Dr. Mutulu Shakur (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Mutulu Shakur (Courtesy photo)

The release of acupuncturist Dr. Mutulu Shakur from federal prison is scheduled for Dec. 16. The Black liberation elder will leave Kentucky and move to southern California, where he’ll live with family and receive medical attention for stage 3 bone marrow cancer. 

In the 1970s, Shakur launched the Lincoln Hospital Detoxification Program, where heroin addicts in Bronx, New York, received acupuncture-based drug treatment, or what eventually became known as the Lincoln Protocol. 

Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese medical practice, is believed to heal physical, mental and emotional ailments by pricking the skin with a needle. Because of Mutulu, it increased in popularity as an alternative to methadone. 

Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army and Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, used the Lincoln Protocol to spread Black liberation ideology. Those who received the treatment at Lincoln Hospital Detoxification Program often went on to study Shakur’s methods and become healers in their own right.  

Amid recent efforts to secure Shakur’s early compassionate release, a group of his colleagues reinstated the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA). This group, which includes Shakur, Dr. Kokayi Patterson, Shifu Walter Bosque, Dr. Tatsuo Harano, Dr. Urayoana Trinidad, and Bilal Sunni Ali, is known as the BAAANA Collective. 

In the decade leading up to his arrest and conviction, BAAANA established new clinics and certified new acupuncturists. Patterson, a D.C.-based acupuncturist and one of Shakur’s oldest comrades and students, said Shakur’s work will continue in D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta, along with other U.S. cities and worldwide. 

“We’re [addressing] the need for institution building with clinics and places where this acupuncture can be applied on a mass level with the community,” Patterson said. 

“We’re in Belize and Ghana, and we intend to move around the country and continue to develop collectives that promote the acupuncture.”

The Movement to Free Dr. Mutulu Shakur 

In anticipation of Shakur’s release, the BAAANA Collective is raising funds for Shakur’s clothing, toiletries, wheelchair and aerial medical transport.  

A three-time COVID-19 survivor, who also suffers from hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and glaucoma, he was confined to a wheelchair at a Lexington, Kentucky federal prison where he’s currently serving a 60-year prison sentence for his involvement in an armored car robbery that resulted in the death of two police officers. 

In 2020, Judge Charles Haight Jr., the same judge who sentenced Shakur to prison, denied Shakur’s motion for compassionate release on the grounds that he wasn’t sick enough. However, reports that surfaced earlier this year said Shakur had less than six months to live. Comrades also said he weighed less than 130 pounds, making him unable to continue chemotherapy treatment. 

A cadre of supporters that included Attorney Nkechi Taifa, the Rev. Graylan Hagler, and members of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement coalesced around efforts to secure Shakur’s early release. In July, dozens converged on the U.S. Department of Justice to make their case. 

In the eyes of many people, like Hirano, Shakur proved more than deserving of an early release. 

Hirano said Shakur was a great inspiration to those who used the Lincoln Protocol to free the minds of those suffering from racial oppression. By the time Hirano, a Japanese-American acupuncturist, met Shakur in the early 1970s, he had been heavily involved in detoxifying Asian prison inmates. 

Hirano and Shakur would later work together at the Lincoln Hospital Detoxification Center. That’s where he recounted seeing much of the effect Shakur had on the Bronx community. 

“It was liberation medicine,” said Hirano. 

“It wasn’t just to get you clean, but to empower you and do political education to understand your transformation [through the prism] of what your people had to go through to liberate themselves,” Hirano added. 

“When you go beyond your own misery and turn your individual question into a mass question, it changes everything. Beyond getting clean, we had to understand what led us to drugs.” 

Next Steps: Rebuilding and Sustaining Institutions 

Trinidad noted that Shakur’s early release could be an opportunity to educate people of all ages about his pioneering of acupuncture as a drug detoxification method. 

Decades ago, when the government shut down BAAANA, Trinidad and a colleague launched the First World Acupuncture Association of North America School and Clinic. She said that, in the absence of medical institutions owned by people of color, acupuncture as a method of drug detoxification was co-opted by medical professionals like Dr. Michael Smith, the late founder of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association. 

That’s why Trinidad stressed that practitioners take action to build long-lasting, culturally aligned programs and schools where people of color can learn about what she described as a simple community medicine approach. 

“We need to see how we finance our institutions and what kind of models we use so we don’t replicate the capitalistic model, but we don’t go bankrupt giving away our resources,” Trinidad said. 

“We have a completely different way of looking at the human body. How do we incorporate that into an institution?” she asked. “It’s not easy. It’s something that the BAAANA team is willing to grapple with. And other people who are into institution building will do the same thing.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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