Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown, was a black liberation leader serving as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and late the Justice Minister of the Black Panther Party. He went on to convert to Islam, became an Imam and helped found a mosque in Atlanta.
Imam Jamil was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the late 1960s, he was known as H. Rap Brown. After Islam, he adopted the name Jamil Al-Amin.
In 1960, he enrolled at Southern University in Georgia and majored in sociology. "I lived near Louisiana State University, and I could see this big fine school with modern buildings and it was for whites. Then there was Southern University, which was about to fall in and that was for the niggers." Although a good student, he left school in 1964 before finishing his undergraduate degree.
Influenced by many writers committed to the struggle of African-Americans for freedom, 19-year-old H. Rap Brown found the environment around Howard University in Washington, D.C. inspiring and motivating when he visited his brother who was studying there. He moved to Washington, D.C. and became got involved in activism for social justice.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
In 1966, Brown became a field organizer for the SNCC in Greene County, Alabama. This was one of the first examples of his involvement in the civil rights movement, which characterized American politics in the 1960s.
By 1967, at the age of 23, Brown was elected the chairman of the SNCC after Stokely Carmichael, one of its founding members, was ousted. During Carmichael's chairmanship, the SNCC moved from a philosophy of nonviolence to that of "Black Power," by encouraging African-Americans to move to other forms of political and cultural empowerment. Newsweek magazine described the new chairman as:
"... a disenchanted ex-poverty worker who affects sunglasses indoors and out, a droopy mustache, a bushy "natural" coif and a curdled view of the white world…He preaches armed eye-for-an-eye self-defense for Negroes and packs a 12-gauge "cracker gun" in his own dusty Plymouth."
A national figure, H. Rap Brown was in great demand as speaker. In July 1967, he addressed a civil rights rally in Cambridge, Maryland. Brown urged about 400 people to fight fire with fire. "Black folks built America, and if America don't come around, we're going to burn America down," he is quoted as saying. As he was escorting a lady to her home, some persons fired at him from the bushes. He was injured by a shotgun pellet to his forehead. Subsequently, rioting broke out. Brown was accused of inciting the riot, and with the charge pending, he was arrested. A federal judge gave him the maximum sentence of five years in 1968.
At a rally in Oakland on Feb. 17, 1968, he and Stokely Carmichael were made honorary officers of the Black Panther Party in a merger of the two groups. Brown was named minister of justice for the Black Panther Party. Founded in October, 1966, in Oakland, California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, the BPP posed a threat to the predominantly white power structure of the time and an undeclared war was being waged against the Panthers.
While the sentence for a 1968 arms conviction was on appeal, and as the state of Maryland was preparing to try him for the Cambridge riot, Brown went into hiding in 1970. The FBI added him to its "Most Wanted" list. Brown eluded the FBI for a year and a half, reappearing after 17 months on October 16, 1971. With three supporters who had joined him, he led an attack on a New York City bar, targeted for its exploitation of the community. A shootout with police ensued and Brown was wounded and captured.
While Brown was in jail, waiting for his trial, he converted to Islam. A fellow prisoner suggested he name himself "the trustworthy" or "Al-Amin" in Arabic. He adopts the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. He was sentenced to five-to-fifteen years in Attica State Prison. After three years in various state prisons, Imam Jamil won parole in 1976. His total jail and prison time was five years, including two years in jail prior to sentencing.
From 1992 to 1997, the FBI and Atlanta police investigated Imam Jamil in connection with everything from domestic terrorism to gunrunning to 14 homicides in Atlanta's West End, according to police investigators' reports, FBI documents and interviews. The FBI investigation ended in February 1996. The Atlanta police investigation ended in August 1997 without charging him of any crime. In his only public comment on his arrest, Al-Amin called it a "government conspiracy" Atlanta Journal-Constitution (April 1/00). In August of 1995, Imam Jamil was arrested in connection with a shooting the previous month of a young man in the neighborhood. He was charged with aggravated assault after the man claimed Imam Jamil shot him. Later, however, this man withdrew this statement, saying he was pressured by authorities to identify Imam Jamil as the assailant.
On March 16th, 2000, Fulton County Deputy Sheriff Ricky Kinchen is shot and later dies, while another deputy Aldranon English is wounded after being shot by a man outside Imam Jamil's store. They were trying to deliver an arrest warrant to Imam Jamil for failure to appear in court in January 2000 on charges of theft by receiving stolen property and impersonating an officer. Those charges date back to incident in May 1999. English identified the shooter in the March 16 incident as Imam Jamil, yet testified that he shot the assailant—who “had grey eyes”—in the exchange of gunfire. Imam Al-Amin’s eyes are brown, and he had no gunshot injury when he was captured just four days later.
Imam Jamil is arrested in Lowndes County, Alabama, following a four-day U.S.-wide manhunt. A grand jury in Atlanta indicts Imam Jamil for murder in connection with the shooting death of deputy Kinchen the previous month. He is indicted on one count of murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and six other lesser charges. The State of Georgia announced that it planned to pursue a death penalty conviction of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.
In June 2000, Otis Jackson, 26, confessed to killing the police officer, but later recants. Imam Jamil's defense team is not informed about it. Despite this fact, Al-Amin was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison plus 35 years with no possibility of parole. Imam Al-Amin has been subjected to segregation including eight years in solitary confinement at the infamous federal “Super Max” prison in Colorado.
In 2019, an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit maintained that the State of Georgia violated Imam Al-Amin’s constitutional rights, including for example, “placing a gag order on him prohibiting him from speaking about his case, not allowing him to testify in his own defense and then holding that against him, and withholding evidence favorable to him: a signed confession to the shooting by another person,” IJAN said in a statement. However, despite admitting that the prosecutor at his trial violated his constitutional rights and the court failed to take adequate steps to fix that violation, his appeal was denied.
Despite medical challenges—symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome and smoldering myeloma (a form of blood cancer)—Imam Jamil's supporters have beaten back attempts to “execute him by medical neglect. Imam Al-Amin’s health has improved,” the network says, “and his spirit remains strong, and they have pressured prison authorities to ‘monitor’ his situation more carefully.” In late 2019, it became known that he is suffering from cataracts and being denied medical treatment.