H. Rap Brown
|5th Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee|
May 1967 – June 1968
|Preceded by||Stokely Carmichael|
|Succeeded by||Phil Hutchings|
Hubert Gerold Brown
October 4, 1943
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
|Residence||United States Penitentiary, Tucson|
(sentenced by the state of Georgia)
|Known for||Black Power movement|
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (born Hubert Gerold Brown; October 4, 1943), formerly known as H. Rap Brown, is a civil rights activist who was the fifth chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. During a short-lived (six months) alliance between SNCC and the Black Panther Party, he served as their minister of justice.
He is perhaps known for his proclamations during that period that "violence is as American as cherry pie" and that "If America don't come around, we're gonna burn it down." He is also known for his autobiography, Die Nigger Die!. He is currently serving a life sentence for murder following the shooting of two Fulton County, Georgia, sheriff's deputies in 2000.
Brown was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and educated in a Catholic orphanage, where he clashed with his teachers—as did his older brother, Edward.
He became known as H. Rap Brown during the early 1960s. His activism in the Civil Rights Movement included involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which he was named chairman in 1967. That same year, he was arrested in Cambridge, Maryland, and charged with inciting to riot after he gave a speech there.
Brown was introduced into SNCC by his older brother Ed. Rap first visited Cambridge with Cleveland Sellers in the summer of 1963 during the period of Gloria Richardson's leadership in the local movement. He witnessed the first riot between blacks and whites in the city, and was impressed by the local civil rights movement's willingness to use armed self-defense against racial attacks.
He later organized for SNCC during Mississippi Freedom Summer, while transferring his studies to Howard University. Representing Howard's SNCC chapter, Brown attended a contentious civil rights meeting at the White House with President Lyndon Johnson during the Selma crisis of 1965. In 1966, he organized for black voter registration and enforcement of the recently passed Voting Rights Act in Greene County, Alabama. Elected SNCC chairman in 1967, Brown continued Stokely Carmichael's fiery support for "Black Power" and urban rebellions in the ghettos.
During the summer of 1967, Brown toured the nation, calling for violent resistance to the government, which he called "The Fourth Reich." "Negroes should organize themselves," he told a rally in Washington, D.C., and "carry on guerilla warfare in all the cities." They should, "make the Viet Cong look like Sunday school teachers." He declared, "I say to America, Fuck it! Freedom or death!"
In the late 1960s, Brown was tried on federal charges of inciting to riot and carrying a gun across state lines. A secret 1967 FBI memo called for "neutralizing" Brown and he was targeted by the COINTELPRO program at this time. The charges were never proven. His attorneys in the gun violation case were civil rights advocate Murphy Bell of Baton Rouge, the self described "radical lawyer" William Kunstler, and Howard Moore Jr., general counsel for SNCC. Feminist attorney Flo Kennedy also assisted Brown and led his defense committee, winning him support from some chapters of the National Organization for Women.
During his trial, Brown continued his high-profile activism. He accepted a request from the Student Afro-American Society of Columbia University to help represent and co-organize the April 1968 Columbia protests against university expansion into Harlem park land. He also contributed writing from prison to the radical magazine Black Mask which was edited and published by Up Against the Wall Motherfucker. In the article titled "H. Rap Brown From Prison: Lasime Tushinde Mbilashika", Brown writes of going on hunger strike and his willingness to give up his life for change.
Brown is now known to have no direct relationship with the alleged riot of 1967. Documents from the Kerner Commission investigation show that he completed his speech at 10 pm July 24, then walked a woman home and was shot by a deputy sheriff allegedly without provocation. Brown was hastily treated for his injuries and secretly taken out of Cambridge. The one major fire did not break out until hours later, and its expansion has been attributed to the deliberate inaction of the Cambridge police and fire departments, which had hostile relations with the black community. The head of the Cambridge police department, Brice Kinnamon, nonetheless claimed that the city had no racial problems, Brown was the "sole" cause of the disorder, and it was "a well-planned Communist attempt to overthrow the government."
Brown was originally to be tried in Cambridge, but the trial was moved to Bel Air, Maryland. On March 9, 1970, two SNCC officials, Ralph Featherstone and William ("Che") Payne, died on U.S. Route 1 south of Bel Air, when a bomb on the front floorboard of their car exploded, killing both occupants. The bomb's origin is disputed: some say the bomb was planted in an assassination attempt, and others say Payne was intentionally carrying it to the courthouse where Brown was to be tried. The next night, the Cambridge courthouse was bombed.
