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After 36 years behind bars as a political prisoner, Mutulu Shakur is on his deathbed. The movement elder, healer, and radical Black freedom fighter was diagnosed with stage 3 bone marrow cancer in June of this year. Despite qualifying for compassionate release and having been eligible for parole since 2016, prison and federal authorities have refused to grant Shakur his freedom. With time running out, activists gathered at the Department of Justice on the weekend of July 23 to demand Shakur’s release. In this episode of Rattling the Bars, Mansa Musa reports from the rally to free Mutulu Shakur.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Queens, Mutulu Shakur first became politically active in the 1960s as a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement and Republic of New Afrika. In 1970, Shakur helped found the People’s Drug Program at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx alongside the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords. As the husband of Afemi Shakur, Mutulu Shakur was the stepfather of Tupac Shakur. He was convicted in 1988 for his role in the prison escape of Assata Shakur, as well as for the 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored car in Nanuet, New York, which resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a security guard.

Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Mansa Musa:  Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars. I’m Mansa Musa, co-host with Eddie Conway. We’re here today in Washington, DC, in front of the Department of Justice, doing a demonstration in support of Mutulu Shakur. Mutulu Shakur is a political prisoner, been locked up over three decades for nothing other than being a good human being and a good man. Mutulu Shakur was found guilty, and then found guilty. He was sentenced under what they call the old law. And in the old law, everything that prison had during that time: parole, [inaudible] credits, was allowed to be given to him.

Topeka K. Sam:  You have a brother who has served 36 years in prison. Per the law, he was eligible for parole years ago, six years ago, right?

Mansa Musa:  Yeah.

Topeka K. Sam:  So if the law states that he is eligible for compassion after serving 30 years in prison, then why wouldn’t they give it to him? Yet, they denied him nine times. That’s unheard of in the federal system. This is an old law prisoner who deserves to come home who is deathly ill.

It is a great honor and privilege to be standing here before all of you to ask for the immediate compassionate release of Dr. Mutulu Shakur. Having my mentor Susan Rosenberg to tell me about who he was and who he is over the years since my release from federal prison allowed me to understand why it was important for us to advocate and make sure that I was standing here. For young people like me to make sure that we’re forcing everything and all the might that we have to make sure that Dr. Mutulu Shakur is released from federal prison today.

Mansa Musa:  Today, the actions that were taken on behalf of the Free Mutulu Shakur support committee, was they delivered a petition that was signed by over 200 faith leaders to be delivered to the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Parole Commission on behalf of Mutulu Shakur. The purpose of which is to get Mutulu Shakur compassionate release.

We recognize that this government has selective amnesia when it comes to compassion. For example, John Hinckley got compassion. Mutulu Shakur’s co-defendant has gotten compassion. Why do you think they’re so reluctant to give him compassion? Of all the great works he’s done.

Rev. Graylan Hagler:  Well, you probably hit it on the head. The great works lead to stature, and stature means that people see you. People admire you. You have an influence. You have an impact just by your presence. And that’s what he has, an impact just by his presence. And that makes the system fearful, particularly a system that wants to basically control the narrative, control the message, control the image. It makes that system very harsh. And evil, in terms of the way it treats somebody.

Taliba Obuya:  He has acknowledged his crimes, and he has shown compassion and asked for forgiveness for that. And so at this moment, due to his medical state, like we said, his weight was around 125. He is confined to a wheelchair, and he’s been moved to the medical ward of the federal prison institution.

Nkechi Taifa:  Which one? Which prison?

Taliba Obuya:  Oh, he’s currently located in Lexington, Kentucky. He’s important because when I did have the opportunity to meet him while he was incarcerated decades later, he was still committed to the betterment of Black people. And not just Black people, but those communities who are marginalized and forgotten about. And he did it so selflessly. Like, he didn’t just stop once incarcerated. He organized. He traded peaceful places where our people were. And I thought that that was just necessary. So why could I not be active on his behalf?

See, my background is I’m the daughter of veterans. Both parents. Family of veterans. I believe, every war fought in this country, I have had family in that war. And so to see that there were conditions in the country that we needed to address like drug abuse, housing issues, literacy, access to food. And this man who did not let his situation and circumstances stop that commitment made me say, hey, we must be active and do something about that.

Currently, on small factors, Baba Mutulu is 71 years old. In two weeks, he will be 72. His birthday is August 8. So age alone, he is eligible, as an aging elder, he’s eligible for a compassionate release. And then on top of that, you add his health conditions. He’s dealing with stage 3 bone marrow cancer. He did not go into remission. He received treatments, and it’s not there. He has gotten COVID three times. So during this pandemic there were even early releases of COVID releases, and he did not meet the [inaudible] of that.

Then on top of that, he is basically now given a six months timeline. And this was months ago. So although we’re stuck with that number of six months, we’re talking three months, maybe even six weeks. It’s very day to day. We have to do this now. And so I just believe in dignity. I believe in sitting in Washington, DC, the capital of this nation, that we are supposed to stand on these principles. He has served his time. He should be allowed to die with dignity. And that’s even sad to say, because he’s been incarcerated since I was three years old. Never knew which pathway I was on. He has family, he has grandkids.

