An Unforgiving System Condemns Al-Amin

Revolutionary Worker #1144, March 24, 2002, posted at

"The people who run this system are completely unforgiving."

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP

On March 9, in Atlanta's Fulton County Courthouse, Judge Stephanie Manis delivered the verdict: The Muslim cleric and community activist Jamil Al-Amin was found guilty on 13 counts--including the killing of a sheriff's deputy.

A few days later a second unjust decision was made: He was sentenced to life in prison without parole on the murder charge, plus 30 additional years for the other charges. One Atlanta columnist crowed that this man--famous for his leadership of SNCC in the civil rights movement and fiery advocacy of Black Power--would now end his days behind bars in a Georgia prison cell.

As Judge Manis read the verdicts, the crowd in the courtroom erupted in tears and anger. One woman yelled, "Injustice is as American as apple pie!" and deputies forced members of Al-Amin's family from the building.

A young Black man said to the RW , "America had a vendetta against Al- Amin. Ever since he was a leader of SNCC and other of his efforts to mobilize Black people against the racist government, they didn't like that. For that alone, they had to fight against him."

Al-Amin, known in the '60s as H. Rap Brown, has been railroaded. The police and the courts and the media pursued him, put him under a gag order and found him guilty before the trial even started. And they said this trial was a sign that the '60s are finally over and that the radicals of those days, like Al-Amin, are finally discredited.

The system has never forgotten Al-Amin's blazing revolutionary work during the 1960s--his fierce and unapologetic support for urban rebellions and his daring turn from nonviolence to advocating armed struggle. Even after he abandoned revolutionary politics and embraced Islam, the system never forgave him.

And now they have finally closed their fist around him--saying they will never let him walk free again.

The Making of a Railroad

"[T]he most important mistake in this case was made within minutes of the shooting: they assumed that Jamil Al-Amin must be guilty. They assumed he was guilty and they closed the case."

Jack Martin, Al-Amin defense lawyer

"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

From the moment two Fulton County deputies were shot a year ago on March 16, the authorities insisted that Jamil Al-Amin had done it. They said he has been shot in the gun fight, and had fled leaving a trail of his blood. Their pursuit with bloodhounds and armed posses looked like an old-style hunt for a runaway slave.

The media was relentless in portraying Al-Amin as a violent, dangerous, hatefilled man. They beat their drums of hostility toward both Muslims and '60s era radicals. And they repeated, over and over, the police claims that Al-Amin was definitely the killer.

Meanwhile, Al-Amin himself was gagged--by a court order--and forbidden to declare his innocence to the media or even describe his beliefs.

Then on January 7, Judge Manis accused Al-Amin of violating her gag order by sending a letter to the congregation of his masjid telling them that he is innocent of the charges against him. He also held a telephone interview with the New York Times . He gave no details of what happened on the night of March 18, 2000, but asserted his innocence.

Judge Manis said: "He can profess his innocence, but in the courtroom, not in the newspaper." The Judge's new restrictions were harsh: Al-Amin was forbidden to write letters, make phone calls or meet with anyone but his lawyers--all while the jury was being selected and as the press was crucifying him.

The Judge and prosecution worked together to get a jury that would convict. Prospective jurors were given pages of detailed questions about their political views--on Islam, on the Black Panther Party, about the '60s era. During the trial the judge would forbid Al-Amin's defense from raising the issue of racism and persecution--and, in the jury selection, they were determined to weed out people who already understood such things.

Judge Manis embraced prospective jurors who were hostile to Al-Amin and the Black Liberation struggle. One woman was married to a sheriff's deputy who had participated in bringing Al- Amin back to Atlanta; she described how her husband had told her Al-Amin was "the most dangerous man in America." She was seated on the jury. Another woman described her belief that both SNCC and the Black Panther Party were involved in crimes. She was also seated.

Then Judge Manis worked to make the jurors believe they were in serious physical danger from Al-Amin and his supporters. Over and over the judge asked the jurors if they were able to convict this man and sentence him to death. For the first time in Georgia's history, the jurors names and addresses were kept secret. Defense attorney Jack Martin said, "The problem with a shielded jury is that inevitably...the jury will believe that the defendant is so dangerous they must be shielded from him."

Meanwhile, the courtroom was an armed camp during the trial--as if it was about to come under military assault at any moment.

The whole atmosphere signaled that the authorities already considered Al-Amin to be guilty--and that the outcome of the trial itself was a foregone conclusion.

Glaring Contradictions

In fact, the authorities' case against Al-Amin was weak. Their so-called evidence was suspect and riddled with contradictions.

After the shootout, both of the cops said they had shot their assailant. And the police on the crime scene talked in detail of following a "trail of blood" away from the shootout. This "trail of blood" was even used as a basis for getting a search warrant of Al-Amin's grocery store.

But days later, when Al-Amin was captured, he was obviously not injured. Suddenly detectives said there had been no blood trail from that scene, but perhaps blood from an earlier incident. In the end, they claimed that they had seen animal blood.

By the time this trial started, February 19, all their talk of physical blood evidence was simply gone.

People in the community saw others running and driving from the scene--but the FBI and Atlanta police never seriously considered any suspect other than Al-Amin. They were determined to get him.

Damien Gordon, who was working on a house nearby, testified he heard two car doors or a trunk lid slam before a black car drove off from the grocery. A resident in the West End section of Atlanta where it all happened said he saw a man shooting a pistol three times. He said he was "absolutely positive" the gunman's size was not that of Al-Amin who he spoke with regularly.

Other reported eyewitnesses were never contacted.

