giving me advice based on what was being said at New America Media offices, where Kev worked and where the Chauncey Bailey Project held their meetings. We talked almost every day about the severity of the picture that the Chauncey Bailey Project was trying to paint of me and what I could do about it.
I never caved in, and Kevin never asked me to. We both saw what was happening: Sandy Close, Robert Rosenthal and the Chauncy Bailey Project were trying to use Kev to get to me, then use me to get to the Beys. It wasn’t happening. I chose the bed of nails over their carpet of roses, and my pockets and career have paid dearly for it, but my self-respect and dignity are totally intact, I still have widespread support and the community has confidence in my work.
In June, little Lelah enjoys a comfy bed on Daddy’s chest.
In 2012, a week after I was shot on an East Oakland street, I got a text from Lateefah telling me that Kev was in critical condition with a flesh-eating virus and leukemia and if I wanted to see my homeboy alive I needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. So I called some of our mutual friends and they saw to it that I was able to get to the hospital in Santa Clara to see him.
When I came in, I saw a sea of familiar faces, but when I saw Kev hooked to all those machines unconscious and his loving wife Lateefah right by his side standing strong for all the visitors but visibly troubled, I had to leave the room to collect myself. There was a rush of emotions.
For one, Kev seemed almost immortal to me because any time I had any issue pertaining to journalism, he would gather up his weed, roll a blunt, and have me take a walk with him to the side alley so we could discuss the issues that I was having. We laughed, debated, argued, disagreed and confided in each other.
So when I saw him looking like he was about to go out of commission, I never ever thought about the fact that one of us was going to die first until that day. It was like seeing a close family member whom you did not know was sick on their last legs. I remember watching Lateefah be a good host and consoling people at a time when it was her who should have been consoled.
In fact, I was told Kev had days to live, and I believe wholeheartedly that Lateefah’s love kept his immune system intact as long as it was. Lateefah, you are proof that love can conquer all.
After a few weeks passed, I remember talking to Lateefah on the phone and her inviting me to come to the house to see Kev. I was still healing from my recent ordeal mentally and physically, so I did not take her up on the offer right away. I talked to Kev extensively about both of our brushes with death, as well as the state of Black journalism in the Bay. When we started talking about our craft, we didn’t miss a beat.
In the only photo located so far that shows both Kevin Weston and JR Valrey, they are second and fourth from the right in this picture of the Youth Outlook crew in Washington, D.C., in 2003.
Two weeks before Kev passed, I went to hang out with him at his house. He hadn’t been taking my calls so I asked Lateefah what was up with him. She told me that he was not doing too well mentally. So I popped up over his house while he was laid out on the couch.
I could see the sickness visibly eating at him, but when he opened the door, his eyes lit up, and he smiled like in the old days. We did not speak a word about the elephant in the room; enough energy had gone to that. Kev in typical fashion badgered me about expanding my journalistic horizons and urged me to think outside of the box, if I was going to survive as a journalist. He told me how important he thought that my journalistic voice was.
We talked about how we could do more to integrate the Globe, the SF Bay View and KPOO because the Black media in the Bay were taking a beating from the economy, presenting the very real threat that real Black media may go extinct in the Bay.
Unfortunately we did not get a chance to move on any of these ideas before Kev exited stage left, but I had to write this mostly for his daughter, wife and family so that they could know the giant that Kevin Weston was to me. Salute to one of the greatest editors that I know. Salute also to Lateefah for giving Kev a love he’d never seen before and for showing that there is still such a thing as Black love.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos from the Celebration of Kevin Weston’ Life held Saturday, June 28, at the Delancey Street Foundation, 600 Embarcadero, San Francisco
Kevin Weston’s wife and daughter, Lateefah and Lelah, the love of his life, sat in the front of the well attended memorial service for this great writer and editor. It was held Saturday, June 28, at the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. The community must make sure that we do all we possibly can for the family of a man who gave so much to Black journalism, ethnic journalism and youth media. Contributions to help his family pay massive medical bills can be made at www.GoFundMe.com/makeitrain4kevinsfamily or mailed to Lateefah Simon, Rosenberg Foundation, 131 Steuart St., Suite 650, San Francisco CA 94105. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff shows Lateefah some love and gratitude for bringing great joy into Kevin’s life. “Losing Kevin Weston is a terrible blow to the Black press,” he said. “No one could write, edit or mentor younger writers like Kevin. He was our choice to take over as editor of the Bay View if we’d had the resources. That’s how highly we respected him.” – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Arturo, Siraj, JR, Charles, Leon and Jesus, all young media-makers who were influenced by the writer and editor Kevin Weston and were friends of the man, attended his memorial service in San Francisco. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Journalist Davey D came to pay his respects to a colleague and friend. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
Radio interview between host Davida LeComte (Dee) and guest Keith LaMar (Bomani Shakur), broadcast on Prison Radio Show, CKUT 90.3 FM in Montreal
Dee: Keith LaMar, also known as Bomani Shakur, is a prisoner in Ohio, condemned to death on false charges following the 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising. Bomani is one of five men condemned to death after being railroaded through forced snitch testimony. They are known as the Lucasville Five.
According to the state of Ohio, Bomani was said to have been responsible for ordering the deaths of five prisoners, a charge that came only after Bomani refused to cooperate and implicate himself in crimes that he was innocent of. The prosecution knew that he was innocent, but they also knew that because of his criminal record, he had no credibility in the eyes of the legal system when he proclaimed his innocence during his trial.
In fact, he was found guilty for crimes that other prisoners had already admitted to committing. The state of Ohio hid evidence, which later came to light – but too late for Bomani.
Keith LaMar is the author of “Condemned.” This book is the first-hand account of his experiences during and as a result of the Lucasville Prison Uprising of 1993. Bomani vehemently denies any participation and sets out to prove to readers how the state of Ohio knowingly framed him in order to quickly resolve, under great public pressure, their investigation into a prison guard’s death.
The following is an interview with Bomani from death row, recorded on March 7, 2014.
Dee: Hello Bomani, and thank you for being with us today.
Keith: Yes, how are you doing? Thank you very much. I’m glad to be here. Glad to be with you.
Dee: You are part of the Lucasville Five. I was wondering, though, if you could explain where is your case at this time?
