More Black Panther pain

Did H. Rap Brown's radical past finally catch up with him?


Earl Ofari Hutchinson
March 25, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

After a shootout last week with two
Atlanta sheriff's deputies, Jamil
Abdullah Al-Amin, better known by his
1960s radical trademark name, H. Rap
Brown, was captured Tuesday in
Alabama. The shootout left one officer
dead and one seriously wounded. Al-Amin's
first and only public words upon being
captured were that he is the victim of a
"government conspiracy."

Al-Amin's supporters instantly joined in
the chorus and screamed that he was
targeted because he was a black man
fighting the system. They angrily note
that his clean-guy image as Muslim
spiritual leader didn't matter to
Atlanta police and government agents.
Nor did his community do-goodism in
fighting against drugs and prostitution.
Al-Amin supporters say that from the time
he landed in the city in 1976,
authorities did everything they could to
shove him back in a prison cell.

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That some police and even government
officials may still be angry at
Al-Amin for his violent past and his
present community-organizing efforts
would not surprise me. As minister of
justice of the Black Panther Party in
the 1960s, Al-Amin repeatedly called on
blacks to kill the police and to burn
down America's cities.

I remember the evening in 1968 when I
and a small knot of black journalists
stood near the podium at the Los Angeles
Sports Arena at a Black Panther
fund-raiser. Al-Amin sat in the middle of
the stage garbed in a shiny, black-leather jacket, a black beret cocked at
an angle on his head. He was flanked by
a small army of black-leather jacketed
bodyguards and assorted hangers-on.

His speech to the crowd was defiant,
brash, laced with profanities, exhorting
blacks to kill and die for the
revolution. As I soaked in his
performance with a mixture of awe and
fascination, I wondered whether he
really believed this fantasy vision of
violent revolution that he was selling
the crowd.

The warning flares soared higher the
more I heard him speak during the next
few months. Al-Amin, at times, seemed to
take special delight in picking words
that had maximum shock value on crowds.
Even the title of his book, "Die Nigger
Die," was calculated for hyper shock
effect. It was long on attacks on those
moderate black leaders Al-Amin branded
"Negro sellouts" and "Uncle Toms." Yet
it was totally devoid of any strategy or
program for black political and economic
empowerment.

Al-Amin's militant posturing
and bold threats to destroy the "white
establishment," "the white man," "white
devil" or "white oppressor" made FBI
Director J. Edgar Hoover even more
determined to get rid of the Panthers
and Al-Amin.

With the tacit support of President
Nixon and then-Attorney General John
Mitchell, Hoover launched a full-blown,
patently illegal blitz against the
Panthers. Their campaign included
hundreds of informants, police agents
and provocateurs, poison-pen letters,
mail covers, wire taps, murderous
threats and carefully orchestrated
police raids.

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By the mid-1970s the Panthers were
finished. Most had become sorry
casualties of police bullets or their
own bullets. Or else they had
degenerated into dope dealing, hustling
and extortion, or drifted away,
afflicted with terminal disillusionment
with the failed promises of the black
movement. Some managed to swap their
black jackets and berets for Brooks
Brothers suits and slide neatly into
posts at universities and corporations
and in elected offices.

The free clinics, free breakfast
program, legal aid and voter
registration devised by early Panther
organizers were gone. So were the
business development programs and
community organizing campaigns to combat
police abuse. Programs that had given so
much hope to so many were badly faded
memories.

But these bygone Panther activities
weren't faded memories for Al-Amin. He
remained the consummate 1960s true
believer in community activism.

He also remained trapped by his
tough-guy image. He seemed destined to
be a casualty of his own fantasy vision
of violent revolution, 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
shootout with New York police. This
landed him in prison for five years.

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Al-Amin reversed his downhill slide in
1976 when he embraced Islam,
rechristened himself with a Muslim name,
did his mea culpas for his past and made
his peace with America. He took his new
role as spiritual leader seriously. Yet
his 1995 arrest for assault and possession of
illegal weapons, though the charges were
dropped, sent up another warning flare
that many believed he was still prone to
act out the violent rhetoric of the
1960s that had caused him and so many
other blacks such terrible grief and
pain.

While it's silly to reflexively join the
lynch Al-Amin parade, it's just as silly
to declare that Al-Amin is the victim of a
government conspiracy before all the
facts are known.

Still, the truth and the irony are that
despite the years Al-Amin spent railing
against the white racist cops, the
victims of the Atlanta violence weren't
white racist cops -- they were young
black officers. If Al-Amin indeed was the
triggerman, it will be yet another
pathetic example of how men like Al-Amin
sometimes make victims of the same
people they once claimed they would kill
and die for.

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Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a contributor to Pacific News Service and the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black."

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