Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Justice Demands a New Trial for H. Rap Brown

These dangerous times in which we now proceed cause me to recall heroes who led us in times like these before. None is more heroic than H. Rap Brown, former chairman of the militant Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He is now known as Jamil Al-Amin, and he is a Muslim imam who has been incarcerated for more than 20 years for a crime he did not commit.

As dozens of cities around this country are in flames as protestors confront civil authorities, I am reminded that back in the day, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., H. Rap Brown famously reminded us, holding up a lit match stick: “It only takes a penny.”

In those days, a penny, now an almost obsolete copper U.S. coin worth a hundredth of a dollar, was the cost of a book of matches.

Like today, cities were burning, and Rap’s shorthand reference meant that for just a penny, anyone could ignite the revolution, so to speak, wherever they were. That steadfastness earned Brown an eternal hostility from the political and legal establishment. His conversion to Islam while in prison decades ago, and his vigorous work to rid his hometown Atlanta’s West End of drugs and crime, only deepened the hostility the establishment held for him.

In March 2000, they conspired against this targeted leader, and despite compelling evidence of his innocence, and a series of gross constitutional violations at his trial, he was convicted of killing Deputy Ricky Kinchen and wounding Deputy Aldranon English in a concocted March 16, 2000, incident and sentenced to life in prison, plus 35 years.

There were glaring inconsistencies in the prosecution, including statements that both deputies, who were rated as “marksmen,” insisted that they wounded their attacker (Al-Amin was unhurt when he was captured a few days after the shooting); the deputies described their assailant as having “gray” eyes, and that he was 5-foot 8-inches tall (the imam has brown eyes and is 6’5″).

On top of that, another man, who fits the description of the assailant given by the deputies and was treated for a gunshot wound at the time of the shooting, has confessed numerous times — including in a courtroom in 2017 — that he shot the officer.

“We would just like him to have the opportunity to fairly prove his innocence to everyone,” attorney Kairi Al-Amin, son of the famed civil rights leader, told this writer. “And the court of appeals, up and down the federal and state courts, they’ve all condemned the prosecution for their gross misconduct and constitutional violations of the imam. And so that alone is grounds for a mistrial and a retrial. It’s ridiculous.”

A mountain of support has grown for him in the 20 years he’s been behind bars after being unjustly convicted. His supporters now include former U.N. Ambassador and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who insists Al-Amin was falsely accused of killing the deputy sheriff and convicted because of his outspoken political views.

The imam’s conviction “weighs heavily on my heart because I really think he was wrongfully convicted,” Young told Fulton County, Georgia’s new Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) — established to help free those wrongfully convicted or to help shorten inordinately long prison sentences — earlier this year, according to published reports.

“I’m talking about Jamil Al-Amin, H. Rap Brown,” said Young, adding that Al-Amin had helped “clean up” Atlanta’s West End.

“I think it’s time to rejudge,” Young continued. “He’s been dying of cancer and has been suffering away from his family in the worst prisons of this nation. We must stand for justice, but we must never forget mercy.”

In late May, supporters of Al-Amin submitted an application to the CIU, demanding a retrial.

“We must now show the establishment that we care more about justice than they do about corruption and injustice,” attorney Al-Amin said. “The proof of misdeeds is clear, the proof of innocence is clear, a retrial or release are the only acceptable options.”

On top of the numerous glaring inconsistencies, contradictions and constitutional violations, there are repeated confessions by Otis Jackson, a self-proclaimed leader of the Almighty Vice Lord Nation in Chicago who was a parolee at the time of the incident.

“I was on house arrest,” living in southwest Atlanta at the time of the shooting, Jackson — also known as James Santos — testified during a separate trial in 2017. “I was shot, March 17, 2000.”

“My mind was gone, so I really wasn’t paying attention,” Jackson recalls of the night of the shooting, when he stood over Kinchen and shot him four times as the man pleaded for his life, before then shooting English, who was fleeing for help.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin — an innocent man who deserves justice from the courts and, above all, mercy.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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