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Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 12:47:26 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Is Al-Amin Conviction a Requiem for the 60s?
Is Al-Amin Conviction a Requiem for the '60s?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, AlterNet
March 11, 2002
In his closing arguments of the murder trial of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin,
still better known by his 1960s radical tag, H. Rap Brown, defense attorney
Tony Axam demanded that jurors decide the case on who they were and where
they were born. This was a not-so-veiled effort to stir visions in the nine
African-American jurors of police raids, shoot- outs, murders, and
government conspiracies against blacks.
It didn't work. Jurors rejected the notion that Al-Amin was not tried for
murdering Atlanta sheriff's deputy Ricky Kinchen and severely wounding his
partner Aldranon English, but was part of the three decades long effort by
the government to nail a 1960s black radical. They swiftly convicted him of
murder and assault. The death penalty loomed as possible punishment.
Still, the FBI's 1960s secret war against black militants is well
documented. The war was an unabashed attempt by FBI Director J. Edgar
Hoover to decapitate militant black leadership. And Al-Amin nee Brown
seemed a prime candidate for the government blitz against that leadership.
I remember a Black Panther fund-raiser in Los Angeles in 1968. Brown sat in
the middle of the stage garbed in a shiny black leather jacket and a black
beret cocked at an angle on his head. He was flanked by a small army of
black leather jacketed bodyguards and assorted hanger ons.
The crowd of several thousand roared with delight when a speaker announced
that Brown had been "appointed" and had accepted the title of Minister of
Justice of the Black Panther Party. This was the culmination of Brown's
militant odyssey from student dissident, to civil rights worker, to
chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. By then black
radicals regarded SNCC as a badly tainted relic of the civil rights
movement that they deeply reviled.
His speech to the crowd was defiant, brash, laced with profanities, and
filled with threats to kill the police and calls for blacks to burn down
America's cities. Brown, at times, seemed to take special delight in
picking words that had maximum shock value on crowds. Yet what was needed
was not bold threats to destroy the "white establishment," "the white man,"
"white devil," or white oppressor" but concrete activities and programs for
those genuinely committed to change.
Even the title of his book, "Die Nigger Die!: A Political Biography," soon
to be reissued to capitalize on Brown's trial notoriety, was calculated for
hyper shock effect. It was long on attacks on those moderate black leaders
Brown branded "Negro sell-outs" and "Uncle Toms" and lengthy exhortations
urging blacks to kill and die for the revolution. Yet it was totally devoid
of any strategy or program for black political and economic empowerment.
By the mid 1970s, the Panthers were in their final death agonies. Panther
leaders dropped like flies from police bullets and their own bullets,
degenerated into dope dealing, hustling and extortion. Some drifted away,
afflicted with terminal disillusionment with the violent rhetoric of black
But Brown was unrepentant. He remained trapped by his tough guy image and
seemed destined to be a permanent casualty of his violent rhetoric. He
seemed utterly incapable of making the transition from radical mouthpiece
to effective community organizer and leader. There were repeated brushes
with the law that ended in a bungled robbery attempt and a shoot-out with
New York police. This landed him in prison for five years.
Brown reversed his downhill slide in 1976, did his mea culpa for his past,
embraced Islam, rechristened himself with a Muslim name, established a
nationwide string of mosques, the National Ummah, that battled against
drugs and prostitution and for community economic uplift. Yet there were
ominous signs that Al-Amin may not have completely buried the violent past
that had caused him and so many other blacks terrible personal grief and
pain. During a five-year stretch from 1992 to 1997, he was investigated for
assaults, homicides, and illegal weapons possession. Brown was never
charged in any of these cases. This confirmed to supporters that the
government neither forgave or forgot his activism and was still determined
to get him.
The three-week trial fueled a fresh round of media talk on how and where
Al-Amin, the Panthers, and other 1960s black radicals went wrong. And how
much has changed in the decades since they commanded blacks to pick up the
gun and burn America to the ground.
They are right. Much has changed. Legal segregation is dead, and blacks are
better educated, more prosperous, and more politically influential than
ever in America. But the conviction of Al-Amin should not be a requiem for
the memory and idealism of those 1960s activists who sincerely believed
they were fighting to make that change. For a brief moment, one of those
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and
opinion Web site, www.thehutchinsonreport.com. He is the author of The
Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).
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