Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin in the Clutches of an Unforgiving System
Revolutionary Worker #1049, April 9, 2000
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, a Muslim cleric and well-known activist from the 1960s, was captured by an army of FBI agents and police officials in rural Lowndes Country, Alabama on March 20. He was run down by police dogs in an Alabama meadow like a fugitive slave.
Al-Amin has now been charged with killing an Atlanta sheriff's deputy and wounding another. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is expected to demand the death penalty. At a federal court appearance in Alabama, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin declared that he is innocent of these charges. As he was taken out of court in leg-irons, under armed guard, he said, "It's a government conspiracy."
There is every reason to distrust all of the claims and charges made by the authorities. The police activities surrounding Al-Amin have been quite suspicious and their version of events has been full of holes.
Al-Amin's lawyer, civil rights veteran J. L. Chester, said, "He said he did not shoot anyone. He said he did not have a gun. He fled Atlanta to save his life. He said they had been trying to kill him for years." Chester added that he believed Al-Amin was targeted "because he's a Black man who has been fighting the system since he was 16 years old."
Al-Amin, 56, has been a target of the authorities his whole life, and there is every reason to believe that he remains a target of the authorities.
In the 1960s, when he was known as H. Rap Brown, Al-Amin was a militant leader of the Black liberation struggle--known for his outspoken advocacy of armed self-defense and inner city rebellions. He was targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO program. Congress passed a notorious law, the "Rap Brown Amendment," specifically aimed at stopping Al-Amin and radical activists like him from organizing resistance among the people. Rap was sentenced to prison for his militant activities, where he served three years.
Since then, even as he embraced Islam and moved away from revolutionary politics, Al-Amin has been persecuted repeatedly by police frame-ups and attacks in Atlanta, Georgia, where he has been living.
Out Front and Fearless During the 1960s
H. Rap Brown was a student from a working class family in Louisiana who cut short his studies to throw himself into the civil rights struggle during the mid-1960s. He worked briefly for an anti-government program and quit in disgust, saying that such programs were designed to buy off activists emerging from the struggle. He became a leader of the most militant of the southern civil rights organizations--the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)--and participated in its campaigns to organize Black people to overthrow Jim Crow segregation. He and fellow SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael became spokesmen for the radicalization of this movement--advocating anti-imperialism, Black Power and a spirit of "by any means necessary."
Rap, who got his nickname for his powerful speaking style, became a symbol for the rising revolutionary mood among Black people. He dared say what needed saying. He strongly upheld the right of the oppressed to use militant and even armed means to defend themselves and win liberation. He was openly critical of movement leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr., who worked to confine the struggle of Black people to whatever was acceptable to the U.S. ruling class.
As many young activists stopped upholding non-violence as an absolute principle, they came under attack for this. Rap answered these attacks--pointing out that Black people were fighting a system that had used massive violence for centuries to keep them oppressed, and that was using such violence on the other side of the world against the Vietnamese people.
He mocked the hypocrisy of pro-system critics, saying, "Violence is as American as cherry pie." This famous quote now appears in virtually every article reporting on Al-Amin--as if this undoubtedly true political statement was proof of his guilt in the Atlanta shooting 30 years later.
As powerful rebellions broke out in cities across the U.S. in the late 1960s, Rap Brown supported these uprisings--as a just and powerful form of resistance. He tirelessly traveled the U.S., speaking on campuses and in Black communities, organizing people to take the struggle higher. He coined the phrase, "Burn, Baby, Burn!"
The Black Liberation Struggle was the greatest domestic challenge to the U.S. capitalist/imperialist system in the twentieth century--and the authorities targeted leaders like H. Rap Brown ruthlessly.
In secret, the FBI developed their "counter-intelligence program" (COINTELPRO) into a country-wide campaign to disrupt radical organizations and "neutralize" emerging leaders. Rap was pursued, harassed, spied on, arrested, and targeted by covert operations.
One FBI memo called for writing unsigned letters to create distrust between Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown. Another FBI conspiracy was aimed at creating bad blood between Southern-based SNCC and the Black Panther Party that was emerging in California. The FBI was determined to prevent the unification of revolutionary nationalist forces--and ceaselessly worked to create divisions, mistrust and even violent feuds. Rap, who actively supported an alliance of Black revolutionary forces, briefly accepted honorary membership in the Black Panther Party in 1968. These unification efforts ultimately collapsed under an intense-but-secret FBI campaign.
In 1967, H. Rap Brown spoke at a Black community rally in Cambridge, Maryland and proclaimed, "Black folks built America, and if America don't come around, we're going to burn America down." A rebellion followed--during which Rap was wounded in the forehead by a shotgun pellet.. Several buildings were burned down. Rap Brown was charged with inciting riot and arson.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, over a hundred rebellions broke out in Black communities across the U.S. Six days later, the U.S. Congress passed the notorious "Rap Brown Amendment" which made it illegal to cross state lines to "incite" rebellions. It was openly designed to suppress and criminalize the militant views and activities of H. Rap Brown and Black liberation activists like him.
Al-Amin was indicted for "conspiracy" and put on trial in New Orleans. One observer wrote, "The courtroom was ringed with armed National Guards. Every day you had to go through the military to get into the courtroom. Every night Rap Brown would speak to crowds of 10,000 people in the Black community. It was a city under a state of siege, practically."
