We are pleased to announce there is a new mini series about Dr. Mutulu Shakur in production– Sacrifice. Spearheaded by his con, Talib Shakur, the series features stories told by the men who were incarcerated, mentored and inspired by Dr. Shakur. Contact us for more information on how to be featured in the documentary or how to support this project on the unparalleled impact and positive work of Dr. Shakur.
Our government’s history of oppression compels us to free those Black revolutionaries aging in our prisons
Published on July 15, 2022 on Inquest: A Decarceral Brainstorm by the Institute to End Mass Incerceration
This was only the second year that Americans celebrated Juneteenth as a federal holiday. This day of remembrance, and our nation’s oldest African American holiday, recognizes the fundamental reality that citizens can be unjustly barred from rights afforded to them by their government for years. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which reached Texas more than two years after its signing, was followed by the 13th Amendment, which made human enslavement unconstitutional “except as a punishment for crime.” As it is well documented, this exception incentivized the targeted incarceration of Black men for labor, perpetuated slavery, and served white communities that upheld myths about Black criminality.
Icons of abolition and racial justice such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela lived in eras where their activism and acts of civil disobedience on behalf of other Black lives were considered unlawful and worthy of imprisonment. Yet the history of repression and oppression surrounding their actions greatly mitigates and helps explain them.
In their lifetimes, both Malcolm X and Dr. King were considered radical Black leaders and agitators who divided the nation with their critiques of American culture and society. It is in studying the history of these Black activists accused by their peers of radicalism that we can see the ways in which many were villainized and gradually written out of narratives of Black history. Public school students do not commonly learn about the Stono slave rebellion, the insurrection of Nat Turner, the contributions of Malcolm X, or the most famous revolutionary movement to uplift Black communities with a national network of social welfare initiatives — the Black Panther Party.
Founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a grassroots Marxist-Leninist organization that urged members to challenge the endemic pattern of police brutality and false imprisonment of Black people in Oakland, California, with armed patrols. Under its longtime director J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI considered Pan-African and Black nationalist movements such as the Panthers threats to national security, and many were subjected to unlawful surveillance, intimidation, incarceration, and assault. The highest-profile targets of this coordinated assault were the leaders and members of the Black Panther Party. The urgency with which the party demanded an immediate end to police brutality as part of its Ten Point Program was not a sentiment shared by most Americans until, perhaps, 54 years later — when video footage captured the 2020 murder of George Floyd.Continue reading
Over a hundred faith-based leaders sign a letter to the U.S. Parole Commission, U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Department of Justice voicing strong support for Mutulu’s compassionate release. The letter, penned to promote the values of redemption and salvation, is addressed to the U.S. Parole Commission Chair Patricia Cushwa, FMC Lexington Warden Francisco Quintana, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. It will be hand-delivered by a delegation this month followed by a press conference.
When Mutulu Shakur applied for compassionate release in 2020, the presiding judge told the Black liberation elder that he was not close enough to death. At the time, Shakur was 70 and had spent nearly half his life in federal prison, where a moribund parole system created interminable barriers for his release.
In 2020, he was sick with hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, glaucoma, and the aftereffects of a 2013 stroke while in solitary confinement. He also faced high risks of severe Covid-19 complications. The cancer in his bone marrow, though, was not yet killing him fast enough. It was understood to be terminal, but chemotherapy treatment had been successful in keeping it at bay.
As such, according to then-90-year-old Judge Charles Haight Jr. — the very same judge who had sentenced Shakur to prison over three decades before — the respected and beloved elder, who posed zero risk to society and held an impeccable institutional record, was not eligible for compassion.
“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,’” the judge wrote in his decision.
The judge is still alive and, astoundingly, on the bench. Shakur, meanwhile, is on the very edge of death.
Two years later, Haight is still alive and, astoundingly, on the bench. Shakur, meanwhile, is on the very edge of death, cancer disabling his every bodily capacity.
Bureau of Prisons-contracted doctors have given him less than six months. The prison chaplain has advised his family members to come “very soon” to say their final goodbyes. Shakur may not even be able to recognize them.
According to reports from prison staff, he is “hallucinating,” “confused,” at times “unintelligible,” needs assistance with all so-called “Activities of Daily Living,” and is “frequently incontinent.” The details of his condition were revealed by medical professionals and Shakur’s family members in an emergency motion for compassionate release, which was filed by his lawyers on Sunday,
Shakur weighs 125 pounds and is unable to get out of bed. His support team told me that he currently resides in the federal prison hospital at FMC Lexington, where “he is too ill to have visitors as his white blood count is too low and he is completely immune-compromised.” (In response to my request for comment on Shakur’s condition, a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson wrote, “For privacy, safety, and security reasons, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not discuss information on any individual inmate’s conditions of confinement including medical care.”)
