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Free Mutulu Shakur: Calls Grow for Compassionate Release for Dying Black Liberation Activist

StoryAugust 16, 2022
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Dozens of civil rights groups have joined an urgent push for the compassionate release of longtime political prisoner Mutulu Shakur from prison. The 72-year-old Black liberation activist is said by prison doctors to have less than six months to live, after being diagnosed with stage 3 bone marrow cancer. Shakur was part of the Black nationalist group Republic of New Afrika that worked with the Black Panther Party and others, and is the stepfather of the late rapper icon Tupac Shakur. He was convicted in 1988 of conspiracy in several armed robberies, one of which resulted in the deaths of a guard and two police officers, and also for aiding the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur. We speak with Nkechi Taifa, a lawyer and longtime supporter of Shakur, as well as Brad Thomson, attorney with the People’s Law Office, which has filed urgent lawsuits to secure Shakur’s release. “He is in a desperate medical situation,” says Thomson, who calls any claims that Shakur would reoffend if released “patently false and absolutely outrageous.” “It is time for him to live out his remaining days in the comfort of his family and friends,” says Taifa.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Dozens of civil rights groups have joined an urgent push for the compassionate release of longtime political prisoner Mutulu Shakur from prison. The 72-year-old Black liberation activist has been jailed for over 35 years, now suffering from bone cancer, reportedly near death.

Mutulu Shakur this is stepfather of rapper Tupac Shakur. He was part of the Black nationalist group Republic of New Afrika that worked with the Black Panther Party and others. He was convicted in 1988 of conspiracy and several armed robberies, one of which resulted in the deaths of a guard and two police officers, and also for aiding the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba, where she now lives. All of Mutulu Shakur’s co-defendants have been released or have died. He has reportedly expressed remorse for the lives lost and taken responsibility for his crimes. He has stage 3 bone marrow cancer and has been eligible for mandatory parole since 2016.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Nkechi Taifa is a lawyer and CEO of the Taifa Group, longtime friend and supporter of Mutulu Shakur. Brad Thomson is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He has just filed two new requests for the compassionate release of Mutulu Shakur to the original judge in the case, who’s now over 90 years old, semi-retired. He has also filed with the U.S. Parole Commission.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Brad Thomson, let’s begin with you. Where is Mutulu Shakur right now? What is his physical state? And what are you calling for?

BRAD THOMSON: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me.

Right now Dr. Shakur is at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s a federal prison. And he is in a desperate medical situation. He’s been battling multiple myeloma, bone marrow cancer, since 2019. And it’s an incurable cancer that he received treatment for, but the treatment has stopped working. And in May of this year, he was given a prognosis of six months or less to live. So that means, at this point, it’s less than three months that he has left to live. He is fighting to survive. And he wants everyone to know that he’s fighting to survive, and he appreciates all the support he’s getting around the world. But the situation is extremely dire.

So, as you mentioned, we’ve filed two separate pieces of litigation to try to seek his release. One is a motion for compassionate release in the Southern District of New York, which goes before the sentencing judge, who, as you mentioned, is still sitting on the bench as — in senior status, semi-retired. The second piece that we filed is, just last week we filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Eastern District of Kentucky — that’s a federal court in Kentucky — challenging the Parole Commission’s most recent denial of parole, of mandatory parole, to Dr. Shakur. We just filed that last week, alleging that that denial is so egregious that it’s a violation of Dr. Shakur’s constitutional rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain. He’s been eligible for parole since 2016?

BRAD THOMSON: Yes, that’s correct. So, Dr. Shakur is in a limited class of federal prisoners that are eligible for parole. And the law he was sentenced under establishes that at 30 years there’s what’s called mandatory parole, which is a strong presumption of release. Now, in 2016, the Parole Commission, the U.S. Parole Commission, denied him mandatory parole on problematic justifications that were challenged by attorneys in court. And a federal judge found that his due process rights were violated by that denial, and ordered a new hearing.

Just earlier this year, a new mandatory parole hearing was held for Dr. Shakur, and the Parole Commission again denied mandatory parole, erroneously finding that he was likely to commit another crime. Now, that’s a dubious assertion under any circumstances, based on Dr. Shakur’s phenomenal prison record and his ongoing advocacy for reconciliation and nonviolence. But it’s even more absurd and outrageous given his current medical situation. He’s struggling to even sit up in bed, and the Parole Commission maintaining that he’s likely to commit another crime in his current condition is patently false and absolutely outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did Judge Haight say? Again, the sentencing judge, who’s 91 years old now, who you have gone before before, and he said he isn’t near death enough, but you can come back when he is?

BRAD THOMSON: Correct. So, we filed for compassionate release in 2020. That was early in Dr. Shakur’s diagnosis of multiple myeloma, and that was also early in the stages of the COVID pandemic. At that point, Dr. Shakur was 69 and then 70 and receiving cancer treatment, so he was at high risk of COVID. The sentencing judge at that time denied our request, ruling that his death was not imminent, and it was not inevitable that he would catch COVID. Since that denial, he has tested positive for COVID three separate times, and he is now absolutely imminently facing death. And so we’re going back to that judge and requesting that his sentence be reduced and he be immediately granted release, as the law provides.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip of Mutulu Shakur from the film Dope Is Death, about his activism using acupuncture to treat drug addiction in the Bronx in the ’70s and ’80s.

MULUTU SHAKUR: My name is Mutulu Shakur. Well, I think it’s important to realize that the pioneers are always the ones targeted as the fools and the heysayers and all the rest.

WALTER BOSQUE Mutulu was our leader. He was one of the most vocal activists in the community at the time. If it wasn’t for Mutulu, maybe we would have never had the acupuncture program.

MARIO WEXU: He helped to heal people. He liked healing people. He was good at it. There’s no doubt about that. But I think he used it also as a political tool.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mutulu Shakur in Dope Is Death. Nkechi Taifa is a longtime friend and supporter of Dr. Mutulu Shakur, was one of his original lawyers. You’ve known him for so long. If you can say more about him and what you are calling for, Nkechi?

NKECHI TAIFA: Well, I would just say that I was honored to work with social justice movements that Mutulu Shakur was involved with during the '70s. I've always known him to be an astute human rights activist, both domestically as well as internationally. In 1987, recently out of law school, I worked with his attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, in helping to fashion novel legal briefs calling for the dismissal of the indictment.

Since that time, there have just been an outpouring, a groundswell of support for his release. He’s not only a phenomenal healing — in terms of healing modality, in terms of treating addiction with acupuncture. He’s also, like I said, a human rights activist. There are organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, Color of Change, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, Center for Constitutional Rights and the like who have called upon, appealed to the Department of Justice, the U.S. Parole Commission, the judge in the case, the — Biden to release him pursuant to his clemency powers, to let him go. He has served enough time. It is time for him to be able to live out these remaining days in the comfort of his family and friends.

All of his white defendants, co-defendants, or people who were charged in similar conspiracies, some of whom I’ve represented — every single last one of them have been released from prison. Only Mutulu remains behind bars. There’s racism throughout the inside and outside, and even in the movement, as the government targets people. Mutulu is still being targeted.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Nkechi Taifa, I want to thank you for being with us, longtime friend, former lawyer and supporter of Mutulu Shakur, and Brad Thomson, the current lawyer for Mutulu Shakur, who lies near death in prison in Kentucky. Brad Thomson is with the People’s Law Office in Chicago.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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