Keith: Yes, I’m a part of the Lucasville Five, but we don’t have the exact same cases. In fact, my case is very different from theirs. I just filed my last appeal. Their cases, because of legal proceedings, are on hold right now as their attorneys are given the opportunity to comb the prosecutor’s file. My case is proceeding along against my wishes.
Right now, I’m awaiting a date to be set for oral arguments in my case. That entails my attorneys and the state attorneys coming before a tribunal of three judges and both arguing our opposing sides. After that, the judges will take my case under consideration and render their decision as to whether or not I should live or die.
So my case is really at the crucial point. It’s really at the point where things are very, very serious. I don’t want to make it seem or sound like I’m distancing myself from the Lucasville Five, because those guys have been with me from day one, but the Lucasville Five is just a name to indicate or point out that we have been sentenced to death as a result of the Lucasville Uprising.
Two of those guys are Sunni Muslims and two of them are members of the Aryan Brotherhood. One has since denounced his membership to that gang, but nevertheless, that was the reason that they were sentenced to death, because of their alleged leadership roles in these gangs.
I, on the other hand, am not and never have been a part of a gang. I was rounded up in a separate sweep of inmates who filtered out onto the yard on the first day of the riot. As some of your listeners might know if they are familiar with the story, the riot lasted for 11 days. And of those 11 days, I was picked up during the sweep on the first day of the riot.
So I wasn’t involved in the riot, per se. I only became a suspect – and then later was accused of being a perpetrator – when I and several other inmates staged demonstrations to protest the unjust conditions that we were being subjected to. I also came out – vociferously came out – against anybody becoming informants to help the state with their investigation. Because of my involvement in these demonstrations, I was singled out and charged with, saddled with, these cases.
Dee: You were mentioning earlier that it could be any time that you could be going to a court now. Do you think that you’ll get this discovery, this evidence that was suppressed during the trial?
Keith: Well, discovery – it’s not a matter of whether or not I’ll get it. As I explain in the book, in 2007 I had an evidentiary hearing in my case. And I, along with my attorneys, went back to federal court and we were able to question the prosecutor, the lead prosecutor who put together these cases against us.
And while my attorneys were questioning him, he admitted that he used what was later termed a “narrow standard” to determine what evidence to turn over to the defense. In fact, he created an impossible standard. He made it impossible for us to receive this evidence, this favorable evidence, so I didn’t really have a trial, per se.
The only thing I was able to do in terms of defending myself was call witnesses who saw me on the yard during the time these murders were allegedly taking place. I didn’t find out until months and years later that some of the crimes for which I was convicted – that other guys had been indicted for those very same crimes.
In one instance, I have the actual statement of a guy who confessed to killing one of the inmates for whom I was convicted and sentenced to death. And during this evidentiary hearing that I’m speaking of, the prosecutor admitted these things.
Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) – in shackles
I shared the same magistrate judge as Siddique Abdullah Hasan, but we had different district judges. And his district judge granted him leave, or granted him permission – since they used this narrow Brady standard that I’m speaking of – through his attorneys to go back and review the files and determine for themselves what constituted favorable evidence.
Since the state, by their own admission, withheld this evidence, I asked my attorneys to do the same thing and for some unknown reason they refused. So I haven’t really spoken to my attorneys, except briefly once or twice, for over a year now, because they refused to file these necessary and most important papers on my behalf.
And so this oral argument that I’m awaiting, it’s really a shaky situation because the attorneys who refused to file these motions are the very same attorneys who will be standing up at my oral argument and speaking on my behalf.
You asked how can I be provided this discovery? Well, they needed to file these motions but they refused to file them, so I’m going into this final phase of my appeal really unequipped to fully demonstrate the injustice that was done against me. That was the whole purpose behind writing the book: to inform the public and to hopefully get them engaged in this struggle, so that I can have some momentum going into this last phase of this journey. Yeah.
Dee: So that answers my question, that is, why you wrote the book “Condemned.” What do you hope that it will bring to the public, where it concerns political discussions surrounding prisoners’ rights, as well as the death penalty at large? I understand that you are focused a lot on your case, because it is a matter of life or death if you are going to be a victim of state-sanctioned murder.
Keith: That’s right.
Dee: But maybe if you can talk on it a little more, on a broader level, too?
Keith: Yes, you know, as I tell people that listen to these talks, it’s bigger than me. I’m talking about my case because this is my life and I would like to do everything I can to preserve it. But really, on a larger perspective, it’s about poor people.
It’s about what can happen to you when you’re poor in America, in the richest country in the world. It’s about the fact that there exist two justice systems: one for the rich and one for those without money.
It’s about solitary confinement, about this new form of incarceration that is being applied in various states to silence and torture inmates who don’t have any sense of what’s going on in the world.
So I speak about these things, but I speak about them to get people who are engaged in these things to read between the lines and understand that this is what real justice looks like when you’re poor. That’s one of the larger issues I’d like people to become aware of. And also by lending their support to me, they’ll be lending their support to other poor people who are on this path.
Recorded operator: You have 10 seconds left on this call.
Dee: You are listening to the voice of Keith LaMar, speaking from death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary. We are interrupted by the automated prison phone, and when Bomani calls back we continue our discussion on prisoners’ rights and the death penalty at large. We ask him what he wants the public to know about these issues.
Keith: I want the public to understand that the narrative they are being presented with is not really accurate. They are being told that poor people, that we are in prison because we are morally defective, that we are solely responsible for the crimes for which we have been imprisoned, so they have the public under the impression that we deserve to be here.
That was the explanation for a time, but the United States, one of the most powerful countries in the world, has the largest prison population in the world. More than South Africa and Russia. So people need to start taking a closer look at what incarceration means in the richest country in the world.
We live in a society now that no longer has a purpose for the poor in terms of jobs, in terms of being able to live a meaningful life. And so the answer to that problem from the perspective of those who own society is to get rid of people.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that what’s going on in the United States is similar to what was going on in Germany in the 1940s. And just as Hitler created the justification for the mass extermination of the Jews, I believe the United States has created the justification for the mass incarceration of the poor. The parallels are there.
We live in a country where the wealthiest 1 percent own close to 50 percent of all the wealth and resources, and it’s because of these disparities, these economic inequalities – inequities – that people are forced to live these half-butchered lives.