The time for true compassion — or anything close to justice — has long passed for Shakur, well-known as rapper Tupac’s stepfather and celebrated for bringing holistic health care and self-determination to the Bronx’s Black community in the 1970s. Like most Black liberation elders, the circumstances of Shakur’s conviction were colored by the government’s decades-long, all-out war on the movement. This should not be forgotten, but it is also not relevant to the current grounds for Shakur’s long overdue release.
The question now is simply whether the federal punishment system will, against its own purported standards, force a dying man to expire behind bars out of ideological intransigence.
Shakur was a member of the Black nationalist organization Republic of New Afrika, which worked closely with Black Panther Party members and New Left activists. He was convicted of racketeering conspiracy charges alongside several Black liberationists and leftist allies for his involvement in the 1981 robbery of an armored truck during which a guard and two police officers were killed. He was also convicted for aiding in the prison escape of Assata Shakur. He has taken responsibility for his crimes and repeatedly expressed remorse for the lives lost and pain caused. All of his co-defendants have been released or have died.
Co-defendant Marilyn Buck, who was convicted on the same charges as Shakur, was granted compassionate release by the Bureau of Prisons on July 15, 2010. She died of uterine cancer on August 3 that year.
The harsh standard applied in Buck’s case was the same one that the judge used in denying Shakur’s release two years ago: Come back only when, like Buck, your only activity outside of prison walls will be dying. Shakur has now arrived at this tragic place. Anything but immediate release constitutes an abundance of cruelty.
Shakur’s release has been blocked by layer upon layer of institutional intransigence and procedural arcana. Even while a number former Black Panthers and other liberation elders — all incarcerated for all too many decades in state prison systems — have finally been released on parole in recent years, the strange vagaries of outdated federal rules, abuses of discretion, and administrative failures have foreclosed such relief for Shakur.
Shakur’s legal team has sought every avenue for his release, including the superannuated federal parole system, the Bureau of Prisons’ compassionate release process, the calculation of Shakur’s earned “good time” in prison, and even the unlikely route of presidential clemency — all to no avail.
As a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson wrote in response to my request for comment on its process for compassionate release motions, “At all times, the decision on whether to grant such a motion — whether brought on behalf of the Director of the BOP, or the inmate themselves — lies with the sentencing court.”
In the federal system, compassionate release rulings are determined by the very court —the very judge — that sentenced a defendant in the first place. Shakur’s fate is once again in his sentencing judge’s hands. Yet there is hope in the fact that Haight himself previously wrote that in circumstances of “imminent” death, compassionate release “could be justified.” As Shakur’s lawyers note in their motion, “It is now imminent.”
Both prior to and during his incarceration, Shakur has been respected as a mentor and a healer. In the emergency motion for his release, numerous men incarcerated alongside Shakur are cited, attesting to his profound positive influence on their lives.
“I recognize Dr. Mutulu Shakur not only as my father, but as the man who changed my way of thinking and saved my life,” wrote Ra’ Sekou P’tah, who was serving a double-life sentence plus 30 years for a nonviolent drug offense when he met Shakur. President Barack Obama commuted P’tah’s sentence after he had served 20 years. When reporting on Shakur’s case last year, I heard several similar stories of mentorship and care from men formerly incarcerated with the Black liberation elder.
The time has passed for Shakur to continue his healing community work as a free man. He will not live to see his mandatory release date in 2024. He is, as his lawyers note in their motion, “on the downward side of an end-of life trajectory.”
The least — and it is the very least — Haight, the judge, can do now in the name of decency would be to allow Shakur to die in the California home of his son and daughter-in-law, in the presence of loved ones, uncaged.
We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support for Mutulu – and we want to update his friends and supporters with information from Mutulu himself, and from the medical records. We understand that people want to share information on social media, but we respectfully ask that people share only information that Mutulu and his support team have consented to be shared publicly.
We learned last Friday that Mutulu’s health had taken a turn for the worse. The chemotherapy drugs and other medications that Mutulu is on are very strong and have side effects that can be difficult to manage, particularly within the confines of prison. His legal team is closely monitoring the medical records every week with the help of outside medical practitioners. The hospital where he has been receiving treatment for the last 2 and a half years is already planning on starting a different form of cancer treatment, another kind of chemotherapy. Depending on his test results and whether he is strong enough, he may get a newer form of treatment that has a higher chance of succeeding – but which can also make him feel sicker. We want to get him home to his family – and Mutulu and his team are also still looking for treatments that will give him as much time as possible to be with his family and friends.
