Black activist is sought in fatal shooting of officer

Incident latest drama for man known in '60s as H. Rap Brown

March 18, 2000|By Marego Athans and Ann LoLordo | Marego Athans and Ann LoLordo,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The black activist once known as H. Rap Brown, who was charged with inciting a riot on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1967 and later became a respected Muslim leader in Georgia, was being sought by Atlanta police yesterday in the fatal shooting of one law officer and wounding of another.

Police believe Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, as Brown is now known, was also wounded in the shootout Thursday night, which broke out as sheriff's deputies tried to arrest him for failing to show up in court on a theft charge.

Al-Amin, 56, who disappeared after the shooting, leaving a trail of blood, was charged with two counts of aggravated battery on a police officer. One of those charges was changed to murder because of the death yesterday afternoon of sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen, 35.

It was the latest episode in a dramatic life that has included work in civil rights, a role as a 1960s black militant, a stint in federal prison and, most recently, a position as spiritual leader in one of the largest communities of traditional Muslims in the United States.

In Maryland, the name H. Rap Brown evokes memories of the summer of 1967. Standing atop a car hood in Cambridge one July night, Brown, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, exhorted a group of blacks in a vacant lot to join the struggle -- in a violent way. "It's time for Cambridge to explode," he shouted to the crowd of 350.

Hours later, the elementary school was engulfed in flames. The fire spread to the black business area. The National Guard was called in when white firefighters refused to battle the blaze.

"It was a terrible thing to stand there and you couldn't do anything," said Dwight Cromwell, 51,

the first African-American news person at WCEM in Cambridge. Cromwell was a militant 18-year-old who had been in jail for picketing the Dorchester County school board when Rap climbed up on the hood of the car.

"I can still see those big embers floating across to another building where they smoldered and burst into flame. Those buildings were leveled."

In Atlanta yesterday, colleagues and community members couldn't believe that Al-Amin would have participated in the shooting and risk his longstanding efforts to rid the neighborhood of prostitution and drugs.

The timing is especially odd, coming amid the Muslim high holy days, said Wali Akbar Muhammad, an acquaintance of Al-Amin and author of a history of Muslims in Georgia. He noted that Al-Amin

had recently helped organize a trip that sent about 5,000 local Muslims to Mecca.

Al-Amin is a community-minded neighbor, Muhammad said, holding court and quoting from the Koran in his grocery store at the edge of a park in Atlanta's West End. A sign over the door reads: "In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, the Community Store."

Al-Amin plays basketball with neighborhood guys and speaks at schools about parent accountability, PTA involvement and a moral way of life, Muhammad said.

A couple of years ago, Al-Amin put together a conference for rappers and hip-hop artists to encourage them to clean up their lifestyles, their language and their music. The shooting, Muhammad said, would have been "absolutely out of character."

In his younger days, too, Al-Amin was "a man of high principles" whose intellect and analytical ability were reminiscent of Malcolm X, said Howard Moore Jr., among the handful of lawyers who in the turbulent 1960s represented civil rights leaders, student protesters and other black activists, including Angela Davis and Julian Bond.

"He committed his life to the movement and was prepared to give his life to the movement," said Moore, now a lawyer in Oakland, Calif. "Anything H. Rap Brown or Brother Jamil commits himself to is 100 percent."

Al-Amin grew up in a segregated black community in Baton Rouge, La. At age 12, he was profoundly affected by the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy who was killed in Sumner, Miss., in 1955 for allegedly hugging and whistling at a white woman, he told The Sun in 1995.

In his early 20s, when he was known as Brown, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, became justice minister of the Black Panthers and once exhorted blacks to arm themselves. "Violence," he said, "is as American as cherry pie."

It was in Cambridge in July 1967, when he was chairman of SNCC, that he told the crowd in a vacant lot, "It's time for Cambridge to explode, baby. Black folks built America, and if America don't come around, we're going to burn America down."

Bill Jews, president and CEO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, was a 15-year-old Cambridge student at the time of the riots. "I remember it being a very tense situation, out of control," Jews said. He recalls trying to dash through a neighborhood driveway during the disturbances and being ordered to "halt" by a bayonet-wielding National Guardsman. "I had never seen fire at that level."

During the confrontation, shots were fired. Brown was wounded in the forehead by a shotgun pellet,

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