They think that the narrative is that we come to prison because we’re trying to gain riches, but we’re here, we’re trying to survive under these hellish conditions. People have these stories about gangs, but you join gangs because there’s safety in numbers.
These crucibles that have been created because of economic injustices, they are very violent places. They are very violent places – and they continue to be violent once you are in prison – so you group together with these other individuals to protect yourself, to survive.
And see, that’s what people need to understand about what economic injustice entails. As more and more people are classified as poor, as more and more people fall into the bottom stratum of society, then they themselves are going to become classified as criminals.
So before that happens, before your son comes to prison, before your father is sent to prison, I want people to understand that they need to get involved in the struggle. From the perspective of the rich – they look at us as superfluous, as garbage.
My story is just a small example of this larger thing that I’m talking about. I’m just one person, but this is happening to millions of people. I’m facing execution, but other guys are facing a different kind of execution, a different kind of death, a “social death,” as Goffman would put it, a social death where they are being sentenced to inordinate amounts of time.
You know – 20, 40, 50 years – guys have these crazy sentences because they are responding to the realities that they live through in these environments that they’re in. They are responding to those realities; and their reactions to the degradations and deprivations are sending them into these places.
So that’s one of the larger things that I try to speak about. It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than what’s going on with me personally. You talk about the Lucasville Five, but it’s really just millions and millions of people who are being caught up into this net, who are being thrown away, essentially. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of dumpster diving?
Keith: It’s a thing where you go in the garbage and you find things that are salvageable. You know, furniture, food. People in the richest country of the world, people live off what they find in dumpsters. And these items that you find in the garbage can, what qualifies them as being garbage is that you can no longer make money off them, so if it’s past its due date they throw this stuff away. But this is stuff that people in third world countries and other countries can subsist on, and the same thing is true when it comes to human beings.
We are being thrown away because they can no longer make money off of us. We can no longer find a way to survive under the system that they have created, so we’ve been thrown away – not because we don’t have value but because they can no longer make money off us.
This is the thing that people have to understand, that really this thing has to stop, ‘cause it’s getting to the point now where you have no middle class, no buffer between these stark realities of these super, super rich people and these super poor people. We’re coming face to face, and so people have to really decide and think about where they’re going to stand in this situation that we’re in.
And so I’m just lending my voice to the millions of voices who are standing up and starting to speak truth to power. I’d like to be a part of that movement. That’s another reason why I wrote the book, so that I could add my iron to fire. Because it is a fire.
Dee: Why do think that the state needs to put you to death? You’re innocent. There’s been a lot of, there’ve been documentaries made, other books written. So why does the state need to put you to death?
Keith: Because I stumbled up on something. I was sentenced to solitary confinement. I’ve been in solitary confinement for 20 years now, and instead of watching television I decided to read. I decided try to learn why my life ended up this way. And I started reading Karl Marx. I started studying economic theory, social theory, you know, and I stumbled up on something.
What I stumbled up on is that this system is a sham. And, yes, I am guilty of committing certain crimes that led me to prison. But I’ve learned that there’s a difference between guilt and responsibility. For instance, a person could be guilty of selling marijuana, but not at all responsible for the conditions where selling marijuana is the only viable way to survive.
And I stumbled up on this and I started sharing this knowledge with other inmates, with other prisoners. And so they put me in solitary. I believe the reason they want to execute me is because I stumbled up on something that they don’t want me to share with other prisoners. I think that ultimately is the reason why.
And I talk about this, how I was selected as the so-called leader of this “death squad.” But it was only after, as I said earlier, I had participated in the demonstrations and whatnot. But after the riot and after all this stuff that I had endured and was put through, I was also studying.
There’s a difference between guilt and responsibility. For instance, a person could be guilty of selling marijuana, but not at all responsible for the conditions where selling marijuana is the only viable way to survive.
I was reading George Jackson. I was reading Assata Shakur’s book. And through these people, these guides, I was able to find my way to a critical analysis of the situation that I was dealing with. And I just started speaking truth to power. I stood up and made myself a target.
But, you know, as I also present in the book, there’s no evidence linking me to these crimes. And as I mentioned earlier, I have actual statements from inmates who confessed to the very murders for which I am now being threatened with death.
And because I was poor and wasn’t able to pay for legal representation and whatnot, the [prosecution] didn’t do a thorough job, because they assumed that – and probably correctly – who is going to give a damn about a poor man? Who is going to give a damn about this criminal?
At the time I was in my early 20s. I didn’t know how to read, let alone write, so I had to teach myself how to read and write. What I mean by read, I mean comprehend what Karl Marx is saying when he’s talking about dialectical materialism. You know? So I had to teach myself how to read, because we aren’t really being taught how to think in these public schools that we are being turned over to when we are 5 years old, being indoctrinated and being told what to think, not how to think.
And so I had to teach myself how to read and write. And once I learned how to read and write, I started teaching other prisoners how to read and write, how to understand what they’re dealing with. And on that basis, I made myself into a threat, unwittingly.
Dee: So the reason that the state needs to put you to death is because of your threat in educating yourself, as well as the other prisoners, about the realities that brought you to prison?
Keith: Right. Right, because I stood up. Initially, it started that I stood up and persuaded guys not to become informants after the riot. You know, because I felt like we were left for dead, literally left for dead. And I explain that in the book.
And after all was said and done, the same people who left us for dead turned around and asked us to become informants. And I said, “Fuck that. To hell with that.” And, unknowingly, unbeknownst to me at the time, that was really what turned my life around.
They said I was the leader of a group that they dubbed the “death squad” and said I presided over the deaths of five prisoners. But no sooner had they indicted me that they came and offered me a deal. They asked me to cop out to murder and the time would run concurrent with the time I was already doing. They really just wanted to use me to clear their books. I was already serving a sentence of 15 years to life, which is essentially a life sentence with the possibility of parole, and from their perspective, I had nothing to lose.
They saddled me with these crimes, expecting that I would cop out, expecting that I would take a deal. But I’m innocent. So I refused the deal and went to trial, under the impression that I would receive a fair trial, under the impression that the jury would hear the evidence and exonerate me.
But I was in for a rude awakening because I didn’t receive a fair trial. I didn’t have access to the evidence that would allow me to confront my accusers. I wasn’t given that. I was deprived of these things.