The legal team is actively pursuing all avenues for Mutulu’s immediate release, including compassionate release and parole. Please keep Mutulu in your thoughts and prayers and stay tuned for further updates.
On May 16, 2022, Dr. Mutulu Shakur was denied mandatory parole by the U.S.
Parole Commission. This is the ninth time Dr. Shakur has been denied parole by the
USPC, and the second time he has been denied mandatory parole.
Dr. Shakur received support for his parole from former Bureau of Prison staff,
sitting Members of Congress, and religious and community leaders. Despite this
extensive support for his release and his dire medical condition, the USPC
“After consideration of all factors and information presented, at this time, the
Commission is denying your release under the standards at 18 U.S.C. §4206(d) for
the following reasons: The Commission finds that there is a reasonable probability
that you will commit a Federal, State, or local crime if released.”
Dr. Shakur’s legal team will be appealing this decision, and along with Dr. Shakur Families and Friends of Mutulu Shakur will be exploring all possible next steps in the struggle for his immediate release. This is a protracted effort and we will continue to work for his release until we win.
Mutulu recently had a parole hearing on April 27th. This hearing took place due to an order issued by a federal judge in California, which directed the US Parole Commission to rehear his case within 90 days. The order resulted from a petition for habeas corpus filed by members of Mutulu’s legal team.
The Parole Commission has not yet issued a decision and we will provide further updates once they are available. Mutulu, his legal team and Friends and Family of Mutulu Shakur greatly appreciate everyone who has advocated for Mutulu’s release and we value your ongoing support.
In terms of his health, since the early relapse in bone marrow cancer, he has to receive weekly chemotherapy infusions that come with serious side effects. On top of this, he has already contracted COVID three times. One of those times he developed pneumonia, so we are doing everything we can to support his release to help protect him from future exposures and other unnecessary health risks.
Please stay tuned for further updates and keep him in your thoughts!
First, we thank everyone for the outpouring of support for Dr. Shakur as he continues to battle stage 3 bone marrow cancer from prison. He did have a stem cell transplant, but then experienced an early relapse necessitating a new and highly dangerous chemotherapy that still only delays the cancer’s progress. Leaving him in prison while the chemotherapy suppresses his immune system places his life in further jeopardy– Dr. Shakur’s immediate compassionate release is the only humane response. Despite all this, in January 2022, he was denied compassionate release for the third time by the Central office of the BOP! He is currently recovering from his third infection with COVID-19, and consequent COVID pneumonia.
Earlier this month, Dr. Shakur won a significant legal victory. For years, he has been litigating a habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court of California, challenging the U.S Parole Commission’s 2016 decision denying him mandatory parole. In denying parole, the Parole Commission relied on a disciplinary ticket Dr. Shakur received for making a telephone call to an approved phone number, where a professor put him on speakerphone to talk to her class. The court found that Dr. Shakur’s conduct had not violated the regulation and ruled that it was a due process violation for the Parole Commission to rely on this incident in its decision to deny parole. The court ordered that he receive the “good time” lost for this incident (27 days) and ordered a new mandatory parole hearing where the Parole Commission cannot consider this incident.
Family and Friends of Mutulu Shakur and the legal team continue to double down on our efforts. We are asking that everyone continue to sign and share the online petition to help us reach 75,000 signatures. If you are in contact with any members of Congress who may be willing to support Dr. Shakur’s release, reach out to us at [email protected] so that we can connect.
Mutulu Shakur: Proof That a Different Kind of Prison is Possible
He helped us and paid with his life
By Pam Bailey
In 1988, Mutulu Shakur, a Black-liberation leader and stepfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was convicted in connection with the robbery of a Brink’s armored truck, during which three people were killed (although not by him). He has been incarcerated for 35 years now and has repeatedly been denied both parole and compassionate release, despite a record of peaceful and productive leadership in prison.
Now, at age 71, Shakur has been diagnosed with advanced bone marrow cancer. An oncologist has told the court that even with successful treatment, Shakur will likely die within two to three years. Without treatment, or if it fails, he is expected to live fewer than 11 months. Nearly 55,000 people have signed a petition calling on President Biden and the federal Bureau of Prisons to grant Shakur immediate compassionate release.
James Carpenter, released in 2020 after serving 24 years, is one of those signatories. But unlike most of them, he has personal knowledge of the role model Shakur has become. They were incarcerated together back in the early 2000s.
“They should let that man go home,” he says. “He’s been nothing but positivity and an uplifter of people, always working to intervene in conflicts and find solutions to problems. The concept of tolerance and cultural diversity that is so big right now? I heard it from him years ago.”Continue reading