About Us

Contact Us

Monday, April 19, 2002

The Trials of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin

H. Rap Brown: “the black militant from hell, the Negro America loved to hate,” according to civil rights worker Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, writing in The Nation.

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin: a Muslim convert who, according to Thelwell, “embarked on a life of rigorous study and spiritual and moral inquiry with the same single-minded intensity and uncompromising commitment Rap had brought to militant social struggle.”

Brown and Al-Amin: one and the same man. The two personae converged in an Atlanta courtroom this year, where Al-Amin was tried and convicted of sheriff’s deputy.

Newspapers like the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle carried brief accounts of the case:

Murder charge political, says onetime activist

Al-Amin maintains case is result of plot against H. Rap Brown


David Firestone, New York Times

Sunday, January 6, 2002


Atlanta – He says he is no longer H. Rap Brown and has renounced the ways of his old world, moving past a youthful history of violent confrontation that made him one of the most incendiary black activists of the 1960s and '70s.


Now he is a Muslim cleric called Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, and when he goes on trial for his life tomorrow, that history will be part of his defense in the politically and racially charged case….


Former H. Rap Brown convicted of killing cop

David Firestone, New York Times

Sunday, March 10, 2002


Atlanta – Two days after his lawyers finished presenting a quick, lackluster defense, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the fiery black radical known in the 1960s as H. Rap Brown, was found guilty yesterday of murdering a sheriff's deputy.


A Fulton County jury convicted Al-Amin, now a Muslim cleric, of all 13 charges against him stemming from a shootout two years ago with two deputies across the street from his mosque in an impoverished section of Atlanta….


Beginning in this issue, Jenny Brown offers an in-depth, two-part examination of the trial and its context.

A wrenching trial full of conflicting evidence

1960s black militant, now Muslim leader, sentenced to life in prison in cop-shooting charge

By Jenny Brown

Atlanta — A well-respected Muslim cleric was convicted here on March 9 of killing one Fulton County sheriff’s deputy and injuring another.

Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as black radical H. Rap Brown, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for the shooting death of Ricky Kinchen and the wounding of Aldranon English in a March 16, 2000 incident in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood.

The case raises questions about police and FBI frame-ups, the threat to the power structure posed by militant, race-conscious Islam, and post-9/11 religious intolerance.

After a three-week trial filled with inconsistent witness testimony and suggestions by the defense of planted evidence, a majority-black jury found Al-Amin, 58, guilty on all counts. The prosecution had asked the jury to give him the death penalty.

The crime contrasts with the reputation of Al-Amin, who has spent the last 25 years as a spiritual and community leader in the maliciously neglected West End area of Atlanta, and is credited with the beginnings of its revitalization. In an advertisement placed in an Atlanta newspaper on March 11, over 250 Civil Rights Movement co-workers stated: “The facts as alleged are completely out of character for the man we knew in the civil rights movement and now know as a religious leader in the Muslim community. … We know Imam Al-Amin as a principled and compassionate man, committed to justice for all oppressed people and devoted to the moral welfare of his community.”

Former Black Panther leader and Atlanta activist Elaine Brown states, “Al-Amin is acknowledged by everyone to have virtually eliminated drug use and trafficking in his West End community. In this, he has stayed the course of freedom even as other blacks have abandoned it for each little individual step up on the illusory ladder of American success.”1

Al-Amin himself proclaimed his innocence long before the trial started, although he did not take the stand. “Let me declare before the families of these men, before the state, and any who would dare to know the truth, that I neither shot nor killed anyone. I am innocent of the 13 charges that have been brought against me… I am one with the grief of this mother and father at the loss of their son. I am joined at the heart with this widow and her children at the loss of a husband and a father. I drink from the same bitter cup of sorrow as the siblings at the loss of a beloved brother…”

The National Support Committee for Imam Jamil characterized the context of the trial as follows: “Imam Jamil’s life is on trial. The State of Georgia is pouring millions of dollars into its effort to execute him for the alleged murder of a Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy. … In reality, however, all Muslims in America are on trial… are we going to resist the continuing campaign to paint Islam as a violent religion and Muslims as terrorists — all for the purpose of silencing the Muslim voice in America? As Abdul Malik Mujahid (Sound Vision) observed, “If any of us think we are immune from the injustice now being faced by Imam Jamil, we are being blissfully ignorant. Tomorrow, you could be the next victim. Your crime: Being Muslim. Or black. Or brown.”