And so that’s what I want people to understand: There are two systems. And we hear all this talk of innocent until proven guilty. We hear all this talk about justice, about equality, but those things are commodities in a capitalistic society and are reserved, you know. Justice is only available if you have money to pay for it.
Justice is only available if you have money to pay for it.
Dee: You want to use your book as one way to show the public what is happening and how this can happen and has happened to others before you. So what would you like to say to activists – not just those working on your case, but people who might be interested, people who are interested in prison issues. Do you believe that enough could be done to set you free? The reason I ask is because think of the case of Troy Anthony Davis.
Keith: Right. I understand what you’re saying. First of all, I’m already free. And that’s the problem, you know? I’m already free and the thing I try to get activists to understand is that people are dying who can be saved. We all – Michelle Alexander, Tavis Smiley, all these various people writing our books – are going around – everybody’s talking about what’s going on.
But let’s really talk about it. People who benefit from the system, who benefit from the failures of the system, those are the very people who are in the position to change the system, so we need to confront these people with the truth. I’m not under the impression that this book is going to help save my life. It’s not really about that. All of us are going to die at some point. And that’s not really the problem.
Dee: I was speaking with somebody who did do time for murder here in Canada, who’s out now. He asks this: “If you are killed by the state, do you think your death will change anything?”
Keith: Well, you mentioned Troy Davis earlier. And as you know there was a big movement surrounding his case, and he was executed. Now a year and some months later, you very seldom hear about Troy Davis, and yet the conditions that created the injustice that Troy Davis faced are still present. That’s what I was saying earlier.
I’m not under the impression that my death will change things. But the problems that we’re talking about have existed for centuries. This is not new. Capitalism has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. So I’m not under the impression that my death is going to change the direction of this system.
But, see, that’s what I’m saying: It’s not really about dying; it’s about living. That’s what life is about. So I’m not scared to talk about death. I think Troy Davis and the movement that he started – I think we need to pick back up on that, but with a stronger and different message.
The fear of death – people need to get away from that, because there’s a difference between dying a death and living a death. And that’s what the majority of us are living, so that just a few people can live lives of luxury; and that’s the problem. Of course I want to be free to be home with my family and my loved ones, to wake up in my own bed, to eat my mother’s cooking, but there are more important things than that. And, see, that’s what I’m trying to get across.
Yes, I want to survive. Yes, I want to circumvent my execution. Of course I do. But on my way to that, I want to also lend my life to this struggle that’s speaking truth to power. Because that is what my life is about, that’s how I want to use MY life. That’s the thing that I have control over.
I don’t have control over whether or not they’re going to execute me. I don’t have control over whether or not the sun is going to set tomorrow. But what I do have control over is what I’m going to do with my time.
I’m trying to persuade activists and people who understand the injustices and the inequities of this system to get involved and give your life up so that somebody of the future generation – I’m ready to give my life up so that my nephew won’t have to be in prison. So that my nephew, so that the young males in my family won’t have to face execution. That’s what this is about. I’m ready to die if that’s what I have to do.
Keith: That’s what I’m saying. It ain’t about dying. It’s about living. So that’s the thing that I’m talking about in my book. Not just about what the state did to me, but what I did TO the state. I understand that they were trying to break me. I understand that they were trying to separate me from myself. But it didn’t work.
And that’s what I’m trying to get people to understand: That we can fight these people, that we can overcome these people if we could just have compassion for each other, and that if we could somehow cultivate a love for each other, we could beat these people, ‘cause there’s more of us than them.
Dee: Could you give us some concrete ideas of how you perceive that activists can work on specific cases such as yours that would give momentum to working on dismantling the prison industrial complex?
Keith: I mean, we all talk about prison abolition and whatnot, but you can’t abolish prisons until you abolish the systems that make prisons necessary. We’re talking around the issue. It’s not really about the prisons. It’s about the systems that make these things necessary. It’s not about poverty. It’s about the system that makes poverty inevitable.
Of course I think we could come together, not just around my case – but we could use my case as a focal point if need be. But as I started off saying, this is much bigger than me. I don’t want to duplicate what Troy Davis did. I don’t want to have people think that everything is OK, not even a little bit OK, and that I’m somehow, you know, at peace with what is going on in my life.
I want people to understand that I am pissed off about this shit, and that I’m angry at this shit. And, inasmuch as my life is not for them to take, I intend to fight them. That’s what I want people to understand. And I mean that.
So this book is not just a book; it’s my life. If you’re a part of this struggle, if you’re a part of this push to turn things around, then let’s fight these people together. Yes, some of us are going to die in the process. Yes, some of us are going to be hurt in the process. But since it’s inevitable that we’re going to come to these ends anyway, then let’s do something so that we can have a righteous life.
That’s what I’m saying, that’s what I’m trying to get out to activists or any ordinary, average citizens who might be listening to this message right now. Turn the TV off. Understand the reality that you’re dealing with. Find a group or organization that’s involved in eradicating this system and join them. That’s what it’s about.
Become an activist. Get off your ass and get into the fight. That’s what it’s about. I’m just saying, there’s always going to be another Troy Davis. Before Troy Davis, there was Emmitt Till. Before Emmett Till, there was somebody else. It’s going to continue to be this way.
The question is: How long are we going to sit back and accept this shit? How many more people need to die? I’ve got a little nephew who’s 6 years old. I want to do something before this shit gets to him. I’ve got a little friend named Daniel who’s just turning 10 years old. I’ve got other, I’ve got these little, young people and we’re turning this world over to them.
So let’s give them something that’s worth living for. That’s my whole thing that I’m trying to do with my life. I’m trying to make my life mean something. I’m not afraid by this death. That ain’t even the thing that’s driving me, motivating me. I just want to do something righteous with my life.
Let’s fight this thing together. Let’s come together. As I said, people are dying who could be saved if we just start caring about each other. That’s the only thing that is required – that we give a damn about each other.
Speaking of which, there’s a young friend there in Canada named Nicole Kish. What’s the status of her situation, if you know?
Dee: She’s still in the joint.
Keith: I was just going to send Nicole a shout out and tell her to hold on and keep her strength and keep her faith. Don’t give up the fight. She’s a beautiful young lady who lost her life, basically, at 21 years old. Just hold on. Just let her know people are thinking about her. She’s a beautiful poet, a beautiful writer, a beautiful person. Somebody send her some love so she can understand that she’s not in that situation by herself.