Brown disappeared for 18 months, during which he appeared on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most Wanted List. He was arrested after a reported shootout with officers after what was said to be an attempted robbery of a bar in New York City. He spent five years (1971–76) in Attica Prison after a robbery conviction. While in prison, Brown converted to Islam and changed his name from Hubert Gerold Brown to Jamil Abdullah al-Amin.
After his release, he opened a grocery store in Atlanta, Georgia, and became a Muslim spiritual leader and community activist preaching against drugs and gambling in Atlanta's West End neighborhood. It has since been alleged that al-Amin's life changed again when he allegedly became affiliated with the "Dar ul-Islam Movement".
On March 16, 2000, in Fulton County, Georgia, Sheriff's deputies Ricky Kinchen and Aldranon English went to al-Amin's home to execute an arrest warrant for his failure to appear in court after a citation for speeding and impersonating a police officer.
After determining that the home was unoccupied, the deputies drove away and were shortly passed by a black Mercedes headed for the home. Kinchen (the more senior deputy) noted the suspect vehicle, turned the patrol car around, and drove up to the Mercedes, stopping nose to nose. English approached the Mercedes and told the single occupant to show his hands. The occupant opened fire with a .223 rifle. English ran between the two cars while returning fire from his handgun, but was hit four times. Kinchen was shot with the rifle and a 9 mm handgun.
The next day, Kinchen died of his wounds at Grady Memorial Hospital. English survived his wounds, and identified al-Amin as the shooter from six photos he was shown while recovering in the hospital. Both of the Sheriff's deputies al-Amin was convicted of shooting were black, which undermined al-Amin's racial conspiracy theory defense at trial.
Shortly after the shootout, al-Amin fled to White Hall, Alabama, where he was tracked down by U.S. Marshals and arrested by law enforcement officers after a four-day manhunt. Al-Amin was wearing body armor at the time of his arrest, and officers found a 9 mm handgun and .223 rifle near his arrest location. Firearms identification testing showed that the weapons were the ones used to shoot Kinchen and English.
Later, al-Amin's black Mercedes was found with bullet holes in it. His lawyers argued he was innocent of the shooting. Defense attorneys noted that Al-Amin's fingerprints were not found on the murder weapon, and he was not wounded in the shooting, as one of the deputies said the shooter was; a trail of blood found at the scene was tested and did not belong to Al-Amin or either of the deputies. The deputy also said the killer's eyes were gray, but Al-Amin's are brown.
On March 9, 2002, nearly two years after the shooting, al-Amin was convicted of 13 criminal charges, including Kinchen's murder. Four days later, he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He was sent to Georgia State Prison, the state's maximum-security facility near Reidsville, Georgia.
Otis Jackson, a man incarcerated for unrelated charges, claimed that he committed the Fulton County shooting two years before al-Amin was convicted of the same crime, but the court did not consider Jackson's statement as evidence. Jackson's statements corroborated details from 911 calls following the shooting, including a bleeding man seen limping from the scene: Jackson said he knocked on doors attempting to solicit a ride while suffering from wounds sustained in the firefight with deputies Kinchen and English. Prosecutors refuted Jackson's testimony, claiming he couldn't have shot the deputies as he was wearing an ankle tag; however, al-Amin's lawyers allege that the tag was faulty. It has also been noted that Jackson's confession was inconsistent with many of the facts of the case and was recanted two days later.
At his trial, prosecutors pointed out that al-Amin had never provided an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the shootout, nor any explanation for fleeing the state afterwards. He also did not explain why the weapons used in the shootout were found near him during his arrest. In May 2004, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously ruled to uphold al-Amin's conviction.
In August 2007, al-Amin was transferred to federal custody, as Georgia officials decided he was too high-profile for the Georgia prison system to handle. He was in a holdover facility in the USP Atlanta, two weeks later he was moved to a federal transfer facility in Oklahoma pending assignment to a federal penitentiary. On October 21, 2007, al-Amin was transferred to the ADX Florence supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. On July 18, 2014, having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, al-Amin was transferred to Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina. As of March 2018[update], he is incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary, Tucson.
Al-Amin had the possibility of retrial through the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The investigative journalist, Hamzah Raza, wrote of the confession of a man named Otis Jackson that could exonerate Al-Amin. However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal on July 31, 2019.
In April 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from al-Amin. His family and supporters continue to petition for a new trial.