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Trial of Al-Amin may test community

by Ernie Suggs, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9 Sep 2001


A trial that has the potential to be both fiery and divisive for the Atlanta area opens next week in Fulton County when jury selection begins in the murder case of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, one of the nation's most controversial black activists.

The trial has attracted the attention of Court TV, filmmakers and publishers intrigued by the life of a man who transformed his image from a fiery activist to a peaceful Muslim cleric in West End, a neighborhood in southwest Atlanta.

The case features a symbol of black radicalism accused of shooting two black law officers in a city run mainly by black leaders. Courthouse security will be tight, and jurors' identities will be kept secret from the public.

If convicted of murder, the 57-year-old Al-Amin could face the death penalty.

"What makes this a compelling case are the principals involved," said Fredericka Brookfield, a spokeswoman for Court TV, which is considering airing the trial from gavel to gavel. "H. Rap Brown, a well-known black militant of the '60s and reported member of the Black Panther Party, and a police officer. There is an element of racial minority vs. the establishment in this trial, which makes it interesting and compelling."

While the victims' families seek justice, Al-Amin's supporters fear he is a victim, too --- of a government conspiracy to get him.

Because of Al-Amin's outlaw past, his murder trial will put Atlanta in a spotlight. He first gained notoriety for his membership in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the militant Black Panther Party. He was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for inciting a riot in 1967 in Maryland, and he served three years in federal prison for shooting at cops during a 1973 armed robbery.

He moved to Atlanta after leaving prison and gained an international reputation among Islamic heads of state for his leadership and community activism.

Al-Amin's brother, Ed Brown, said the family is braced for the next chapter in what they consider ongoing government harassment.

"We anticipate the fact that it's going to be a battle," Brown said. "And we're ready to engage and join the issue."

Police say Al-Amin ambushed Fulton County sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen and his partner, Aldranon English, on March 16, 2000, when the two tried to serve him with a warrant for failure to appear in court on several charges. Kinchen, a father of two, was shot several times and died the next day. English was severely wounded but survived the attack and identified Al-Amin as the shooter.

Al-Amin's lawyers include top Atlanta criminal defense attorneys Jack Martin, Bruce Harvey and Tony Axam as well as New York attorney Michael Warren, a Muslim. The lead prosecutors will be Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Stevens and Robert McBurney.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Department declined to discuss what specific security measures will be taken at the courthouse in downtown Atlanta.

The courtroom is expected to be crowded when jury selection begins Wednesday. Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Clarence Huber expects as much clamor for this trial as police had at the courthouse for the Buckhead murder trial of NFL linebacker Ray Lewis.

"Even though we had the trial in one of our larger courtrooms, we still had to turn people away," Huber said. "We expect that during this trial right here that we're going to run into the same situation."

In addition to television interest, filmmakers as far away as Germany have clamored for the rights to Al-Amin's life story: student activist, black radical, devout Muslim, husband, father and, now, accused cop killer.

© 2001 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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