March 13, 2002--A former Atlanta mayor, a former Black Panther and the father of an Atlanta Hawks basketball player appeared in court Tuesday to ask jurors to show mercy on convicted murderer Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.
"Sometimes you have to temper justice with mercy," civil rights activist and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young said when asked why he agreed to take the witness stand on his 70th birthday to testify for the Muslim cleric once known as black militant H. Rap Brown.
The jury that convicted Al-Amin of murdering Fulton County sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen and wounding his partner, Deputy Aldranon English, must decide whether Al-Amin should be put to death or imprisoned for all or much of his life.
The defense rested its case Tuesday in the punishment phase of the trial. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to argue to the jury today whether Al-Amin should live or die.
Witnesses called by the defense described Al-Amin as a peaceful man who was a community and religious leader. Witnesses recalled a man who worked to register voters in Alabama, helped clean prostitution and drugs from the West End neighborhood of Atlanta and spoke impressively during a short stint as a member of the radical Black Panther Party.
Young, who called Al-Amin a "peaceful man," said he first knew of H. Rap Brown in the 1960s, before he converted to Islam in prison and changed his name. Young said he came to know Al-Amin better in the 1980s, when Young's daughter lived in the West End area of Atlanta, near Al-Amin's store and mosque.
Young said that when his daughter moved into West End, he gave his business card to a neighbor and asked her to keep an eye on his daughter. The woman wouldn't take the card. "She said, 'Mr. Mayor, there hasn't been any crime in this neighborhood since the Muslims moved in,' " Young said.
When asked whether he had any words to comfort the Kinchen or the Al-Amin family, Young replied: "I think at this time it is very hard for anyone to be comforted, but life must go on," Young said. "We must devote ourselves to giving life. Don't let violence or hatred take any more from us than it already has."
Reached at home later, Young said he agreed to testify after he was asked to come to court by Al-Amin's brother, Ed Brown. Young said he had no opinion on the case and his words were for the Kinchen family as well as Al-Amin's family. Young said in his experience the death penalty would not help either family. During an emotional moment, Ed Brown told the jury that his "dear younger brother" still has something to give to society even if his contribution comes in prison. Brown also addressed the Kinchen family.
"I am not insensitive to your grief and the loss you have suffered," said Brown. "And [Al-Amin] is not insensitive or immune to the loss you have suffered."
Kathleen Cleaver, a law professor at Emory University and a former Black Panther, said she remembered H. Rap Brown as an upbeat, humorous and clever person. Cleaver, ex-wife of the late former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, said H. Rap Brown was given an honorary role in the group after he gave a speech in Oakland, Calif., in 1968.
H. Rap Brown left the Panthers after only four months because of government interventions, Cleaver said. "The FBI and other agencies wanted to eliminate the coalitions," Cleaver said.
William Abdur-Rahim, father of Atlanta Hawks All-Star basketball player Shareef Abdur-Rahim, said he has known Al-Amin for 18 years and has witnessed the cleric's good deeds. "He was very instrumental in organizing the West End," said William Abdur-Rahim. "He helped to push drugs out. He helped to push prostitution out."
William Abdur-Rahim, who leads a council of Muslim mosques in Atlanta, said Al-Amin took a special interest in children, including Abdur-Rahim's son. When Shareef Abdur-Rahim was 12 or 13 years old, his father said, "My son would go meet [Al-Amin] in the park. They would talk, they would play." Prosecutors asked the witnesses who testified on Al-Amin's behalf to reconcile his good deeds with the murder.