Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview With Karima El-Amin on Jamil El-Amin (Formerly Known as H. Rap Brown)

An Interview With Karima El-Amin on Jamil El-Amin
(Formerly Known as H. Rap Brown)

Pan-African News Wire
Aug. 31, 2010

An Interview with Karima El-Amin (Part 1 & 2)

By Nadrat Siddique

The Fourth of July is my birthday. Each year, I
seek an activity which expounds on Frederick
Douglass' renowned musing "What to the Slave is
the Fourth of July" and my social consciousness
as a Muslim. This Fourth, I visited Atlanta to
run the Peachtree 10K race, the nation's largest
10K (it boasts 50,000 participants) and to
interview Karima El-Amin, wife of Imam Jamil El-Amin
(formerly H. Rap Brown).

Imam Jamil El-Amin is one of America's foremost
political prisoners, currently being held at the
infamous high security prison in Florence,
Colorado. I felt his case had received a degree
of exposure, at least by independent Islamic
media, but that far less was known about his wife
and partner in the struggle, an activist in her
own right.

Karima El-Amin graciously granted me an interview
at short notice, even though it meant according
me her scant leisure time (the holiday was one of
those rare occasions on which she closed her law
office). I was to meet her soon after my race.
When I called to confirm the details of our
meeting, she expressed concern for my condition.
Was I too tired and dehydrated after the race,
being unaccustomed to Atlanta weather? And did I
require more time to rest before our meeting? I
was reminded of Imam Jamil, whose self-less
concern for his visitors to the prison even while
he himself was being subjected to daily
humiliation at the hands of prison guards was
fabled. And she insisted she would drive to my
hotel so that I would not have to attempt to
navigate unfamiliar territory. We agreed to hold
the interview in my hotel room.

She entered the room, a slender, bespectacled
woman, with quiet manner and majestic bearing,
dressed modestly in light green hijab. But, as
she began to speak, I realized this was easily
the most eloquent, self-confident, and
politically aware Muslim woman I'd encountered.
She was clearly very seeped in Islamic faith;
indeed, it may have been what allowed her (and
hence her family) to survive the incredible
trials they'd experienced; yet she was not
ostentatious with her Arabic, nor haughty or
judgmental of me or others.

Q: How did you meet Imam Jamil, and what attracted
you to him initially?

I met him July 31, 1967. I remember that day
because it was the first day I had a job. I had
just graduated from the State University of
Oswego. I was there four years. I majored in
English with the aim of teaching K - 9th grades.

Imam Jamil walked into the job. He was staying
with my supervisor. The job was on 135th Street,
in Harlem. It was with Job Corps. I thought I'd keep the job a while.

The Imam walked in. At the time, he had a cadre
of bodyguards. He was meeting Minister Farrakhan,
so he asked the supervisor "See if she'll go to
lunch with us." I was the only female at a big
table of only brothers. I remember it was a big,
big table, and we got back to the job at 5 PM.

That evening, Nina Simone was performing. She had
invited Imam Jamil. In later years, he kept in
touch with her. She autographed a photo for him
that night, which I still have.

Q: Tell me about yourself and your background.

A. My grandmother and mother were Canadian. In
1929, my grandmother brought my mother, her
sister, and one of her brothers to the U.S. after
divorcing my grandfather. They were deported, and
then returned. Then, in 1938, my grandmother went
before a judge to ask for her citizenship. In
1942, while my grandmother was living in Los
Angeles, Immigration denied her case. By 1942, my
mother's sister had married. Her husband was in
the entertainment business, and his father wrote
"Dark Town Strutters Ball." She was a little activist
and traveled broadly.

My mother lived in the building where La Guardia,
Duke Ellington, and other musicians lived on
Fifth Avenue in New York. My father was from the
U.S. (from Virginia), and was in the navy. He and
my mother married in 1942, and I was born years
later in New York.

We moved to Riverton, built and owned by
Metropolitan Life Assurance, in Harlem on Fifth
Avenue. It was built mainly for African Americans
so that we would not reside in the company's
other private developments built for Europeans.

In fact, my mother and father were considering
being part of a class action suit to challenge
the discriminatory practices of the company.
Nevertheless, my parents moved to Riverton where
I went to school in Harlem. and my mother was
involved in the PTA.

My mother was involved in the PTA fighting zoning
issues, and that was the first time the FBI came
to the house. They thought the communists must be
behind this, and we thought they were going to
take our mother away.