Dee: So thank you for speaking with me today and I hope that the next time we speak, well, who knows, maybe it might be under better circumstances.
Keith: Right, right, right. Exactly. That’s my hope. It was good to talk to you. Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate you helping to publicize my plight. It really means a lot to me. Thanks a lot. I hope we can do it again sometime.
Dee: You’ve been listening to the voice of Bomani Shakur, also known as Keith LaMar, and he was speaking to us from death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary. LaMar is the author of “Condemned,” a first-hand account of his experiences during and as a result of the Lucasville Prison Uprising of 1993.
“Condemned” was published in 2014. You can purchase a copy of this book at amazon.com. If you want to also learn more about this case, go to keithlamar.org or justiceforlucasvilleprisoners.wordpress.com. Bomani also gave a shout out to Nicole Kish, also known as Nyki Kish, a wrongfully convicted woman in Canada, who is incarcerated in the Grand Valley Institution for Women, a federal prison in the province of Ontario. To learn more about Nikki’s case, go to freenyki.org.
Send our brother some love and light: Keith LaMar (Bomani Shakur), 317-117, P.O. Box 1436, Youngstown OH 44501.
The fiery H. Rap Brown, chairperson of SNCC, minister of justice for the Black Panther Party and one of the original four targets of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO to neutralize Black power, is presently entombed in the federal prison at Florence, Colorado, one of the world’s 10 worst prisons. Pursued relentlessly since the ‘60s, he was wrongfully convicted in 2002 of shooting two deputy sheriffs – the prosecutor bragging that they finally got him after trying for 24 years.
In 1967, fiery speaker H. Rap Brown was elected chairperson of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, succeeding Stokely Carmichael. The government has been trying to silence him ever since.
Now a campaign is underway to demand proper medical care for recent severe health problems, his transfer to a facility closer to home in Atlanta – where, in the ‘70s, as Imam Jamil Al-Amin, he founded a mosque and has since demonstrated how to revitalize a Black community – and his ultimate freedom. His wife, attorney Karima Al-Amin, who has been with him since the ‘60s, tells his story on the Block Report. Listen to the interview athttps://soundcloud.com/blockreportradio and read the transcript here.
Minister of Information JR: Today we’re going to be talking about the prisoner, the Imam Jamil Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown. Our guest is his wife, lawyer Ms. Karima Al-Amin.
Ms. Karima, can you tell the people a little bit about the history of your husband before he became Jamil Al-Amin? Can you tell us a little about his history as H. Rap Brown?
Karima Al-Amin: Well, you know in 1967, in fact May 1967, he was elected chairperson of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and he succeeded Stokely Carmichael, who became Kwame Ture. So when he took over SNCC in May 1967, the organization was and had always been dealing not only with civil rights but human rights, and it was an organization that had always promoted fighting against oppression and improving the conditions of African Americans, but they also concentrated on global issues, especially back then.
I remember in 1967 they were supporting Nelson Mandela and ANC (African National Congress) and the armed struggles that were going on throughout the continent of Africa. So he was not only a national figure but he was also an international figure. And as such the U.S. government and also, under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had instituted in August 1967 the COINTELPRO program, which targeted four organizations and five individuals.
The initial targets were my husband as H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King and Max Stanford, and the four organizations were SNCC, SNLC, The Nation of Islam and RAM (Revolutionary Action Movement), which Max Stanford headed. So under that program, and we know what has happened under that program: It was an effort to neutralize leaders and organizations, to pit them against each other, to destroy the movement. And essentially it was successful, because there were assassinations; there were killings.
Rap, shown here at SNCC Harlem headquarters in July 1967, made a speech that month in Cambridge, Maryland, that the FBI called “inciting a riot,” sparking a 19-month effort to jail him. – Photo: AP
They hauled my husband in and out of jail to make sure that he was not on the outside to speak as he was going around the country speaking. So that was his background. He’s from Louisiana and he had always witnessed the inequities and he was committed to make a change.
M.O.I. JR: Why did he get the nickname “Rap”?
Karima Al-Amin: Well, he was always known to do exactly that: rap. When I was growing up we would always, when someone was talking and speaking and doing what’s called “playing the dozens,” that meant that they could rap. His ability to use words and make those words very potent – that became known as rap.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little about the history of the H. Rap Brown law?
Karima Al-Amin: In February 1968 my husband went out to California to a rally. It was a Free Huey Newton rally. He was there, with Stokely Carmichael and James Foreman, representing SNCC, and at that time it was announced that each of them would have a title. My husband became minister of justice for the Black Panther Party, and that was an effort really to show unity between the organizations and also within the movement.
When he came back from there in February 1968, he was arrested because they said he went out there to California without having permission from a judge in New York City because he was essentially under house arrest. So he was in jail when Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968.
Because of all of the protests wanting to get him out of jail, he was released. But two weeks after that, Congress – who had been calling for he and Stokely Carmichael to be thrown in jail and the keys thrown away – the Congresspeople, or representatives, voted to make an amendment to the Fair Housing Bill.
It was passed in April 1968, a few weeks after Martin Luther King’s assassination, and it was called the Rap Brown Amendment, which is still on the books. It made it a felony to cross state lines or send telegrams – at that time telegrams or any modes of communication – to speak with the intent to cause a riot.
As a result of the Rap Brown Amendment passed in April 1968, there were about 80 convictions, I believe, after that. The first group charged under the Rap Brown Amendment was the Chicago 8 – as in seven plus Bobby Seale – Wounded Knee, the Native Americans, all the anti-war protests. So it’s a host of cases that we know of. But I didn’t even realize that was the law that they used to charge so many of the anti-war and the freedom fighters.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little about his transition to Islam and his life as a political prisoner prior to when he became a Muslim?
Karima Al-Amin: Well, essentially he’s always been a political prisoner, although he does say that’s he’s not a prisoner of war, but he’s a prisoner at war. But he’s always been a political prisoner because of the targeting of this government against him.