And so I think, with his time served, with his eligibility for parole 10 times. In this moment he meets the declaration of compassionate release, and thus we should do it. It’s the human thing to do. It’s the dignified thing to do. Yeah, the DOJ has the power to do that.

Mansa Musa:  In light of everything we already established, that he meets the criteria for compassion, I would like for y’all to dial down on why they are so reluctant to acknowledge these accomplishments? Because parole has been denied, and he fits the criteria for parole, so he should have been released. What is the institution’s offering in opposition to why they don’t want to?

Nkechi Taifa:  They claim, they state that he is a danger to public safety, a danger to society, and that he has the capacity to influence many people. That is what their rationale is. They don’t speak to the fact that he’s a 71-year-old elder. They don’t speak to the fact that he has been incarcerated for 36 years. They don’t speak to the fact that, yes, he has influenced, very positively influenced, so, so, so many young Black men in prison to turn their lives around and to be about being productive. They don’t speak about those things.

So it is vindictiveness. I submit there’s racial disparity involved in it, as I spoke earlier. Because it’s not the nature, necessarily, of the crime. Because other people committed offenses that the United States considers as [inaudible] home, and have been let home under compassionate release to die peacefully with family and friends. So we That’s what the call to action must be. We need to really base our collective voices so that we are heard. So that we are heard in the halls of the Department of Justice. So that we are heard in the halls of Congress. So we are heard in the corridors of the White House. That is what is going to free Dr. Mutulu Shakur.

Mansa Musa:  He has letters from former wardens, he has letters from former judges, he has letters from the community, he has letters from, as I mentioned, 200 faith leaders, all saying that Mutulu Shakur is not only not a threat, but that he would be an asset upon return. Also, another thing that needs to be recognized about Mutulu Shakur’s case is that under the Bureau of Prisons guidelines, he scored real low, and we scored real low in terms of the points. That means you automatically be reduced to a lesser security and be positioned to be returned to society. So the only reason why Mutulu Shakur is being kept in prison is for no other reason than revenge, vindictiveness, and nothing more.

Here we are, having the Nkechi Taifa, the moderator of the Free Mutulu Shakur demonstration that we’re having today, that in a short time, we’ll be giving a letter to the Justice Department to try to free Mutulu Shakur. Taifa, you spoke about racial disparity and why Mutulu Shakur is not being given the benefit that the law says he should be given. Speaking on that.

Nkechi Taifa:  Oh, yes, well, actually, Dr. Mutulu Shakur’s co-defendant Marilyn Bach, a white woman, revolutionary, received the ability to be able to be released several months before she passed. She applied for this release. She was charged with many of the same charges that Mutulu Shakur was charged with. She was released to be able to go home to die. Why should Mutulu Shakur not be granted that same type of relief?

Mansa Musa:  His thinking has been so monumental in terms of changing individuals. Yet, you reflected on how they always talk about the crime. Talk about why his thinking is so dangerous to the point where they believe that he will be a threat to society.

Nkechi Taifa:  Well, what the government basically says is that Mutulu Shakur will be an influence to people on the outside. What they neglect to say is that he is an influence, a very positive influence. He has been a very positive influence to young people in prison, young Black men, to turn their lives around from a life of crime and criminal activity to productive people in society. To get them to open up a book and to read. The thing they are trying to take out of the schools, Dr. Mutulu Shakur wants that history, the true history of who we are and how we came to this country to be. He’s a healer. He’s been teaching and training people in the act of acupuncture. Acupuncture detoxification, which has been a tremendous help to the community.

Mansa Musa:  George Jackson talking about the running of our feet. You’re talking about the running of our feet. Speak on what you think we should be doing? What do you think we need to do when we leave here? Now give the Rattling the Bars viewers our marching orders.

Nkechi Taifa:  Well, we need to [inaudible] of our voices as well as our feet. We need to [inaudible] our voices so that they can be heard within the Department of Justice. So they can be heard within the halls of Congress. So they can be heard in the corridors of the White House. Each of those entities have the capacity to do what is necessary to free Mutulu Shakur through either parole, the granting of parole. Through either the granting of compassionate release. Through the granting of executive clemency, so he would be able to walk out as a free person.

None of those things have been allocated to Mutulu Shakur despite all of the great benefits that he’s given to society. Most folk don’t know. He’s a stepfather, a brother, Tupac Shakur. Many people don’t know that because of him, Asada Shakur is living free in Cuba. Many people don’t know that because of Mutulu Shakur and others like him, resources were able to be garnered to the liberation moments in Southern Africa. Many people don’t know these facts about Mutulu Shakur. That because of him, many people who could have died from addiction received a second chance at life through the therapies that Mutulu Shakur was able to provide and was able to teach others.

Dr. Winston Kokayi Patterson:  We organized an organization called BAD, Blacks Against Drugs, where we got all of the progressive Black drug programs around the country to come together and to continue to promote a revolutionary, progressive form of treatment. I received my first treatment from Mutulu Shakur in 1972, and then began to study acupuncture. Dr. Shakur started the Lincoln Detox program in 1970, which deems him the father of acupuncture in our Black community. And here today, we have thousands and thousands of individuals using acupuncture and a specific protocol to deal with substance abuse.