My mother is from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. We
would go back and forth to Canada to visit our
grandfather, our aunts and uncles, and cousins.
My father didn't want to tell a fib, so when they
asked him is everyone in the car a U.S. citizen,
he would just nod his head.

We're actually the descendents of runaway slaves.
My sister and cousins are being tested to
determine where we are from, but so far Spain,
Portugal, and Europe are coming up, and not
Africa. So, my family members still are exploring
further testing.

My mother, after 30 years of being a housewife,
went for a job with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Thurgood Marshall was the head of it. He wanted
her to be in charge of payroll. To do this, she
had to be bonded. Thurgood Marshall sponsored my
mother to this end. I became the baby sitter for
Thurgood Marshall and various African American
judges and attorneys of the Legal Defense Fund.

I remember that my mother would tell my friends
to put their dresses on so we could go to the
Apollo. During the intermission, she had us walk
around with buckets to collect money for
whichever case was being fought in the South at
the time.

Q: What led to your personal involvement in the
Black Liberation struggle?

In college, I got involved with Friends of SNCC.
That should have told me I'd wind up with the
chair of SNCC.

I graduated in June and met Imam Jamil in July.
My sister and her husband got arrested. They were
with RAM (Revolutionary Action Movement). This
was the first case in which middle class African
Americans were involved in supporting the Black
Liberation struggle.

RAM is mentioned in the original COINTELPRO
papers along with SNCC, Stokely, H. Rap Brown,
etc. My husband went to a rally for RAM before
I met him.

By August 1967, the FBI had contacted me. They
said, "You know your sister was framed. If you
help us, we'll clear her." I told them I knew
she'd be cleared because she was framed. The FBI
wanted me to work for them to provide reports on
Imam Jamil.

My parents were very involved with the community.
We were a close knit family. I had a
non-traumatic childhood (other than the fact that
I was almost electrocuted). We did not go without
anything. We traveled a lot. My father helped
form an organization for African American city
workers in transit.

My first trip to the South was in 1959 when a
girlfriend of mine invited me to travel with her
to visit her relatives. One day, we went shopping
to look at earrings. I went to hand money to one
of the workers, and she threw the money on the
floor. Later, I was trying to buy a hotdog, and
they would not sell it to me, because the hotdog
stand was "Whites Only." Up in New York, we
protested White Castle (fast food establishment).

My mother was very proper. When my husband's book
came out, she would not say the name of the book,
because it was called Die Nigger Die.

The FBI hounded my parents. They went to my
father's job repeatedly. Despite this, my parents
continued to be very supportive. I came from very
smart, compassionate parents. They both died
young (at age 51). One day, we went to the
grocery store. When we came out, we found our car
had a flat tire. We said, "Oh FBI."

Not long after, my father stopped at a gas
station to fix a flat tire. He collapsed and
died. Imam Jamil's mother died the week after
that. Then, my mother went into the hospital.
They discovered an aneurysm on the right side of
her brain. Then, they located another on the
left, and she died two months later, in June.
Then, in October, Imam Jamil was shot and went to
the same hospital where my mother died. In fact,
he was in the room next to where my mother spent
two months before she died. All this happened in
one year. We just didn't have time for grieving.

As I listened to Ms. Al-Amin, I was stunned by
the resilience and resolve of the Al-Amins,
undaunted by the challenges before them. Against
all odds, they'd patiently continued a dignified
and peaceful resistance. Most amazingly, they had
not restricted themselves to the challenge of
wrongs done to Imam Jamil, although this was, in
itself, a huge litany. They were tackling the
very constitutionality of laws which violated the
rights of inmates, political prisoners, and other
victims of the prison-industrial complex. In
other words, from behind bars, the Imam, his wife
at his “side,” was fighting to “free the
slave”­while many seemingly free imams and others
on the outside cowered in fear and silence.

Q: Tell me about Imam Jamil’s transition from
black radical to mainstream Muslim Imam. Did you
feel you had to influence him to repudiate or
reconstruct that image into a more moderate one?

A: My sister’s first husband was a Muslim from
the Republic of Guinea. I remember they had a
Qur’an on a stand, and they gave us a prayer rug
before we were Muslim that we hung on our wall;
consequently, that was one of our early exposures
to Islam. My husband took his shahada in December
1971, while he was incarcerated in New York City.
Brothers from the Dar-ul-Islam in Brooklyn
entered the jails as chaplains and volunteers to
hold classes on Islam. The transition to Islam
was very natural for my husband because it did
not compromise any of his positions.