Rap Brown went underground. During a countrywide manhunt, he was put on the FBI's list of "10 most wanted." In 1971, he was finally captured in an incident connected to an armed action against a New York City bar known for its police connections and its distribution of hard drugs in the Black community. Rap served six years in prison--where he converted to Islam and took the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. After leaving prison in 1976, he moved to Atlanta's poor Black community of West End Park, where he operated a grocery store, led a Muslim congregation and worked for community improvements.
Even though Al-Amin stopped considering himself a revolutionary--he remained unrepentant about his previous political activities. And he remained a target of repeated intense attacks from police. As RCP Chairman Avakian once said: "The people who run this system are completely unforgiving."
Evidence of Government Targeting
Evidence has started to surface documenting the extent of previously secret U.S. government targeting of Al-Amin. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that for at least five years during the 1990s, the FBI, ATF and Atlanta police carried out an intensive investigation of Al-Amin and anyone they considered associated with him. As part of their operations, the FBI had paid informants within Al-Amin's Community Mosque. The Atlanta Police Department's Intelligence Squad gathered information on over 130 people , many of them members of the Mosque, and specifically focused on eight Muslim men that police considered Al-Amin's "inner circle." This campaign of political police also spied on Muslim circles in New York City.
The FBI conducted their spying operation as part of their country-wide "anti-terrorism task force"--which continued the FBI's Cointelpro operations in the 1980s and '90s. The Atlanta police conducted their parallel operation under the guise of murder investigations. Police never brought any charges against Al-Amin.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote in its coverage of these government spy operations: "Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin says the government is out to get him. For at least five years in the 1990s, that was true."
In 1995, at the height of this political police campaign, Al-Amin was arrested by a huge force including Atlanta's FBI Anti-Terrorist Task Force and ATF agents--he was accused of shooting a man in the foot. This police set-up fell apart when the man announced that the police had pressured him into accusing Al-Amin.
A Suspicious Case from the Beginning
This current case against Al-Amin started as he was driving while Black in Georgia's notoriously racist Cobb County on May 31, 1999. The cops stopped him. They announced that the car (which he had legally bought a few months before) was reportedly stolen. When Al-Amin got out his wallet, the cop noticed a badge. Al-Amin had been made an honorary "auxiliary police officer" from the town of White Hall, Alabama, where he had deep ties reaching back to the civil rights days. It is a ceremonial badge given for assisting in community events like parades or football games.
The racist police of Cobb County charged Al-Amin with driving without proof of insurance, receiving stolen goods and impersonating a police officer. The whole thing was absurd.
On March 16, the authorities announced that they were hunting Al-Amin. They claimed that two sheriff's deputies had driven to West End Park to serve Al-Amin a warrant for failing to appear in Cobb County court. Police claim they did not find Al-Amin--but that shooting suddenly erupted. The deputies fired at least ten rounds--and in the firefight, both of them were hit. One later died.
Police announced that they had found a trail of fresh blood that went from the scene to an abandoned house a block away. They launched a country-wide manhunt for Al-Amin, saying that the surviving cop had wounded his assailant in the stomach.
Four days, later, Al-Amin was captured in Alabama. Police were embarrassed to discover that Al-Amin was not wounded and so could not have left the trail of blood leaving the scene. Atlanta police spokesman John Quigley quickly re-wrote the official explanation--now claiming that the trail of blood was probably from some unrelated incident that same night, and probably came out of the abandoned house, not into it, and so on.
The media has mocked the idea that this manhunt and arrest could possibly be the result of a government conspiracy--as Al-Amin has charged. Columnists and government officials insisted this is the "New South"--and claim that a political persecution of Al-Amin is unlikely because of the many Black people in high office in Atlanta--including the mayor and the head of the Sheriff's department.
But in fact, the rise of "Black faces in high places" has not ended the oppression of poor and working people across the Deep South. As Jim Crow was legally abolished, the discrimination and exploitation of Black people have continued, in both new and familiar forms. The impoverishment of both rural areas and urban communities, the "separate but unequal" school systems, the heavy and disrespecting tactics of the police, the continuing exploitation in textile mills, factories, and in the fields--none of this is gone, even though now some of it is administered by Black figures on behalf of the system.
In interviews with the media, people in West End Park have spoken out about the abuse they suffer constantly at the hands of the police. And, in a vivid example of this, the police launched Gestapo-like raids on the community on March 16. The police openly claimed that Al-Amin was probably being shielded among the people--an admission of the respect and support he was known to have both in Atlanta and in rural areas of Alabama. And their attack at West End was both a manhunt and punishment of the community. Police sealed off the community and a hundred cops with police dogs went house to house--while helicopters aimed searchlights from above.
Since March 16, many people have spoken out in support of Al-Amin and against the media hysteria that has attempted to demonize him and the Black Liberation movement he once symbolized. Muslim leaders in Atlanta issued a statement calling on the press not "to accuse, try and convict Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin."
A defense fund has been established, and legal forces have stepped forward to help with Al-Amin's defense.
The RW will report on future developments in this important case.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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