Al-Amin Calls Slaying Case A ‘Government Conspiracy’

By Peter Slevin, Washington Post, Wednesday 22 March 2000; A03

ATLANTA, March 21—Handcuffed, shackled and in the deepest trouble of his life, Islamic community leader Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin—the former 1960s black militant H. Rap Brown accused of killing a sheriff’s deputy in Atlanta last Thursday—left an Alabama courthouse under armed guard today and declared defiantly: It’s a government conspiracy, man.

Al-Amin, chased out of rural woods by Alabama prison hounds after five days on the run, denied that he murdered the deputy to avoid arrest on a 1999 theft warrant. His lawyer quoted him as saying he is an innocent man lucky to get out of Atlanta with his life.

Georgia authorities want to extradite the onetime firebrand who has quietly run a mosque and small grocery in Atlanta’s West End since the 1970s. A federal magistrate ordered him held pending resolution of the request.

A search of the woods near his capture today turned up a high-powered .223-caliber rifle that investigators believe is the weapon fired in last week’s shootout.

Bill Imfeld, chief of the FBI’s office in Mobile, said the rifle is being sent to the lab to make sure the ballistics match. We don’t know positively, 100 percent yet if it was the one that shot the Fulton County deputies, but we found the .223 not far from where he was captured.

Al-Amin, 56, was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was caught, allegedly after firing three shots from a shed at U.S. marshals who were searching for him in White Hall, Ala. He was an activist there in the 1960s and had worked in the area more recently, authorities said, carrying the badge of an auxiliary police officer and registering a Toyota Four Runner at 787 Freedom St.

Defense lawyer J.L. Chestnut, a veteran of civil rights battles, couched the case in racial terms in speaking with reporters after the Montgomery hearing. He said his client was targeted because he’s a black man who has been fighting the system all his life.

On a day when a large crowd mourned Fulton County sheriff’s deputy Ricky Kinchen, residents of Al-Amin’s neighborhood digested news of the arrest, second in drama only to last week’s word that he was the sole suspect in the shooting of Kinchen and his partner, Aldranon English, who survived.

They described themselves as divided between the two principal versions. Several said they remain suspicious of the police and question whether a man who seemed so outwardly peaceable could have opened fire—when both deputies were African American.

I’m a black man. Police are a threat to a black man. They don’t have any respect for your rights, said Ben Michael, 51, a worker in the neighborhood. I don’t really think he did it.

Frank Molden, 64, has watched Al-Amin at close range for years. He said the former Black Panther and chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee should have known enough to accept arrest and not defy a lawman carrying a warrant.

I thought he was a good guy. He treated me nice, Molden said. But you can’t tell what people got in their mind. Man do wrong, he’s got to pay for it.

At the corner of Oak Street and West End Place, Al-Amin’s grocery store lies shuttered beneath a faded sign that reads, In the name of Allah most generous most merciful. The Community Store. Inside, boxes are piled near the door. The Coca-Cola cooler is switched off. A large padlock secures the door.

Neighbors say Al-Amin walked from the store to the single-story green clapboard Community Mosque across the street, where Islamic calls to prayer carry across the neighborhood. He often held court at a picnic bench beneath a shade tree on the opposite corner.

William T. Allen remembers. A Vietnam veteran who said he endured a tough transition after leaving military service, Allen credits Al-Amin with his positive outlook on life.

I’d sit right on that little old bench with him. He would tell us things that kept us straight, said Allen, 58. Anything that was on my mind, I would ask him. I’m not Muslim, I’m Baptist, but he would tell me to go to church and give God time. He was like a father to me.

Allen agreed with others in the neighborhood who said Al-Amin did much to move drug dealers away from West End Park, a quarter-mile-square of rolling green grass, playgrounds and a covered basketball court.

A number of Muslims in the close-knit West End said they had been told not to discuss Al-Amin or their views of him. One man declined to comment as he left a dollar store, explaining, I’m just following orders. A woman clothed head to toe and carrying a pair of grocery bags had much to say about the imam, or holy leader, in return for anonymity. y Al-Amin is the most excellent imam. He’s an excellent teacher. He taught nothing but the pure religion. I didn’t see any radicalism or negativism or false teachings, she said, describing him as the most humble brother.

Residents recall Al-Amin telling young ballplayers not to swear in front of children or women. A 25-year-old woman who spent two years living a few doors away from Al-Amin’s store said he seemed strict to the point of being stern as he kept order in what was once drug-hammered West End Park.

He was like, you know, the head dude, said the woman, who asked to be identified only as Gloria. She said the killing scene described by the police does not fit the man who seemed to her to embody respect and decency.