I took my shahada a few months later, in February
1972, when Imam Jamil gave it to me. I still was
reading about Islam after he became Muslim
because I wanted to make sure I was becoming
Muslim based on my belief. It was a natural flow
for us to become Muslim. We never felt we had to
explain the transition from his past as H. Rap
Brown to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, although the
transition was confusing for those who did not
understand my husband. After El Hajj Malik
Shabazz, my husband was the next public figure in
the Movement to become Muslim. We then saw other
black liberators in the 1970s and 1980s become Muslims.

Q: What made you decide to attend law school?

A: Law was my third profession. Here in Atlanta,
I worked for a 15-year period with two
foundations giving money to grassroots
organizations and working on desegregating public
higher education and enhancing the traditionally
black colleges and universities.I did not go to
law school until 1992, while I was teaching
English. When I was in high school, I considered
law as a career. My mother worked at the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund when Thurgood Marshall was the
Executive Director, and lawyers were dispatched
to the South to represent students and local
people who were being arrested, brutalized,and
killed. This certainly influenced my early
thoughts on considering law. Also, once I married
my husband, I was constantly with William
Kunstler and at the Center for Constitutional
Rights in New York, as he and the organization
represented my husband. And lastly, the fact that
the government was continuing its efforts,
COINTELPRO-style,to incarcerate my husband, was
another factor that moved me finally to attend.

Q: What did you see as your role in the Al-Amin

A: I saw my role as a stabilizing one. I was not
making speeches, and I wasn’t out there in the
public with my husband. I saw my role as
maintaining peace at home. I was a teacher during
our early years of marriage. My concentration was
making sure we could eat together and be together
as a family. It always amazed me when we heard
people gasp and say, “I saw H. Rap Brown, and he
was holding a child,” or “I saw the Rap and he
was holding a cat.” Ordinary things he did
shocked people because the media had dehumanized
him. When things are moving wildly, it’s
necessary to have normalcy at home, so I would
try to maintain a sense of normalcy in an abnormal

Q: What attitude or outlook to life did you adapt
after you realized that your husband would be
locked up for a long time? What has been your
biggest challenge since his railroading?

A: Naturally to be stripped of a husband, a
companion, is devastating. Because I came up
through the struggle with him, I understood the
challenges. Many people refer to my husband as
the “last man standing.” He was a COINTELPRO
target and he has remained one. I understand his
innocence, and the governmental efforts to
silence him throughout a 43-year period. This
gives me the strength to remain strong and by
his side.

My biggest challenge was ensuring that I could
provide for my family in my husband’s absence. I
was doing so many pro bono cases that I realized
that I had to begin charging for my legal
services. I was faced with raising a 12-year old
son, who was very close to his father, and I had
to monitor the psychological impact on him. He
was a basketball son, and accustomed to seeing
his father at all of his games since he was five
years old. I had to move quickly to maintain his
life as a youngster, and I could not miss a
basketball game or school activity. My
overarching challenge naturally was­and continues
to be­to work to free my husband.

Q: Has Imam Jamil’s incarceration influenced the
career choices of your children? Do you think
they will go to law school?

A: We have two children: Kairi and Ali. Kairi is
22 and Ali is 31. Kairi is in law school. He is
in his second year, but wants to practice,
perhaps, entertainment/sport or international
contractual law. He graduated from high school
when he was 16, and went to three universities
before graduating, still on time. Kairi was in
the eighth grade when his father was arrested,
and during the trial he would come to court
carrying his backpack. He was a trooper.

Q: Have the children visited their father in
Florence, CO? Tell me about that visit.

A: Kairi and I visit Imam Jamil in Florence,
Colorado. He is being held in the Supermax
prison, 1400 miles away, which makes traveling
very costly. It essentially takes a full da to
travel there and another day to return home. It’s
really been a struggle, and we haven't been able
to visit as often as we'd like. Florence is seen
by many as a concentration camp for Muslim
inmates. Imam Jamil is handcuffed at the waist
behind a glass when we see him in one of the
legal rooms. On the days we are with him, we are
able to visit for approximately six hours. If he
receives food during the visit, he has to hold
his hands chained in front of him in order to
eat. It is a very difficult position, and his
wrists begin to swell.