So Dr. Shakur is such a threat because of his ability to be able to communicate this. Because of his ability to be able to teach. Because of his ability to bring all people together from all walks of life, to understand the importance of being human and to begin to deal with the problem that we’re faced today, especially with fentanyl. So acupuncture is proven to deal with substance abuse. We go to China, the whole country was addicted to opium, and they use acupuncture. And here we run back here to the ’70s, and through the ’70s up until today, they’ve been using acupuncture in the hospitals.

The Veterans Administration has a protocol based on that same protocol that Mutulu started. They call it battleground acupuncture, where they deal with the post-traumatic stress syndrome that Black folk are dealing with. Post-traumatic slave syndrome that we’re dealing with, and all the stress and repressive kind of emotions that we have that this acupuncture can address.

Mansa Musa:  I think we need to demystify what the government is saying about this brother.

Dr. Winston Kokayi Patterson:  Yes, for sure.

Mansa Musa:  And we need to really humanize him, and make him the human being that we know him to be, but more important, you have actually experienced [inaudible].

Dr. Winston Kokayi Patterson:  Yes, and when he smiled, he would light up a room. When he came into a room, he would light that room up. And his energy, and his ability to be able to just mingle and talk and hang out with people. We danced all night long. So he can dance. But the major thing I remember is his being a dad, his being a husband.

Mansa Musa:  That’s right.

Dr. Winston Kokayi Patterson:  His being a brother to all of the people within his family. Him being a son, his mother who was blind, and me watching him do acupuncture on her and taking care of her. Me watching him taking care of children that wasn’t even his children, because that’s how we do in our community. Him giving his shirt to a guy right off the street. Here, brother, take this shirt. This is the kind of person that Mutulu was. He was so into making sure that Black people got as much as they could to do the best, to come out of the conditions that we were in.

So it didn’t matter whether it was a dollar bill, acupuncture, a sandwich, some clothes, or just a hug. And Mutulu had the best hugs.

Topeka K. Sam:  So often we hear, it’s always about the nature of the crime. The nature of the crime never changes. Being incarcerated is supposed to be about rehabilitation, right? Corrections. And if the system is saying that he couldn’t have been corrected in 30 years, then what are we also saying about the system?

Mansa Musa:  What do you think the church in particular should be doing in this space? Where do we go from here in terms of trying to get the churches to become more involved and doing the work that Jesus would be doing right about now?

Topeka K. Sam:  Well, I mean, we know the history of the church, or has been in the past, to be leaders in these moments of civil rights and human rights. And so nothing has changed. As a matter of fact, we need the church now more than ever before. So we need the churches to be social justice hubs. To bring people together. To be leaders in this moment to free our people. Because the word says we need to set the prisoners free. And so that’s just the bottom line.

Dr. Karanja Keita Carroll:  Good afternoon, everyone. I’m sharing these words on behalf of my father, Reverend Anthony Carroll, the First Pilgrim Baptist Church in Camden, Delaware. These are his words. He states, “I first came to know of Dr. Mutulu through my son. Though I was aware of the Black Panther Party and their actions in California while I was in service in the military, I was not so knowledgeable of what they did on the East Coast of the United States. Born and raised in Hackensack, New Jersey, the Black Panther Party was something that I only heard about on the news, but not something I had real interaction with.

“However, after learning more and more about the actions of the panthers outside of California, and those such as Mutulu Shakur, who was in New York, I learned of the many accomplishments and advances he and other Panthers were making in New York City, so close to my home.

“As I learned that Mutulu Shakur was an organizer, alternative health professional, and advocate for so many people, oppressed people, marginalized people. I wondered why this man has been incarcerated for over 30 years and is continuously denied parole. Furthermore, during his incarceration, Dr. Shakur has been a role model to those moving through various penal intuitions that he has been housed in.

“Again, I wondered why this man is locked up and not free. And still, as he suffers from type two diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, glaucoma, I still ask why this man is incarcerated. From all that I have learned from Dr. Mutulu Shakur, I see a man who is about justice, freedom, equality, and someone who is continuously fighting oppression whenever it is faced. And I’m reminded of Isaiah [1:17], which reads in part, ‘Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression.’ Dr. Shakur has consistently tried to do this, but the real question is why hasn’t been allowed to continue this work as a free man?”

Mansa Musa:  There you have it. The real news about Mutulu Shakur. We’ll continue to follow up on this, releasing Mutulu Shakur. Mutulu Shakur has had a positive impact on society at large and people in general. The only reason why Mutulu Shakur is not being released and not being granted the benefits of compassionate release is because of his thinking, and his thinking being that of a progressive individual. With Eddie Conway, I’m Mansa Musa. Thank you very much.

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Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa, also known as Charles Hopkins, is a 70-year-old social activist and former Black Panther. He was released from prison on December 5, 2019, after serving 48 years, nine months, 5 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes. He co-hosts the TRNN original show Rattling the Bars.