Revolutionary Worker #1135, January 10, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
"He can profess his innocence, but in the courtroom, not in the newspaper."
Judge Stephanie Manis, Fulton County Superior Court,
January 7, 2002
"Do you know of any other defendant who is not allowed to say he is innocent? It's just part of the same continual persecution and prosecution against me, just part and parcel of the same thing."
Jamil Al-Amin, telephone interview,
Fulton County Jail, Georgia
"Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life. I think of it as the new normalcy."
Vice President Dick Cheney,
October 25, 2001
Since September 11, the White House's plan for secret military tribunals has been defended with the argument that defendants must be prevented from using trials as forums for anti-U.S. and anti-government views. Now the world has a chilling example of where this logic leads.
The well-known Black activist and Muslim cleric Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin is on trial for his life in Atlanta--accused of shooting two policemen in a March 2000 firefight where one cop died. And now he has been put in enforced isolation by the trial judge--simply because he dared to announce that he is innocent of the charges facing him and that he is being persecuted by the government because of who he is. Apparently, in today's America, proclaiming your innocence is itself becoming a crime.
Jailed, Gagged, and Held in Contempt
In December, Al-Amin sent a letter to the congregation of his mosque telling them: "I am falsely accused of shooting and injuring a deputy sheriff and denying another of his life.'' He also held a telephone interview with the New York Times.
In January 7, as the court convened to pick jurors for Al-Amin's trial, Judge Manis accused Al-Amin of violating her previous gag order by speaking out. Jack Martin, one of Al-Amin's attorneys, answered that Al-Amin had not discussed any of his actions on March 16, 2000, the night of the shootout, but had only proclaimed his innocence.
Judge Manis answered that Al-Amin has no legal right to publicly claim his innocence. She slapped intense new restrictions on him: Al-Amin is now forbidden to mail letters, make telephone calls or meet with anyone but his lawyers.
Al-Amin's case has made headlines around the world. The mass media is filled with the police charges, half-truths and racist codewords. In Atlanta, the press routinely describes the hysterical security precautions taken to "protect" the court and jury during Al-Amin's trial. All of this designed to paint Al-Amin as a dangerous killer.
All of it plugs into post-September 11 fears and prejudices, and clearly poisons the climate surrounding this trial. And yet, while all this police propaganda goes on without reason or restraint--the court claims that a simple claim of innocence from Al-Amin is a dangerous attempt to "taint the jury."
This is nothing but blatant judicial support for the railroad of Al-Amin. This is an attempt to deny him the most basic means to mobilize support and funds for a successful defense.
The police actions in this case have been suspicious from the beginning--and the prosecution case against Al-Amin is riddled with contradictions. For example, immediately after the shootout, the two injured cops said they had shot their assailant. Investigating police reported following a trail of blood from the scene. Yet when Al-Amin was arrested a few days later, he was clearly uninjured.
Carl Dix, National Spokesperson of the RCP,USA, said shortly after Al-Amin was arrested in April 2000: "We don't know exactly what went down in the confrontation in Atlanta that led to one cop being killed and another wounded... He has already said he's innocent, but he isn't in a position to counter all the lies they're running and get his side of the story out. It's crucial that we not buy into the story they're running and fall for their game of trial by capitalist propaganda machine."
"You are either with us or against us."
President George W. Bush,
"The F.B.I. has a file on me containing 44,000 documents, but prior to this incident, their investigation has produced no fruits, no indictments, no arrests. At some point, they had to make something happen to justify all the investigations and all the money they've spent."
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Interview with the New York Times,
"The people who run this system are completely unforgiving."
RCP Chairman Bob Avakian
During the 1960s Al-Amin was known as H. Rap Brown, and got his nickname "Rap" because of his fearless agitation against the oppression of Black people.
Carl Dix said, "In the late 1960s, police departments in different parts of the U.S. were lining up to take a crack at framing him up for the crimes of calling out Amerikkka for being the violent oppressor that it was (and still is) and calling on the people to rise up in righteous resistance to this oppression. When Black people, enraged by brutal oppression, rose up and spread the flames of rebellion from one end of the U.S. to the other, H. Rap Brown stood firmly with the people. While the oppressors tried to suppress this rage, with help from handkerchief head water carriers, Rap said, 'Burn, Baby, Burn!' Earlier, Rap had organized Black people in the South to resist Jim Crow segregation and violent suppression by the KKK and red-necked sheriffs."
In 1976, Al-Amin 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. During the 1990s, even though he had moved away from revolutionary politics as he embraced Islam, Al-Amin was persecuted repeatedly by police frame-ups and attacks
Cointelpro--Then and Now
In the wake of the September 11 events, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and his FBI director Robert S. Mueller III have called for ending long-standing restrictions on FBI surveillance, wiretapping and infiltration of political and religious groups. In particular, they want to lift the requirement that they need to have "probable cause" that someone broke a law in order to unleash a campaign of spying on a group.
This is a plan to return to the days of Cointelpro--the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program of the '60s and '70s--when progressive and revolutionary organizations were targeted with intense covert campaigns of disruption, harassment, surveillance and political assassination, in the name of national security.
Al-Amin's life story is a burning example of what such police powers mean.
In the early civil rights days, SNCC organizers like Rap Brown were hounded by FBI agents--who often used their infiltrators in the Ku Klux Klan to help coordinate brutal attacks on activists. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded that his Cointelpro agents target the Black Liberation struggle. Emerging revolutionaries like Rap Brown were the focus of intense police disinformation campaigns and police frame-ups. One FBI memo called for writing unsigned letters to create distrust between Rap Brown and another SNCC leader Stokeley Carmichael. Another FBI conspiracy tried to create bad blood between Southern-based SNCC and the Black Panther Party that was emerging in California. The FBI 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.
After the 1967 rebellion in Cambridge, Maryland, Rap Brown was charged with inciting riot and arson. In April 1968, when the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. triggered the greatest wave of Black rebellions in modern history, the U.S. Congress passed the infamous "Rap Brown Amendment"--which made it a crime for organizers to travel across state lines to "incite" people in the struggle against white racism.
Now, 30 years later, as this same man faces trial in Atlanta, the federal authorities have orchestrated programs of sweeping travel-control that even J. Edgar Hoover did not dare impose in 1968. And it is extremely important to ask ourselves: Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Ashcroft's FBI agents can track any organizer who uses an airplane to travel across the U.S.? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that video cameras in airports can tell who picks them up, or capture the license plate of cars they drive off in?
Who will it serve and who will it hurt if the Confederate-loving John Ashcroft officially restores the FBI's authority to conduct Cointelpro operations of political spying and disruption?
As we go to press, over 1,500 potential jurors have been summoned in Atlanta to complete a highly political 18-page questionnaire about their views concerning SNCC, the Black Panther Party, Islam and police. This process of jury selection is expected to take as long as six weeks. And for at least that part of the trial, Al-Amin has been forced into an outrageous isolation--essentially denied any contact with the outside world, except for his defense team.
"This brother has a long-respected history of standing with the people against the attacks of the oppressors. This gives the authorities a lot of reasons to want to go after him and punish him. The people have as many reasons to want to uphold him and stand with him."
Carl Dix, RCP National Spokesperson
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