Two 911 calls on March 16, 2000 pointed to another possible gunman. One caller said a wounded man was "begging for a ride" and said he believed this man had been involved in the shootout. Another call described a gunman near the shootout. The tapes are supposedly "lost."

The police version of the shootout contradicted the evidence--they said they walked up on Al-Amin in front of his store to deliver a warrant, and that he began shooting at them. But in fact the pattern of gun casings on the ground suggested that the shooter was somewhere else.

The police destroyed evidence--patching up gun holes in the police car at the scene and putting it back on patrol. Then they tried to draw elaborate conclusions about bullet angles from car fenders they had patched and bent and plugged up.

The only physical evidence connecting Al-Amin to the shooting was the police claim that they found the weapons that had shot the deputies near where Al-Amin was captured. The immediate question of many people was whether the police had planted those weapons in order to create a case against him. The weapons did not have Al-Amin's fingerprints, and bloodhounds at the scene had supposedly run right by them without detecting his scent on them.

The FBI also claimed to have found a shell casing, in Alabama, on Al-Amin's Mercedes. In other words, they claim that he drove 200 miles in a car with an incriminating bullet casing supposedly lying on the windshield.

Al-Amin's defense team said the guns were planted. They suggested that it could well have been FBI Special Agent Ron Campbell who planted the guns while lagging behind the dog tracking teams that were pursuing Al-Amin in White Hall, Alabama.

During cross examination at the trial, Campbell admitted that he spit and kicked Al-Amin after his capture in Alabama, saying, "This is what we do to cop killers." It came out that Campbell had killed a prisoner in Philadelphia in 1995.


"Put him away and throw away the key."

Governor Spiro Agnew, 1967demanding that H. Rap Brown be imprisoned for a Maryland speech

Perhaps the most powerful fact in the whole case is that the authorities have been persecuting Al-Amin for almost 40 years. He has gone through repeated police frameups and attacks. He has been surveilled and targeted for so long that his FBI files run 44,000 pages.

As Al-Amin went to trial, the Atlanta press was filled with reports about a shooting between Fulton County police officials--allegedly fighting over the drug trade that police are involved in. Many people believe that Al-Amin's militant opposition to the drug trade in his Atlanta community made elements of the county police determined to get him.

Meanwhile the biggest lie surrounding this case is the insistence in the media that this could not be a case of racist persecution--since the injured deputies were Black, and most of the jury that found him guilty and most of the Atlanta power structure and members of the prosecution team are Black.

But in fact this system has pursued Al-Amin for decades because of his role in the destruction of Jim Crow and his sharp agitation for a militant Black Liberation struggle. This ruling class vendetta against Al-Amin ended in a courtroom in Atlanta, where the bourgeois power structure now includes Black people. What this proves is not that the trial was free of racism, but that the class position and outlook of Black officials and enforcers makes them part of the system that enforces the oppression of Black people.

The Questionable Eyewitness

"Seconds into the firefight, English ain't seen nothing. A bullet hit his pepper spray. And he's the only witness? And they don't find that reasonable doubt? Come on!"

Al-Amin supporter to the RW

The Fulton County sheriffs deputy, Aldranon English, identified Al-Amin in court as the man who shot him and killed Deputy Ricky Kinchen. By all accounts, this testimony played an important role in the conviction--especially since so much of the other evidence was questionable or circumstantial.

In fact, Aldranan English is unlikely to have seen much, his statements on the case have been contradictory, and the evidence suggests that he simply fingered Al-Amin as part of the larger police operation to frame him.

After the shooting, as English lay severely wounded and heavily drugged on morphine in the hospital, the other police claim he identified Al-Amin in a "photo lineup" as his assailant. In that episode, he was supposedly firm that this shooter had gray eyes and had been shot by both of the cops on the scene. This "eye witness" affidavit apparently included the detail about "gray eyes"--not because English had seen Al-Amin's eyes--but because the warrant for Al-Amin had included gray eyes in his description.

But in fact Al-Amin has brown eyes. Faced with this embarrassing contradiction, English changed his story and claimed Al-Amin was wearing sunglasses.

In fact, English probably did not see much. When the shoot-out began, one of the first bullets exploded his pepper-spray can and blinded him temporarily. He ran into a field and lay down.

Many people suspect that English did not see anything, but is testifying what his superiors want to hear.

Speaking Against the Injustice

Muslim organizations, the New Black Panther Party, Refuse and Resist, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in Atlanta, and the Revolutionary Communist Party have worked to defend Al-Amin since he was accused in this shootout.

During his trial, many veterans of the '60s civil rights movement took out an ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution to express their support for Al-Amin.

Coretta Scott King issued a statement saying, "All of the inconsistencies that have emerged in this case must be thoroughly explored and fully investigated, and a clear and unequivocal motive must be established for the verdict to have credibility needed for closure."

At a hearing before Al-Amin's sentencing, 17 people spoke in court about Al-Amin's character and long history opposing Jim Crow, defying the Ku Klux Klan, risking his life in the struggle of Black people. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young asked that Al-Amin not receive the death penalty in the interests of peace in Atlanta.

After the verdict, Al-Amin's brother Ed Brown said he expects a long battle of legal appeals. He added, "I will continue to struggle for his life."

A Black man who followed the case told the RW : "The verdict speaks to the times we are living in. Oppressed people around the world don't want to be oppressed by the powers. A revolution is brewing here so this government is being challenged."

Many people are angry, outraged, and hurt by the way this frameup went down. Over and over, in the courtroom and the streets outside, many spoke of their determination to stand with Al-Amin in his continuing fight for freedom.

It is not Al-Amin who stood condemned in that Georgia courtroom--it was the heartless system in the U.S., exposed once again for its ruthless persecution and its murderous disregard for any sense of basic justice.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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