The press portrayed Al-Amin / H. Rap Brown as a cop killer. They freely interpreted his famous remark in the 1960s that “violence is as American as cherry pie,” to be an argument for violence, rather than a description of the American system of keeping black people and others in line. Associated Press writer Mitch Stacy stated after the verdict that, “In 1967, [Al-Amin] characterized violence as a vital tool for blacks, ‘as American as cherry pie.’”2

But this was not a case in which the prosecution was able to rely primarily on anti-radical hype (of the type which marked the trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal). Nor could they rely on the racist biases of the jury, which was made up of nine African Americans, one Hispanic and two Euro Americans. Nor is it a case in which the black community lined up on one side and whites on the other. Both deputies are black, as is the sheriff and the district Attorney.

Indeed, the case the prosecution presented had plenty of physical evidence linking Al-Amin to the scene of the shooting, if not to the shooting itself. It was on the basis of this physical evidence, as well as the surviving deputy’s identification of Al-Amin as his assailant, that the jury returned the verdict of guilty on all counts. (This also meant that they had to ignore civilian witness testimony that was uniformly at odds with the prosecution’s version of events.)

The trial raises several questions. Was evidence planted and falsified as the defense suggested? And if so, what does this mean about the police’s abuse of power, evident in the last decade but now encouraged by Attorney General John Ash croft’s “anti-terrorism” initiatives.

History of harassment

Part of the truth lies in the context the jury never heard, a long story of police efforts to pin a crime on the imam over the years. Jamil Al-Amin’s brother Ed Brown described this history as “harassment, sometimes routine and petty, sometimes pretty serious. Just one damn thing after another. No matter how absurd. The police simply would not leave my brother alone.”

The police and press characterize this argument as being stuck in the ’60s. “This is not and has never been about civil rights, race, religion or 30-year old conspiracies,” District Attorney Paul Howard told the Atlanta paper after the sentence was returned. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorialized, “There was no vendetta left over from the ’60s. It was just plain murder.”

Police admit that Al-Amin has been the subject of almost continuous investigation for the last decade. In the press, the police portray him as someone who is probably guilty — of shootings, of gunrunning, of domestic terrorism — but they just can’t seem to pin charges on him. This is in spite of a six-year investigation which included the FBI paying informants inside Al-Amin’s Community Mosque, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 1, 2000.

According to documents cited by the Journal-Constitution, the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, along with local police agencies, were involved in investigations of Al-Amin and other members of his mosque from 1992 through 1997. “The FBI investigated Al-Amin as a possible ‘domestic terrorist.’ Atlanta cops focused on homicides.”3

According to police records, the newspaper reported, police “suspected Al-Amin and his followers were responsible for 14 homicides” committed in the West End area between 1990 and 1996.

In the course of their investigations, the Atlanta police department “compiled a list of 134 people associated with Al-Amin, most of them members of the mosque.” The list included birthdates, social security numbers, and criminal records.

Investigations, paid FBI informants, and police violence are not new for Al-Amin. He became involved in the Civil Rights Movement at a time when the FBI was conducting a program to eliminate dissenters, called cointelpro. Started in the 1950s to harass communists and integrationists, by the 1960s it had bloomed into a program the scope of which is hard to exaggerate. For example, between 1960 and 1966, the FBI burglarized the offices of one socialist group 94 times, an average of once every three weeks. They used stolen documents to disrupt the group.4

More familiar are cointelpro actions against the Civil Rights Movement, the American Indian Movement, the anti-war movement, socialist and communist groups, and, of course the Black Panther Party, which probably received the bloodiest repression of all.

