Al Amin also became a significant advocate for unity
among Muslims, leading a council of 35 mosques, leading successful
efforts to unify this group with other Muslim organizations, and serving
on the board of the American Muslim Council, which advocates for Muslim
But it’s unclear whether it is this current work or his
earlier Black Power reputation that have led to the non-stop police
investigations. For example, Al-Amin was arrested after the 1993 bombing
of the World Trade Center. Al-Amin’s brother, Ed Brown, explained the
pattern for a recent Nation article, “Something happens. Say the
first attempt to bomb the World Trade Center, right? They feed their
infallible profile into their computer. Muslim … radical … violent …
anti-American, whatever, who knows. Anyway, boom, out spits the names,
H. Rap Brown prominent among them. Next thing the Feds come storming
into the community and haul Jamil in. This actually happened. Of course
it’s stupid. And every time they have to let him go. But how do you stop
it? A goddam nightmare, they never quit.”9
Police said that members of a Dar-ul mosque had received
the same training as suspects in that World Trade Center bombing.
Therefore, since Al-Amin is a leader in the Dar-ul Islam movement (House
of Islam movement), he was suspect. But they found no evidence and he
In 1994 two men from Atlanta were convicted of
gunrunning, along with nine men in New York. Police listed one of the
men as a member of “Al-Amin’s inner circle,” and the FBI said that the
gun shipments originated at the Al-Fajr Trading Co., located next door
to Al-Amin’s grocery store in the West End neighborhood. Al-Amin was
never charged with anything in this case, either.
In 1995 Al-Amin was arrested again, this time as a
suspect in the shooting of a young man near his store. The imam was
driving his son to school when he was arrested, a month after the
shooting. According to a factsheet prepared by Al-Amin’s supporters,
“The police interrogated his seven-year-old son for six hours before
notifying someone to pick up the child.”10
The charges against Al-Amin were dropped when the shooting victim told
the press that he had not seen his assailant but that the police had
threatened him if he didn’t finger Al-Amin. Community Mosque leader
Nadim Ali notes of this investigation that the FBI, the Georgia Bureau
of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
participated. “It was a local routine assault, so why were they
The murder case for which Al-Amin was convicted started
with him being pulled over again, in May 1999. Elaine Brown noted in her
March 26, 2000 editorial: “Police admit he was stopped … merely for
driving a car displaying dealership tags … or, as it’s now said in the
vernacular, ‘driving while black.’ Later, he was charged with theft by
receiving — on the already-questionable assertion that the car he was
driving was stolen — and the horrible ‘crime’ of driving without proof
When the cops were looking in his wallet, they found a
badge given to him by the town of White Hall, Alabama, making him an
auxiliary officer there. For that, he was charged with impersonating a
police officer. (According to the police, he flashed the badge.)
Then he missed his court date. It’s not clear whether he
didn’t go because he was not told of the court date, or because there
was an ice storm that day (it is clear that the judge didn’t show up
because of the weather). Because of his failure to appear, a warrant was
issued for his arrest.
It was this warrant which Deputies Kinchen and English
were sent to serve on March 16, 2000, a mission which left one deputy
dead and the other seriously injured.
“An eminently avoidable human tragedy took place,”
writes Thelwell in a recent Nation article. “Why was it necessary
to send into a Muslim community, under cover of darkness, heavily armed
men wearing flak jackets to bring in a respected and beloved religious
leader, a figure of fixed address and regular and predictable habits?
And this in service of a warrant for charges they describe as relatively
minor? Who authorized this action and in this manner? Was this abysmally
poor judgement or deliberate provocation?”
The prosecution’s version of events is roughly as
follows, as presented by Assistant District Attorney Robert McBurney in
the trial’s closing arguments:
The two officers drove by the mosque and the store at
10 at night, looking for Al-Amin. He wasn’t there. They saw a car pull
up as they were leaving. They returned to where someone was parked,
the two cars facing each other. The two deputies got out of the car
simultaneously and a person English said was Al-Amin got out of his
car and stood behind the door. English said I need to see both your
hands, as Al-Amin’s right hand was behind the door of the vehicle. Al-Amin
allegedly said, “OK, here it is” and opened fire on them with a Ruger
assault rifle, which sprayed bullets at the two deputies and casings
all over the street. The deputies shot back. Both deputies were
injured. The prosecution claimed that Al-Amin then got a pistol and
shot Kinchen repeatedly while he was lying helpless and wounded on the
ground, aiming for his groin from close range. Kinchen later died.
Then, they alleged, Al-Amin got back in his car and fled to Alabama,
where he was apprehended four days later.
The trial revealed a number of contradictions between
this version of events and the physical evidence, witness testimony, and
even Deputy English’s own previous testimony. Among these:
Both deputies said they shot their assailant, and a
trail of blood was found by the police near the shooting and reported
in the press. However, when Al-Amin was captured in Alabama four days
later, he had no injuries. In the trial, the prosecution said the
blood trail had been animal blood.
In the hours following the shooting, there were three
calls to the emergency 911 line, which were taped, in which callers
reported a person bleeding profusely, and in one case asking for a
ride, in the same part of Atlanta as the shooting. Only one of the 911
calls was admitted as evidence because the callers were not
English, the surviving deputy, said he was sure the
assailant had gray eyes. Al-Amin has brown eyes. However, the warrant
the deputies were sent to execute listed Al-Amin as having gray eyes.