Speaking to a civil rights group in Cambridge, Maryland, Rap said: “Black folk built America, and if America don’t come around, were going to burn American down.” Immediately after the speech, as Rap was walking down the street with a group of residents, he received a gunshot wound to the forehead when police fired into the group. Here he tells the press what happened. – Photo: Pan-African News
He was arrested after being sought for 19 months. In March 1970 he did not appear for the trumped-up charges of inciting a riot in Cambridge, which stemmed from his speech in July 1967. The interesting thing about that case: It was a case that they convicted him on to serve five years in prison and then later on it was dismissed because one of the Watergate writers and investigative reporters, Bob Woodward, revealed that those charges were trumped up.
He did not appear for a trial in Bel Air, Maryland. At that time, two SNCC workers, Ralph Featherstone and Che Payne, were blown up in a car bomb explosion and he did not appear for that trial. And as a result of that, they put him on the Ten Most Wanted List and he was not seen for 19 months.
Then he was he was captured in New York City and shot by a policeman and then he went to Rykers Island, which is one of the, I just read, one of the 10 worst prisons in the U.S., or jails actually; that’s what it is, a jail. So when he went there, there were brothers in the Muslim movement who would have him – he would go to classes with them and what would happen, he would then go to classes and then he converted.
He became a Muslim in December 1971 when he was in Rykers. And that was the beginning of his conversion.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little about the communities that your family helped to create in Atlanta and his role as a Muslim imam?
Karima Al-Amin: OK. When he got out of New York State Prison in October 1976, I had moved already here to Atlanta and we were able to get him paroled here to Atlanta. As soon as he came out – that was October 1976 – the next month, November 1976, we made Hajj; the two of us went to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage that Muslims make.
And he started immediately identifying a neighborhood or location in Atlanta where we could form a Muslim community, and that’s what we did. By July 1977, he had formed a Muslim community in the West End area of Atlanta, Georgia. When we got into the neighborhood, the neighborhood was what people would consider typical of a lot of the urban areas: It was just littered with activity with drugs and prostitution and drive-by shootings.
And as a result of his efforts and the efforts of the brothers and sisters of the community, we were able to actually purchase houses in the area where Muslim families would move in to. And then we were able to pull up and he was able, singlehandedly almost, along with the members of the community, to clean up the area.
M.O.I. JR: Before we get into his current case, can you talk about why the police would have a problem with someone like the Imam cleaning up a neighborhood like the West End of Atlanta? I mean many people would think that the police would appreciate the work that Imam Jamil Al-Amin was doing. Why was it to the contrary?
Karima Al-Amin: Well, because we maintain and it is true that even when we started the community – and throughout the years it was known that the community or the neighborhood was changing to be a better neighborhood not only for Muslims but for everyone living there – no matter what, he was still a target of the FBI, even though you would think that the officials would be happy about it.
H. Rap Brown, then 24 and head of SNCC, speaks to the media from the Cuban U.N. mission, where he took refuge for nearly six hours after a scuffle with police as he and an aide left after a meeting and were invited back in for protection. AP reports that Rap told the press: “‘It is an action to crush dissent,’ he charged. ‘We came in as guests and we serve notice again that if white people are going to play Nazis, Black folks ain’t goin’ to play Jews.’”
I know that Andrew Young was happy about it. His daughter moved right there in the community within a few steps maybe or yards from the mosque, and he was very happy that she was there because he felt that she could be very safe there. But in the meantime, we always had – and we’re seeing this in our discovery and the documents from the FBI; I have a request in now to the FBI and they said that they would release 22,000 pages of documents that they have on my husband – other forces that went beyond Atlanta police or Atlanta officials that were really dictating how my husband would be treated.
When we look at the documents, they were planning so many stings, trying to get him on every possible charge that they could. And when we look at the documents, we see that they were actually saying, well, this did not work, so let’s try this.
So we had something that was a little greater than just the Atlanta area. He was traveling internationally; he had made so many contacts that people from around the world and people within this country were contacting him. In many cities, communities were trying to replicate what was being done here.
So they considered this very, very threatening. Also, Islam back then, like it is now, is so misunderstood. It’s a continuous effort to get the people in this country to view Islam and Muslims as the newest boogey people, like the boogeyman, and that everyone should be afraid of Muslims. So that was the backdrop that we were faced with.
So naturally everyone should have been happy – and local people were happy in the community that he was cleaning up the community – but he was considered and is still considered a threat to this country. He’s still being punished for the 1960s, and I don’t think I can make it any plainer than that. He is still being punished by this government.
He was considered and is still considered a threat to this country. He’s still being punished for the 1960s, and I don’t think I can make it any plainer than that. He is still being punished by this government.
The prosecutor in the Atlanta case after the conviction said after 24 years we’ve finally gotten him, which means he was counting back to the day when he walked out of a prison in New York City. So this case in Atlanta – and I think we’ll probably get to it – but this case in Atlanta was and is an extension of the targeting.
M.O.I. JR: Well, let’s just start right there. What is the case that he caught in Atlanta? I think it was 2000, 2001. Or should I say the case they pinned on him.
Karima Al-Amin: Right. It was March 2000. Actually in May 1999 he was caught coming out of a restaurant driving a vehicle with a drive-out tag. Drive-out tags were legal then and they’re legal now. Once a car is purchased, then you don’t have a tag because you have not actually obtained one yet, but it’s a drive-out tag with the name of the person you got it from.
Imam Jamil is not only a hero to Black people everywhere but to his loving and devoted family, who fight unceasingly for his freedom.
He was stopped, which was not considered a valid stop, but he was stopped; and when he was stopped, apparently they looked up the vehicle and said the vehicle had been reported stolen, which naturally he did not know. Then with that charge, he was let out right away, but it was scheduled for court in January 2000; it happened May 1999. By January 2000 it was scheduled to go to court.
There was a snowstorm and his case may have been called, but he did not know when it was going to be called. Apparently by March – this was a couple of months afterwards; that was January – by March, the county where he was arrested with this vehicle charge, the county had put out a warrant for his arrest for not showing up for the court appearance.
And a week before the incident – the incident occurred March 16 – but apparently a week before, some of the sheriff’s deputies said they would go ahead and pull the warrant. They had gone out to the area, so they say, to arrest him because of this warrant.
March 16 at 10:00 at night, they apparently appeared in front of the store to try to arrest him. It’s so complicated and I’m trying simplify it as much as I can, and I hope I’m not leaving out some of the important parts. But at least what we know is that one of the sheriff’s deputies ended up being killed and the other one being shot. The one who was shot was the one who said that the Imam was the one who did the shooting, and he had the Imam as having gray eyes.
