On November 20, 2014, Angela Davis speaks at Columbia University at the Enclosures Quotidian Carceralities in the US and Occupied Palestine. Photo credit: Columbia GSAPP/Creative Commons

UN Delegation to hold Atlanta hearing on racism in law enforcement and the prison system

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Former and current Black political prisoners will testify about racially motivated police violence, Black activists imprisoned under FBI “Counterintelligence” Program.

The captured cell phone recording of the Minneapolis police-involved murder of George Floyd in 2020 sparked outrage and protests worldwide. His killing also drew the attention of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Eventually, the leading UN entity created an  international, independent group of panelists  called the Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement (EMLER). 

Formed “to further transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement,” EMLER will convene hearings in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C. and New York between April 24 and May 5, 2023. The Atlanta hearing will be held on Wednesday , April 26, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. While the hearing is not a public event, news reporters can attend.

In addition to topics like the school-to-prison-pipeline, the hearing will highlight the existence of aging Black political prisoners in the U.S. Many activists were arrested and imprisoned for life in the 1970s through an FBI program called COINTELPRO, or the  “Counterintelligence Program”. According to subsequent Congressional hearings, FBI agents infiltrated groups such as the Black Panther Party in which they perpetrated a number of acts to disrupt and ultimately neutralize a number of political and socially-progressive organizations. One of the methods used by agents was  planting  false “evidence” showing that Black civil rights and advocacy organizations were plotting a coup against the government. For that, dozens of men and women have spent decades in detention centers across the country. 

From voting rights activist to Muslim Minister

Among the prisoners to be discussed in the hearing is Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown. As a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the 1960s, Imam Jamil organized Black people in Lowndes County, Alabama to register to vote. In 2000, Imam Jamil, who changed his name after converting to Islam, was tried and imprisoned for shooting and killing a police officer and wounding his deputy in an Atlanta neighborhood.

Bilal Sunni-Ali, a supporter of Imam Jamil and a member of the Imam Jamil Al-Amin Action Network (IJAN) will testify. IJAN maintains that Imam Jamil was wrongfully convicted. According to IJAN, another Black man confessed to the crime. The individual, Otis Jackson, also known as James Santos, reportedly fits the description of the shooter that the surviving deputy gave to the police.  He said that his shooter was a short man with light colored eyes. Imam Jamil is more than six feet tall and has brown eyes. 

Imam Jamil’s case is currently before Fulton County, Georgia’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which reviews cases for questionable convictions caused by legal errors. The Unit has not yet announced its findings.

Jailhouse lawyer

At 84, activist Ruchell Magee, whose case will be discussed in the hearing, has served 60 years of a life sentence. Magee was convicted in 1963 over an incident involving a marijuana sale. Magee studied law in prison, applying what he learned to overturn his conviction and those of fellow inmates.

On August 7, 1970, Magee joined two prisoners and 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson, in kidnapping a judge, a deputy district attorney and three jurors in a Marin County, California courthouse. Jackson hoped to exchange the hostages for his older brother, prison author and organizer George Jackson, and two other Soledad Prison inmates, known collectively as The Soledad Brothers. 

When arrested, they were accused of murdering a prison guard. As Jonathan Jackson was driving away with the prisoners and hostages, police opened fire on his vehicle. Jackson, the judge, and the two prisoners were killed. Magee was the only abductor who survived the shooting.

Dr. Angela Davis, who was close to George Jackson and his family, will testify for Magee. Some guns used in the kidnap attempt were registered to Davis, but a trial found her not guilty of the kidnapping, the judge’s murder, and criminal conspiracy. Recently, Dr. Davis returned an award given to her by the City of Atlanta in protest of the construction of “Cop City,” a $90 million, 85-acre facility that will be used to train law enforcement officers.

The journalist becomes the news

Former NPR radio and print reporter Mumia Abu-Jamal is scheduled to testify during the hearing in a video recording or on Zoom. His grandson, Jamal Jr., may also testify. Abu-Jamal was imprisoned for shooting a policeman who Abu-Jamal said was harassing his younger brother during an early morning traffic stop in Philadelphia. Despite his innocence plea, Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death. In 2001, a district judge overturned the death sentence, after finding sentencing inconsistencies in the original trial. Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence, is requesting a new trial and exoneration.

The acupuncturist who is a rapper’s stepfather

Dr. Mutulu Shakur, the stepfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was a member of the Black Liberation Army when he was arrested and convicted for participating in a 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored truck. Two police officers and a guard were killed during the robbery.

Dr. Shakur studied acupuncture, successfully using it to treat drug addiction. He received compassionate release and parole in 2022 following his 2019 bone marrow cancer diagnosis. Dr. Shakur will testify during the hearing, either by recorded message or live on Zoom.

The EMLER mandate

EMLER’s U.S. visit is part of its three-year mandate established by the U.N. Human Rights Council. According to the U.N.  EMLER is charged to  thoroughly examine the institution of policing to move towards substantive reformation that particularly relates “to the legacies of colonialism and the Transatlantic slave trade in enslaved Africans.” For these special inquiries, the panel plans to “investigate Governments’ responses to peaceful anti-racism protests and all violations of international human rights law and to contribute to accountability and redress for victims.”

To do so, EMLER will review the testimonies and make recommendations about ending systemic racism in law enforcement and criminal justice, use of excessive force against African Americans by police, and access to justice by African Americans. It will monitor whether the cities it visits will adopt its recommendations.The three experts comprising EMLER are Yvonne Mokgoro (South Africa), a former South African Constitutional Court Justice; Tracie L. Keesee, who served in Denver’s police department for 25 years; and Juan E. Mendez (Argentina), a professor of human rights law in residence at the American University Washington College of Law.

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