H. Rap Brown had registered voters in the South as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and was named chair of the group in 1967 when it was calling for Black Power and opposing the war in Vietnam. He was briefly Minister of Justice for the Black Panther Party that year. In Cambridge, Maryland, in July 1967 he gave a fiery speech denouncing white violence and calling on blacks to arm and defend themselves. After the speech he was shot by two police officers, who hid in the bushes as he passed. In his book Die Nigger Die! he recalls,

We found out later they [the shooters] were black policemen. They were shooting at us a long time. I was hit, I dove to the ground, rolled into a ditch and made my way into someone’s yard. After the shooting there was a lot of commotion. People went into the street and just started tearing everything up. A few hours later they burned the school again. Two weeks earlier people had burned the black elementary school because it has been a rat infested, roach infested place. People were paying taxes and their children were forced to go to school in those conditions. It is these conditions which cause riots. Not anybody’s rhetoric.5

Brown persisted in traveling, speaking, and organizing. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed a law against “interstate conspiracy,” which for a time was called the Rap Brown Act. This is the law under which the Chicago 8 were charged with planning the Democratic Convention protests of 1968. Brown himself was in and out of court and jail from 1967 through April 1970, on charges simply aimed at restricting his freedom of speech, a tactic the FBI used against militants of all colors, to stem their effectiveness by continually tying them up in legal troubles.

The FBI also tried to create deadly feuds among the leadership of the movement. An April 1, 1968 FBI memo reveals that the FBI was to draft a letter to H. Rap Brown, supposedly from an anonymous “Soul Brother,” which said, “Dig this man, I got it from the inside. Stokely [Carmichael] and [James] Forman sent you to the west coast so that the man could get you. They are a little too cool for you Rap baby. With you out of the way they can have the whole pie.”6 And then there were the outright police assassinations, such as those committed against Chicago Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in December 1969.7

Finally, in 1970, H. Rap Brown went underground and stayed hidden, on the FBIs Most Wanted list, for a year and a half. In 1971 he was wounded and captured in a shootout at a New York bar. The police said it was armed robbery. Street reports said that it was a confrontation between drug dealers and their police friends and H. Rap Brown and his compatriots, according to veteran civil rights activist and professor Ekwueme Michael Thelwell in a recent radio interview.8

Convicted in the shootout, Brown served five years, during which he converted to Islam, and took the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He made the hajj to Mecca after his release and settled, in the late ’70s, in Atlanta’s West End, where he founded the Community Mosque, and led, by all non-police accounts, a peaceful, devout life building his mosque, coaching kids in basketball, running a small grocery store, and bettering his neighborhood.

[To be continued next week.]


1. Elaine Brown (no relation to the accused) in an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution printed March 26, 2000. [back to text]

2. “1960s black-power radical gets life in prison,” by Mitch Stacy, Associated Press, March 14, 2002. [back to text]

3. “Eye on Al-Amin: FBI, police tracked militant, inner circle in ’90s homicides,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 1, 2000. [back to text]

4. COINTELPRO: The FBIs Secret War on Political Freedom, by Nelson Blackstock (1975), p. ix. [back to text]

5. Quoted in Ekwueme Michael Thelwell’s March 18, 2002 article in The Nation, “H. Rap Brown / Jamil Al-Amin: A Profoundly American Story.” Thelwell’s article is part of a longer introduction to the reissuing of H. Rap Brown’s autobiography, Die Nigger Die! (Dial Press, 1969) which is set to be released in April 2002 by Lawrence Hill Books. [back to text]

6. This FBI file page is reprinted on page 50 of Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall’s book Agents of Repression: The FBIs Secret Wars against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (1988, 1990, South End Press.) [back to text]

7. Thelwell notes, “All this has been documented by Congressional investigation, but none of the perpetrators — the so-called rogue agents — in the bureau have ever served a day of jail time.” [back to text]

8. Thelwell, in an interview on Democracy Now! on March 19, 2002. [back to text]

The author attended the closing arguments of the three-week trial. She is not related to any of the Browns mentioned in this article. Other sources include a radio interview by Amy Goodman with Ed Brown and Ekwueme Michael Thelwell on Democracy Now! on March 19, 2002, and an interview by Heather Gray with with Bilal Mahmoud and Nadim Ali on Radio Free Georgia on March 11, 2002; Atlanta Journal-Constitution coverage of the crime and the trial; literature produced by the National Support Committee for Imam Jamil, including the website www.imamjamil.com, and interviews and discussions with members of Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s mosque. Dave Lippman, correspondent for Free Speech Radio News (www.fsrn.org), assisted with this article.

© 2002 Jenny Brown. The author is co-editor of the Gainesville Iguana (www.afn.org/~iguana), a monthly radical newsmagazine in Gainesville, Florida. She is also a project director for Redstockings of the Women's Liberation Movement. You can reach her at jbrown72073@cs.com.