The description that evening changed – the height changed, the clothing changed – but these gray eyes were always the eyes of the Imam. But actually he does not have gray eyes, so the description was off.
The surviving sheriff’s deputy and the one who died, before he died, he said that they knew that they had shot the perpetrator. And naturally, when the Imam was arrested four days later in Alabama, in Whitehall, Alabama, there was no indication of any physical injuries on him.
So we did go to trial in 2002 and the jury was being selected. They were supposed to be selected Sept. 12, the day after Sept. 11, 2001, so it was against that whole background that this trial was taking place. And as a result, the jury convicted him of the charges, even though now, what we’ve found out afterwards, is that there was someone who confessed to it. We’ve done an investigation.
The trial attorney that the Imam had did not do the investigation that should have been done as far as his confession is concerned, so now we are at the stage of a federal habeas, and that certainly is part of our argument.
The easiest way for me to explain the case it that it just stinks, from top to bottom, and throughout it all the Imam has maintained his innocence. And based on that and based on the information that we do have after trial, we’re moving along with every possible appeal that we can do to bring out the wrong that was done.
The easiest way for me to explain the case it that it just stinks, from top to bottom, and throughout it all the Imam has maintained his innocence.
The major thing, No. 1, is not only the confession but the actual lying about the Imam’s description too. He does not fit that description; therefore, the deputy must have seen someone else.
M.O.I. JR: Can you describe the description, because the Imam has a very distinct description? Can you just describe how the Imam looks vs. the description – you know, give us a few characteristics so the people can see how off it was?
Karima Al-Amin: Well, he’s 6 feet 5 inches; his eyes are brown. One interesting thing is on the warrant the surviving sheriff’s deputy said he had no idea who he was. He said he was 28 at the time. I thought he was in is 40s, but apparently he was about 28, and he said he had never even heard of H. Rap Brown or Jamil Al-Amin.
Black Agenda Report managing editor Bruce Dixon writes: “(U)pon his release (from prison in New York), Jamil Al Amin moved to Atlanta in 1976. In the same spirit that guided his earlier political and human rights work, he set about organizing and community building in Atlanta’s West End. He studied languages and traveled to the West Indies and the Middle East, to India, Pakistan and Africa. He taught, learned and led by example, becoming Imam Jamil Al Amin, an internationally acknowledged leader among U.S. Muslims. Along the way, he started several small businesses including a grocery store and helped organize youth sports, anti-drug and anti-violence campaigns.” Here he is at home in the hood.
But on the warrant it said that his eyes were gray. So at the trial, this deputy got on the stand and said that his grandmother had told him always look a person in his eyes. And he looked him in his eyes and saw his gray eyes.
Now the Imam always wears glasses. Even if this officer had looked in his eyes, he said nothing about glasses, but he said he knows for certain that his eyes were gray. The description also: He (the shooter) was a shorter person and the clothing that they described changed over the days.
And so when he (the Imam) was arrested and when he saw the clothing that he had on him, then (the description of) the clothing from that evening changed. So that’s why I said the entire, the ENTIRE case – and I don’t have a better word – it is just a travesty.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about Georgia moving the Imam to basically the mainland Guantanamo Bay, one of the worst prisons in the United States?
Karima Al-Amin: Right after the conviction of March 2002 the Imam was moved to Southeast Georgia, Reidsville State Prison, and while he was there, he really had a lot of influence especially on the younger inmates. Parents used to come up to us and say they were happy that the Imam was in the same facility because he was really helping their sons.
So he was there from March 2002. In 2006 there was an effort by Muslims at Reidsville to have Imam Jamil be the imam for all of the Georgia incarcerated Muslims. When the facility found out about it, they said that would give the Imam too much influence and too much power. And they wanted him to stop the effort even though he hadn’t initiated the effort. But he said, well, it’s no problem, so he said he would ask the Muslim inmates not to go forward with the effort.
The FBI then went into the institution and then they ended up coming up with a report, “The Radicalization of Muslim Inmates in the Georgia Prison System.” And right after that at the end of July 2007, Georgia, based on a March 1990 agreement that they had with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Georgia gave him up to the feds without a federal charge, without a conviction or a sentence.
In 2006 there was an effort by Muslims at Reidsville to have Imam Jamil be the imam for all of the Georgia incarcerated Muslims. When the facility found out about it, they said that would give the Imam too much influence and too much power. The FBI then went into the institution and wrote a report, “The Radicalization of Muslim Inmates in the Georgia Prison System.” Georgia gave him up to the feds without a federal charge, without a conviction or a sentence.
But to house him, Georgia pays Florence ADX, the Admax, per day for them to keep the Imam there. We have asked for Georgia to take him back. Georgia says that they will not because he’s too high-profile and Georgia also is saying that they had nothing to do with his placement at ADX. They just gave him up to the feds.
The feds are saying, well, we’ll send him back. Georgia said yes, and then Georgia said they had nothing to do with the placement – that the feds could have put him in another facility. But this goes back to what we have always said, that he’s still being punished for the ‘60s, that he’s still being punished not only for what he represented in the ‘60s but also now as a Muslim.
But he is there locked down for 23 hours in the Florence ADX, which is on every list for being one of the 10 worst prisons in the world, not in the U.S. but in the world, so that’s why we have been attempting to try to have him removed from there.
And not only because of it being one the 10 worst in the world, because we feel for all of the inmates who are there, but the fact is that it’s a continuation of an extreme punishment and we all know there are studies that say that after a person is in solitary confinement for five years that there is a psychological damage that is done, so we feel not only for the Imam but for all those who are held in solitary confinement.
We feel not only for the Imam but for all those who are held in solitary confinement.
M.O.I. JR: Recently, there’s been an alert by the Imam’s defense committee that he was having medical problems that the prison system was not catering to. Can you tell the people a little about the history behind that, what’s going on with the Imam now, and what it is that we can do to help?
Karima Al-Amin: Right. It was back in October 2013 when we visited the Imam, we noticed that his jaws were swollen. Apparently he had a dental issue that had not been treated and then when we went back in May of this year, a month ago, we noticed that his jaws were still swollen. He was trying to get dental treatment and they would not give him any antibiotics.
