“There is a need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the U.S. to resolve the history of slavery, oppression, racism, segregation, lynching and the issue of political prisoners of the Civil Rights Black Liberation Struggle who fought against these gross human rights abuses. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was also a process set up in South Africa to redress the gross violations of human rights by the apartheid regime. It was a tool to assist a peaceful transition to a democratic society but public acknowledgement of the gross human rights abuses by the government and its agent…The idea of crimes against humanity comes under International Law and the Geneva Convention adopted by the world at the U.N. the liability of such violators lies on nations as well as individuals who fight against the violators of human rights.”—Mutulu Shakur
After 36 years of incarceration, political prisoner Mutulu Shakur was granted parole after having been denied on nine occasions. Invariably media accounts mention that he is the step-father of the late rapper and actor Tupac Shakur while saying little about his own history. Any of the elder Shakur’s accomplishments are given short shrift in favor of an emphasis on pop culture celebrity.
In 1986 Shakur was arrested for his role in the 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored car which resulted in the deaths of three people. He managed to avoid capture for five years but was tried and in 1988 convicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statute and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Shakur is being released so that he can die outside of prison walls. He was diagnosed with bone cancer and in June of 2022 was given a prognosis of six more months of life. He will be freed on December 16, 2022. The state is determined to keep him behind bars until he takes his last breath.
Of course the courts violated their own rules in keeping him incarcerated for so long. He was sentenced under what is called the “old rule,” that is to say before 1987. As such he has been eligible for parole since 2016 but he has always been denied. He was denied compassionate release despite his terminal cancer diagnosis. The judge who finally granted his parole is the same one who sentenced him in 1988 and denied him compassionate release in 2021. “Should it develop that Shakur’s condition deteriorates further, to the point of approaching death, he may apply again to the court, for a release that in those circumstances could be justified as ‘compassionate,’” wrote Judge Charles Haight Jr. in his decision.
While his stepson’s name is a household word, Mutulu Shakur is known to a much smaller group of people. He joined the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) while still a teenager and later the Republic of New Afrika and then the Black Liberation Army. He is sometimes known by the honorific Dr. as he is a licensed acupuncturist who pioneered holistic addiction treatment in the Lincoln Detox program in the Bronx with other members of the Black Liberation Army and the Young Lords. Now he is a 72-year-old man hoping to outlive his diagnosis and spend as much time as a free man as he possibly can.
Shakur’s real crime was to wage a militant fight for liberation. Bank robbery and even killings are condoned by the state as long as they are committed by people given the authority to be criminal. Since Shakur was sentenced there have been many bank robberies from the savings and loan crisis to the 2008 stock market crash and great recession. As for killing people, every president since that time, from Ronald Reagan to Joe Biden, has been responsible for deaths in Grenada and Panama and Iraq and Afghanistan and El Salvador and Nicaragua and Somalia and Haiti and Libya and Syria and Venezuela and Ukraine. They do so at the behest of the U.S. oligarchy and with full support of corporate media and a congress that abdicates its responsibility and gives permission for invasions, coups, proxy wars, and sanctions. None of these killers are asked to show remorse. They are in fact given high honor for their deeds.
Here in the U.S. no political leader has lifted a finger to stop the killings of 1,000 people every year by the police. The mass incarceration began immediately after the liberation movement was crushed and any effort to reform or minimize its harm is opposed with great ferocity. But not only are the perpetrators not jailed for these crimes, they are upheld as examples of honor and rectitude. None of them fear so much as a slap on the wrist.
Now Shakur and other political prisoners hope to see the free light of day again. The U.S. has more people behind bars than any country in the world and political prisoners held longer than those anywhere else in the world. They usually aren’t even called political prisoners. They are labeled as mere criminals and serve more time than any other group of incarcerated people. Shakur has spent less time in jail than Ruchell McGee , who is 83-years old and has been held for nearly 60 years. Sundiata Acoli and Jalil Muntaqim were like Shakur, freed in old age. Russell “Maroon” Shoatz was freed and died 52 days later.
Let us hope that Shakur outlives expectations and spends some time with his loved ones. He deserves nothing less. Perhaps he can live long enough to teach a new generation the true importance of the name Shakur.
Margaret Kimberley’s column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. Her work can also be found at patreon.com/margaretkimberley. Ms. Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.