The law firm now representing Imam Jamil pro bono
also worked on suits for Guantanamo prisoners.
One of their lead attorneys said that if he had
to choose between Gitmo and Florence, he would
choose Gitmo. Imam Jamil is held in solitary
confinement, and Florence is a “no contact”
institution, so the conditions are punitive
and deplorable.

Q: Imam Jamil’s projects to rid the West End
community of drugs are well known, as was his
mentoring of the youth. Have these projects
continued, and what is the extent of your
involvement with them?

A: I’m still involved with the community. It’s a
community I helped start with Imam Jamil and it
is dear to me. Many of our children now are
active in the community, and taking leadership
roles, and it’s wonderful to see and feel their
energy. We have continued with classes, youth
activities, and the Riyaadah that we started in 1982.

Our community under the leadership of my husband
always included the youth in our family-oriented
activities; therefore, mentoring the youth continues
to be a focus.

Q: Do you feel that things have gotten worse in
the city since Imam Jamil was locked up?

A: When he was around, there was some vibrancy in
the neighborhood. We all miss his presence and
his hard work to keep the ills from consuming our
community. We can all agree these are drastic
times for people, and this is reflected
throughout the inner cities. My husband always
reminded people that Islam is the medicine for
the sick; it is the cure for all society’s ailments.

Q: Unfortunately, the number of political
prisoners has increased exponentially since your
husband went to prison. What is your advice to
the current generation of Muslim law students, as
to how they should operate within the U.S.
justice system? What should be their contribution
to the Muslim community?

A: Imam Jamil was instrumental in getting a
Muslim lawyer’s group started. This was similar
to what SNCC [Student Non-Violent Coordinating
Committee –editor] had,where attorneys
represented civil rights workers on a pro bono
basis. We have to get more attorneys who would be
able to take on cases. Many Muslims who are
arrested now have not committed criminal
activities, but are arrested for “thought
crimes.” We need a band of attorneys to be able
to represent Muslims who are being entrapped by
informants. Family members of those arrested are
draining their resources and are receiving
minimal assistance from the Muslim community. We
need to recognize that the divide-and-conquer
strategy is working very well within the Muslim
community, with the result that dissent is
crushed and support for political prisoners is
diminishing. We need activist attorneys to
challenge constitutional violations and the
unjust arrests so that families will not have to
go to court with attorneys who are concerned
only with billable hours.

Q: What is the current state of Imam Jamil’s case?

A: Imam Jamil was convicted in 2002 on Georgia
state charges. He immediately was transferred to
the maximum state prison in Reidsville, Georgia,
where he was held in administrative lockdown.
Despite his physical isolation, his presence in
the prison for other inmates had an electrical
charge. While visiting him, we would see other
inmates, passing by on their visits, raising
their fists or giving salaams, and­their visitors
would do the same.

In 2006, the FBI released a report called “The
Radicalization of Muslim Inmates in the Georgia
Prison System.” The report focused on the effort
by Muslim inmates in the Georgia prison system to
have Imam Jamil serve as imam over all Muslim
Georgia inmates. Georgia officials realized that
Imam Jamil did not initiate the effort, and
although he agreed to stop the effort, the FBI
launched its own investigation. We believe the
report by the FBI was the final step in getting
him moved out of Georgia, to the federal supermax
prison where so many high profile Muslims are being

The Georgia conviction is still being challenged
through a habeas corpus action to prove my
husband’s innocence. [A writ of habeas corpus is
a request for a reversal of a conviction. Imam
Jamil’s habeas lists fourteen very compelling
reasons why his conviction should be
reversed.–editor]. That was filed in 2005. We are
at the end of that state process, and attempting
to move forward, and hopefully will have a ruling
next year.

Q: So even though Imam Jamil was not convicted on
any federal charges, he was moved from state to
federal custody?

A: Yes, Imam Jamil was moved out of Reidsville
without notification to his family or attorneys.
The move was based on an agreement between the
State of Georgia and the Federal Bureau of
Prisons to take on state prisoners. Georgia pays
the Federal Bureau of Prisons every month to
house him. They whisked him away in a hot van,
and had him sit
for hours in 90-degree temperature until he
developed chest pains, and had to be taken to an
Atlanta hospital. We knew nothing about this.
They kept him overnight, and then returned him to
the airport for a flight to the Oklahoma City
Federal Penitentiary. From there, he was taken to
Florence, CO. The move alone violates the Bureau
of Prisons’ rule that an inmate must be housed
within 500 miles of his home.