After wrongfully convicting him in 2002, Georgia worried so much about Imam Jamil’s influence with other prisoners that in 2007, in the dead of night, they transferred him to one of the world’s 10 worst prisons, the Admax at Florence, Colorado, known as “Guantanamo of the Rockies.”
He started developing not only chest pains but breathing difficulties. It started becoming very difficult for him to breathe. In addition to that, because of the abscess – because he had developed abscesses – and then the fluids were beginning to drain and go into his lungs, his chest area. He started having the breathing problems; he started to not be able to swallow.
So right after we left in May, he put in to see a physician, and to date a physician has not examined him. He has swollen feet – the top and bottom, the ankles, are all swollen – and within the last two weeks he’s lost 25 pounds. So the concern is about what toxic fluids that have seeped into his bloodstream, the breathing.
He’s 70 years old. In the prison system now, and I’m speaking about the federal system, the age of the population is increasing. And naturally it’s increasing, because the sentences that people are receiving are life sentences. And although they may not want to have a nursing home, they’re going to have to do something to meet the needs of the elderly.
If the prisons cannot address the needs of the elderly inmates, then there’s a need, if they don’t let them out, which is the desired result, then they need to have facilities with adequate medical equipment, premises and medicines to treat the elderly, and that’s what we’re calling for. If ADX cannot address the medical needs of the Imam, we’re asking them to release him to another facility with the adequate resources to take care of the elders.
M.O.I. JR: What can people do to help in general with the Imam’s case?
Karima Al-Amin: Well, a lot of people have been writing and have been calling inquiring about his health. There is a website you can go on with the federal Bureau of Prisons. You can click on inmates; a lot of people have been doing that. And we have some congressional reps who are also concerned and they have been inquiring.
So I think the thing is that when we have those that we care for and love and you have them incarcerated and those in solitary confinement, and your voices can’t be heard, we have to serve as their voice or voices. The Imam has always said to people, do whatever is easy for you. So whatever is easy for a person to at least speak out or inform people, then we would appreciate that assistance. Also people can Google him, they can Google. There are petitions online so we would encourage people to do that.
M.O.I. JR: Where do you prefer for people to get more information if they would like to read up on the Imam and his history?
Karima Al-Amin: When I get on(line), I just put his name in and things come up every time I do that that I have not even seen before. There are bulks of interviews that he has done with people over the years and I think those are really very informative, and I think it’s important for people to do that.
Karima Al-Amin stands in the back yard of the mosque she and Imam Jamil founded in the West End of Atlanta. A sign on the back door reads, “Free Imam Jamil.” Asked how she copes with his imprisonment, she told a reporter, “Nothing throws us.” The Imam may be in prison, but he’s “still making a difference with people.”
You know we have to educate our young, who absolutely have no idea what some of those who are incarcerated, what they have gone through and why they’re incarcerated. So we really would advise those who are older to try to educate those that are younger so we will have informed people.
M.O.I. JR: Thank you, Ms. Al-Amin, for being with us right here on the Block Report. We appreciate you for standing up in your husband’s defense, but not just because he’s your husband but in defense of someone who has given a lot over the last 50-60 years to our communities. So we salute you, we appreciate the Imam’s contributions and hopefully our listeners will get involved with the campaign to free the Imam.
Karima Al-Amin: We certainly thank you and we extend our appreciation and our love to those who have been with us for at least the last 14 years of his incarceration and before that. Thank you.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe“ and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. This interview was transcribed by Adrian McKinney.
How we can help the Campaign to Free Imam Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown)
Imam Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown), the organizers report, is aware of the response to the campaign and sends his greetings and thanks to all who have and are advocating on his behalf.
Still there is much to do. Calls and signatures must continue until our beloved brother has received the required medical attention. His release is paramount and we must not cease until he is returned to us and his family a free man.
We have made progress. Continue the efforts no matter how small: Call, write, publicize, hold rallies and keep the Imam’s name continuously in the media’s eye. Support this critical effort for a man who fought to make life better for us all.
Sign the petition: “The Forgotten Imam: Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown).” As of June 22, the petition has gathered 4,289 signatures, but the Imam’s words and work have helped millions, so spread the word.
Keep the pressure on: Read, respond, repost and retweet – #SupportImamJamil. From the Muslim Alliance in North America comes this appeal:
“Call the Bureau of Prisons, at 719-784-9464, NOW. If you are told that information can only be given to family members, say that you are not asking for information but are simply expressing concern that Mr. Jamil Al-Amin, No. 99974-555, receive the health care he needs. Leave a message if necessary that includes his name and number. We want the Bureau of Prisons to know that the public is concerned, aware and watching their treatment of Imam Jamil.
“Create an email and fax flood. EmailFLMfirstname.lastname@example.org or use the form athttp://www.bop.gov/inmates/concerns.jsp (location Florence ADMAX USP). Fax 719-784-5290. In your own words, express concern that 1) Mr. Al-Amin is suffering after-effects of delayed dental care: weight loss, inability to eat, swollen feet, respiratory problems; and 2) he has not been examined and treated by a physician as is absolutely necessary given his condition, and as is his right.
“Please continue to pray that Allah (God) grant Imam Jamil complete and full recovery of health and freedom from imprisonment. Ameen. May Allah (God) reward your efforts.”
To learn more about the Imam, read “Rap Sheet: H. Rap Brown, Civil Rights Revolutionary – Cop Killer or FBI Target?” and “On the Left Side of History: Political Prisoner Imam Jamil Al Amin.”
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Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead announced Monday the school is renaming a building that was dubbed in honor of a white supremacist. Aycock Hall had been named for a century in honor of former North Carolina Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock. He was considered an advocate for public education, but was a leader in the white supremacy movement prior to his tenure in the governor’s office. That period was marked with violence against Republicans and Populists by Democrats who accused them of favoring “Negro domination.” Read more.
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Dem Rep. Goes Off on Cheney: He Should ‘Keep His Mouth Shut’ on Iraq
House Democrat Gregory Meeks complained earlier this week that people should stop listening to John McCain on Iraq, and on MSNBC today he said Dick Cheney, of all people, should “keep his mouth shut” on this issue. Cheney has been making the rounds this week sharing his thoughts on Iraq, which has inspired reactions ranging fromskepticism to outright ridicule.