In later statements English said the assailant was wearing
yellow-tinted glasses that night.
English picked Al-Amin out from a photo lineup after
undergoing surgery and being dosed with morphine. The defense argued
that in addition to the effects of the painkiller, English could well
have seen the TV news from his hospital bed, coverage which displayed
Al-Amin’s picture and reported him to be a fugitive, prior to English
being asked to identify his assailant in the photo lineup.
Civilian witness testimony about the night of the
shooting was in each case inconsistent with the story given by the
Two witnesses who heard the gunfire reported that
slow, less loud shots preceded louder, more rapid gunfire. This is the
opposite of what they would have heard given the prosecution’s
One witness reported seeing a person shooting a man on
the ground, but said that the shooter wasn’t built like the imam, whom
Another witness reported seeing a white van leaving
the area after the shooting.
One of the witnesses who heard the gunfire also heard
two car doors close (or a trunk and a car door close) before he heard
a car leave the scene.
By 11 p.m. that night, Al-Amin was the prime suspect,
according to the police and press. A manhunt was launched. He was
arrested in White Hall, Alabama, four days later. A day after that,
police found a bag with two guns, ammunition, a cellphone, clothing, and
other items identified with Al-Amin in the woods near where he was
captured. Ballistics tests linked the guns to the shooting. However,
neither the guns nor the ammunition had any fingerprints. After that, a
car identified as Al-Amin’s black Mercedes was found in the yard of
someone identified as a friend of Al-Amin’s in White Hall. Police said
it had bullet holes in it and bullets that matched those from the guns
of the deputies.
When Al-Amin was arrested, Ron Campbell, an FBI agent
who volunteered to join the manhunt in Alabama, admitted to kicking and
spitting on Al-Amin, and calling him a cop-killer. He claimed Al-Amin
spat back. Other officers, who said they told Campbell to cool it,
testified that in fact Al-Amin had not responded at all to the FBI
Community Mosque leader Nadim Ali comes from
Philadelphia, and recalled that this same FBI agent shot and killed a
23-year old black Muslim man, Glenn “Jahlil” Thomas, in Philadelphia in
1995. At that time, Campbell claimed the man was pulling a weapon, but
the autopsy showed that Thomas had been shot in the back of the head.
Campbell was cleared by an internal police investigation and never
charged with a crime, but the community believed it was a cover-up.12
In closing trial arguments, defense attorney Jack Martin
suggested that the guns that were found near the site of Al-Amin’s
capture could have been planted, and that FBI agent Campbell had the
opportunity to do so.
Inconsistencies also came out in the trial concerning
the guns, the car, and the arrest.
Police testified that someone they later identified as
Al-Amin shot at them from the woods, and that they did not return fire.
Two civilian witnesses said that they saw men in uniform, or four men in
dark clothing, shooting into the woods, but that they did not see or
hear anyone firing at the officers. “Why does the community see one
thing, and every federal officer sees another?” defense lawyer Martin
asked in exasperation.
A police chance to support their allegation that Al Amin
shot at the officers shortly before his capture was ruined by the police
having Al-Amin wash his hands after he was arrested, “so they could take
A shell casing was found at the base of the Mercedes’
windshield, of which the police apparently took one photo, and that
casing was traced to the Ruger which was linked to the shooting by
ballistics evidence. The defense questioned how the shell casing
survived the 3-hour interstate drive from Atlanta to White Hall.
The prosecution’s scenario for the guns requires us to
believe that an obviously calm and intelligent person who had
effectively evaded a nationwide manhunt in the early ’70s for a year and
a half would not have thought to divest himself of two murder weapons
until four days later when he is being pursued through the Alabama woods
by all types of law enforcement. This seems unlikely.
Legally, the defense was not required to paint an
alternative version of the shooting, only to show that the prosecution
scenario was reasonably doubtful. Al-Amin himself did not take the
stand, but the defense implied that the only way Al-Amin could exonerate
himself was to implicate someone else, which was something he was not
willing to do.
“Can a doctor know something and not tell? … Can a
priest know something and not tell? … Can an imam know something and not
tell?” asked defense attorney Tony Axam in the closing arguments. “The
law does not force him to tell.”
The defense also argued that the police had never
entertained the possibility that someone other than Al-Amin had
committed the crime, and because of this they let important evidence and
opportunities for investigation go by the wayside.
Prosecutors asked why Al-Amin would flee to Alabama.
“Why did the defendant run? Innocent men don’t run,” asserted McBurney.
“It is who we are that gives us the prism of how we look
at something,” Axam countered. “Who you are, where you come from … How
old you are, where you were born, how you grew up.” And how much police
repression you have received, he might have added.
“Imam Jamil Al-Amin has never stopped fighting for our
people’s rights,” stated a flier distributed by the Malcolm X Grassroots
Movement at Al-Amin’s arraignment in Alabama. “That’s why the
government’s been trying to frame him for 30 years. Don’t let them win
In an email to supporters, Abdul Malik Mujahid responded
to the life sentence handed down by the jury: “This punishment and the
death [penalty] is hardly different since he can only come out of jail
after his death. Imam Jamil is innocent. The verdict will be reversed in
the appeal court, insha Allah.”
9. From Thelwell’s Nation
article. Thelwell and Ed Brown are Civil Rights Movement co-workers.
10. Factsheet available at