This post was originally published on The Washington Informer

By Sam P.K. Collins

Throughout his 36-year incarceration, Black liberation elder Dr. Mutulu Shakur has garnered the respect of younger inmates and prison officials alike as he completed and taught courses, participated in programming and avoided disciplinary infractions.

Even so, the U.S. Parole Commission has denied Shakur a chance to see the light of day nine times since 2016, when he gained eligibility. 

It has to go beyond what we can do in the legal realm. It has to be a unified call from the people.

In the latest juncture of an ongoing movement to secure Shakur’s release, a cadre of attorneys, faith leaders and activists continue their appeal to the U.S. Justice Department. These efforts parallel grassroots organizing efforts across the country that have taken place amid Shakur’s battle with stage 3 bone marrow cancer. 

“Every legal effort has been made and is being explored, from compassionate release to clemency to [advocating for] changing the law that would allow people in Dr. Mutulu Shakur’s category sentenced under the law to get the benefits of release,” said attorney Nkechi Taifa. “It has to go beyond what we can do in the legal realm. It has to be a unified call from the people.”

In the late 1980s, after evading capture for six years, Shakur received a 60-year prison sentence for his involvement in an armored car robbery that resulted in the death of two police officers. His co-defendants, many of whom are white, have since been released. In 2020, Judge Charles Haight Jr., the same judge who sentenced Shakur to prison, denied Shakur’s motion for compassionate release on the grounds that he wasn’t sick enough. 

However, reports have since surfaced that Shakur had less than six months to live. Shakur, a three-time COVID-19 survivor who also suffers from hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and glaucoma, has been in a wheelchair at a Lexington, Kentucky, federal prison where he’s currently serving his sentence. Comrades say he weighs 125 pounds, which makes him unable to continue chemotherapy treatment. 

Federal prison inmates qualify for compassionate release if they’re older than 65, experiencing a serious deterioration in mental and physical health, and have served at least 10 years or 75% of their sentence. Advocates, many who have known Shakur since before his incarceration, said he fits the profile for such an arrangement. 

The common thread in their remarks highlighted the need for racial justice, forgiveness and fidelity to the law. 

In the early 1970s, Shakur, stepfather of the late rapper-actor-activist Tupac Shakur, launched the Lincoln Hospital Detoxification Program, the first acupuncture detoxification program of its kind in the U.S. The program, based in the South Bronx in New York City, countered conventional methadone clinics. It also treated many people who later went on to become acupuncturists.

Shakur, also a member of the Black Liberation Army and the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika,  later formed the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA), which continues to operate today. 

On Wednesday, Taifa and several others converged on the U.S. Department of Justice and attempted to deliver a letter signed by more than 200 faith leaders demanding the immediate compassionate release of Shakur. Blacks in Law Enforcement also expressed support for Shakur in a letter to the U.S. Parole Commission, U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Justice Department. 

Others in attendance Wednesday morning included Dr. Topeka K. Sam of Ladies Hope Ministries in New York City, Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler of Plymouth United Church of Christ, Karanja Kieta Carroll, who spoke on behalf of Rev. Anthony S. Carroll of First Pilgrim Baptist Church in Camden, Delaware, and Taliba Obuya of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. 

The common thread in their remarks highlighted the need for racial justice, forgiveness and fidelity to the law. 

Dr. Kokayi Patterson, a D.C.-based acupuncturist who trained under Shakur in the 1970s, framed Shakur’s release as a matter of the utmost importance to his family and those who’ve benefited from his leadership.   

“Over the last 20 years, Mutulu Shakur sent people he served time with to me to make sure they understood what it was all about,” Patterson said. “He wanted to plug them into a movement and with individuals who have his passion. It’s important for him to spend time with his sons. It’s crucial their father spends time with them and he’s in a position to spread his love.”

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