Supporters packed the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals courtroom on May 3 to witness the latest legal effort to win a new trial for Imam Jamil Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown.
Al-Amin was convicted in 2002 of killing a Fulton County Sheriff’s deputy and wounding a second during a shootout in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood, a charge he has consistently denied.
The issue at the hearing was the prosecutors’ repeated violations, in the original trial, of Al-Amin’s constitutional right not to testify.They went so far as to present a mock cross examination of Al-Amin to indicate his guilt.
Two lower courts have agreed the prosecutors’ actions violated his constitutional rights, but claimed the abundance of evidence validated his conviction.
If the three-judge Appeals Court panel rules in Al-Amin’s favor, it would be a significant expansion of what type of courtroom inequities and violations by the state could trigger a new trial. That there is no real consequence currently for a prosecutor violating a defendant’s rights is the crux of Al-Amin’s appeal.
Allen Garrett, Jamil’s attorney, also questioned the so-called weighty evidence.
For example, the surviving deputy consistently claimed that he looked into the shooter’s “cold grey eyes” and that he had wounded him. Al-Amin has brown eyes and was uninjured when arrested four days later. The perpetrator’s height was given as 5’10” but Al-Amin is 6’5.”
Al-Amin’s fingerprints were not found on the guns identified as those used to shoot the deputies.
Furthermore, there was a blood trail leaving the scene and eyewitnesses saw a wounded man in the area. Otis Jackson confessed to the shooting, knew details of the event, had been shot and knocked on neighbor’s doors seeking help after the shootout. The state deemed his confession not believable.
An FBI agent was at the scene immediately and played a key role in the investigation and capture of Al-Amin. This is important because of the decades-long effort of COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) to “neutralize” H. Rap Brown, referred to in a 1967 FBI memo.
Persecution of a Black revolutionary
Since his teenage years, Brown was an activist against racial injustice. He was part of Mississippi Freedom Summer, organized voter registration in Alabama and in 1967 became chairman of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), then one of the most dynamic Black Power organizations.
A fiery speaker, Brown spoke across the country, rallying Black people to demand the rights guaranteed them by recently passed civil rights laws.
He was charged with “inciting a riot” following a 1967 speech in Cambridge, Md., although the Kerner Commission report totally debunked that account, faulting the local police for fires that happened hours after Brown left the city.
Nonetheless, the “H. Rap Brown law” was passed by Congress, making it a crime to cross state lines to incite a riot.
While in Attica Prison from 1971-76 on a charge of attempted robbery, Brown converted to Islam and changed his name to Jamil Al-Amin. Following his release, he moved to Atlanta, opened a grocery store in the West End and became imam of the nearby mosque. He organized the community to get rid of drug dealers and street crime, helped seniors remain in their homes and set up youth programs.
Brown was recognized nationally and internationally as a religious leader.
In 2002, following his conviction and sentence to life in prison without parole, Al-Amin was sent to Georgia’s maximum security prison in Reidsville.
When Muslim prisoners petitioned the state to have him serve as their imam, Georgia determined he was a “too high-risk” prisoner. The federal Bureau of Prisons took over his housing. In 2007 he was sent to a Colorado supermax facility and kept in solitary for seven years in an underground cell. He is currently in a Tucson federal penitentiary.
The many supporters in the courtroom reflected his decades of struggle. There were former members of SNCC, Muslims from multiple cities, West End neighbors, Pam Africa of International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia ABu-Jamal, and members of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Workers World Party and Georgia student organizations.
For additional information, imamjamilactionnetwork.org