On July 31, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Jamil Abdulla Al-Amin’s effort to obtain a new trial to establish his innocence in a murder case. Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, was convicted in March 2002 of shooting and killing Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputies Ricky Kinchen and wounding Aldranon English. Al-Amin and his supporters insist he did not commit the crimes.
Kinchen and English, both Black officers, had gone to Al-Amin’s Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood on March 16, 2000, with a warrant to arrest him for failure to appear in traffic court on charges of impersonating a police officer and driving a stolen vehicle.
According to an account in an article, “The Unofficial Gag Order of Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown), 16 Years in Prison, Still Not Allowed to Speak,” by Obaid H. Siddiqui (The Root, May 30, 2018), the two charges stemmed from a May 1999 incident. Al-Amin, who was driving his new Ford Explorer, was pulled over by a Cobb County, Georgia police officer because the car had a “drive-out tag” on it. Although new car owners in Georgia can drive with a “drive-out tag” for 30 days without registering the car, the police officer ordered Al-Amin out of the car to search him. The police officer claimed he ran a check on the car and that it was stolen, but in searching Al-Amin he found the receipt for the car in Al-Amin’s wallet which confirmed his ownership. He also found an honorary badge which the mayor of White Hall, Alabama had given to Al-Amin. Despite a letter from the mayor to authorities saying that he had given Al-Amin the badge, Al-Amin was still charged with impersonating a police officer and driving a stolen car.
Months later when Kinchen and English came for Al-Amin a gunfight broke out, but Al-Amin says he wasn’t the shooter. There was no blood or gun residue on his clothing. English was recovering from his gunshot wounds in a hospital when he was given some photographs and told to identify the shooter. English, according to the Siddiqui article, said the shooter had gray eyes. Al-Amin’s eyes are brown. A witness to the incident said the shooter was of average height. Al-Amin is 6’5.”
Al-Amin did not testify, in his trial, but the prosecutor continued to direct questions at him during the trial’s closing arguments. The prosecutor’s conduct formed the basis of Al-Amin’s appeal. Al-Amin’s attorneys said the prosecutor’s questions to Al-Amin violated his constitutional right to not testify. Al-Amin was sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2002.
Prior to the 11th Circuit Court appeal, the attorneys for Al-Amin went before the U.S. District Court. In September 2017, District Judge Amy Totenberg ruled that the prosecutor violated Al-Amin’s constitutional right to refrain from testifying during his trial. She also said the trial judge’s statement to the jury, intended to prevent the prosecutor’s behavior from influencing the jury’s verdict, may have done more harm than good. But Judge Totenberg said she found the information presented in the case “weighty” and rejected Al-Amin’s argument against his imprisonment.
The 11th Circuit Court upheld the District Court’s ruling, saying that the prosecutor’s violation of Al-Amin’s right to not testify would probably have no affect on the jury’s verdict.
Al-Amin’s family, meanwhile, is concerned about his health and the quality of medical care he receives in prison. In an August 16 interview with The Real News Network, Kairi Al-Amin, Jamil Abdullah A-Amin’s son, said his father has cancer and recently had a stroke. “He’s a 75-year-old man and he has his health issues that we’re dealing with,” said Kairi. “He’s stronger than most, but Father Time is undefeated. We hope to see him on the other side of the wall before it’s over with.”
Kairi said he believes his father’s imprisonment is part of a decades-long vendetta that the U.S. government has had against him. When he was still H.Rap Brown in the 1960s, he was under constant surveillance by the FBI under then-Director J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). Brown was a charismatic leader, speaker, and voting rights organizer in the South. He was the fifth chair of The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. When the organization briefly merged with the Black Panther Party, he was its Minister of Justice. A secret 1967 FBI memo called for Brown to be “neutralized.” For example, he was charged with inciting a riot and carrying a gun across state lines. Neither federal charge was proven.
During the 1970s, he became a Muslim, joined the Darul Islam organization, and changed his name to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He became a Muslim minister, or Imam. He moved to Atlanta’s West End, opened a grocery store, and continued his life’s work of community betterment and organizing. He preached against gambling and drug abuse.
Kairi noted in The Real News Network interview that his father had been placed in federal penitentiaries not long after his conviction, as Georgia considered him too high a security risk for a state prison. He was sent to the ADX supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado. When he was found to have multiple myeloma (cancer), he was transferred to the Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina. He is currently incarcerated in a Tuscon, Arizona federal prison.
Kairi’s family and supporters have created a website,whathappened2rap.com, where updates on Al-Amin and his situation will be posted.They are working on a television series about Al-Amin with the goal of having it aired on ABC News 20/20. They are also urging people to write their Senators and Members of Congress, urging them to join the campaign for Al-Amin’s release from prison.
“My father is innocent!” said Kairi. “Be as upset as we are when our rappers get locked up, even if it’s for lawful reasons. . .When our heroes and the people we say we love are under the thumb of the people they’ve been fighting, we can’t forget about them or throw them by the wayside.”