Q: Tell me about some of the lawsuits initiated
by Imam Jamil.

A: Imam Jamil filed numerous grievances while in
Reidsville and Florence, Colorado, that
ultimately ended in his filing a lawsuit:

Legal Mail Lawsuit

This lawsuit was filed because the Reidsville
prison staff continued to open legal mail from me
to my husband. The Department of Corrections in
Atlanta was notified that opening his legal mail
in his absence was a violation of the
department’s standard operating procedure, and a
First Amendment violation. The Southern District
Court, in which the lawsuit was filed, ruled in
his favor, and Georgia appealed. The case then
went to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for
argument. At that point, the 11th Circuit
appointed a prominent Atlanta-based attorney and
his firm to represent my husband on a pro bono
basis. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled
that the action of the staff in opening legal
mail from me to my husband was a First Amendment
violation. Georgia appealed to the U.S. Supreme
Court; that Court refused to hear Georgia’s appeal.

Retaliation Lawsuit

From the day he entered the Reidsville Georgia
prison, he was held in administrative 23- hour
lockdown. He’s never done a juma’a since he was
incarcerated­from 2002 until now. So, we do have
fundamental constitutional issues. We will
continue to challenge the inhumane and punitive
actions of the Georgia Prison system to prevent
Imam Jamil’s contact with other prisoners and the
right to practice his religion during his
incarceration. Additionally, we will challenge
the retaliatory transfer from Georgia to a
supermax “no contact” prison without his having a
federal charge, conviction or sentence. We are
very concerned about the impact solitary
confinement has on the physical and mental
condition of an inmate. [So, specific factors
being challenged in the retaliation lawsuit
include the imam’s 23-hour per day lockdown in
Reidsville, the violation of his religion rights
within the Georgia prison system, and the
gratuitous transfer to the Florence Supermax. –editor]

Challenge to the Prison Litigation Reform Act

The State has refused to settle our legal mail
case; therefore, we are preparing for trial. In
doing so, we first are challenging the Prison
Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Our position is
that a constitutional violation is sufficient to
win punitive damages, just as a physical injury
entitles one to punitive damages. Courts are
divided on this issue. [The PLRA, as it stands,
prevents Imam Jamil­and others in his
position­from receiving punitive damages for
violations such as the opening of his legal mail
in his absence, on the grounds that the damage
inflicted was not physical. –editor]. Our case
will give the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals an
opportunity to rule on this issue.

Q: What is the situation with Otis Jackson, the
self-confessed shooter in the crime for which
Imam Jamil was convicted?

A: Our attorneys have deposed Otis Jackson. His
testimony, that he committed the actions for
which Imam Jamil was convicted, has been
consistent. So, we’ve made some headway, but it’s
taken a long time. One of the reasons the State
said Otis couldn’t have done it, is that he was
wearing an electronic monitor. We talked to the
maker of the monitor and learned that it is
possible to beat the monitor. And in fact, he had
a faulty electronic monitor.

Part of the habeas has been that Otis was not
investigated. The prosecutor told our attorneys
“Oh, he’s crazy, like the other ones,” and the
attorneys froze and did nothing to investigate
the confession or the monitoring device.

Q: Any final words for New Trend readers?

A: Imam Jamil was previously incarcerated [under
the COINTELPRO era prosecutions of Black, Native
American, and other leaders and activists
–editor] for five years. He got out in 1976.
Right after the 2002 conviction, the prosecuting
attorney for the State said, “After 24 years, we
finally got him.” This confirmed Imam Jamil’s
position that it was a government conspiracy. Our
immediate short-term goal is to have the Imam
transferred back to Georgia, or to a federal
prison within a 500-mile radius of his home. Our
ultimate goal, naturally, is to exonerate Imam
Jamil. We thank you for supporting Imam Jamil and
our efforts to exonerate him.

Donations for Imam Jamil’s defense may be sent to:

The Justice Fund
P.O. Box 115363
Atlanta, GA 30310

Write to Imam Jamil Al-Amin:
Reg. No. 99974-555
USP Florence ADMAX
P.O. Box 8500
Florence, CO 81226

For more information, contact:
thejusticefund [at] aol [dot] com

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