Six years after first being eligible for parole, Dr. Mutulu Shakur waits for an intervening force to let him live out his remaining days at home with loved ones. Despite being diagnosed with incurable advanced cancer, he has been denied parole several times. His prior request for compassionate release has also been denied.
Jomo Muhammad of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement told NewsOne that Shakur had been denied parole nine times despite having an essentially infraction-free time in prison. He also explained that Shakur petitioned for compassionate release earlier in the pandemic, given the various health issues and being diagnosed with an advanced stage of terminal cancer. But he was denied essentially because a judge did not think his condition was severe enough to justify release.
In late June, The Intercept reported that Shakur again tried for compassionate release. Shakur’s health has severely deteriorated, and it is estimated the 71-year-old has less than six months to live.
Muhammad said Shakur contracted COVID-19 at least twice since the pandemic’s start. Between good time credits and his rapidly deteriorating health, supporters, including the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, have been hoping Shakur could be released.
According to Muhammad, Shakur was denied parole based on the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ assumption that he was likely to re-offend. New Jersey officials used this similar excuse in the repeated parole denials for Sundiata Acoli. Acoli was finally released last month.
But efforts on behalf of Shakur have an added layer of complexity given the additional challenges of navigating the federal system of parole and the limited use of compassionate release to support aging or severely ill people.
In some ways, by refusing to release the dying Black leader, federal authorities have effectively converted his “punishment” to a death sentence. Originally sentenced to 60 years in prison in connection with an armed bank robbery, Shakur became eligible for parole in 2016 after serving 30 years in the federal system.
Mutulu Shakur helped expose COINTELPRO and fought the war on drugs.
While he may be best known as the stepfather of the late Tupac Shakur, that is one of the least exciting things about the aging healer. Scholar-activist Dr. Akinyele Umoja, a professor and co-founder of the New African People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, shared Shakur had a deep commitment to Black liberation dating back to his youth.
“I interviewed one of his childhood friends, and he talks about when Mutulu and him were like 13 years old,” began Umoja. “Somebody from the Nation of Islam would come into their neighborhood and pick them up. And they would go down to Harlem and hear Malcolm X speak. And I think that had a profound effect on his life.”
While Shakur was not a Black Panther, he was very active in the Black Liberation Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Shakur was involved in exposing COINTELPRO.
“Mutulu, following that, along with Afeni Shakur set up something called the National Task Force for COINTELPRO Litigation and Research that was the Black think tank, and they connected with black legal workers across the United States to investigate and work on getting Black political prisoners out of prison and also just educating the community,” explained Umoja.
After a car accident involving his children, Shakur learned about acupuncture as an alternative treatment. He later combined his knowledge of acupuncture and healing practices with his penchant for political education and organizing at Lincoln Detox in the South Bronx.
“The Young Lords, which was a Puerto Rican organization in New York, took over Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx,” Umoja said. “Lincoln Hospital was known as a butcher shop.”
According to Umoja, the Young Lords worked alongside several groups to transform Lincoln Hospital into a facility that genuinely addressed people’s healthcare needs, including dealing with heroin addiction. He said Shakur received training abroad and later returned to co-lead an acupuncture clinic in Harlem, treating community members and training Black acupuncturists. Shakur’s work at Lincoln Detox is covered in the film “Dope is Death.”
From Black liberation leader to political prisoner
In 1981, Shakur would go underground for five years after alleged his involvement in the “expropriation” of $1.6 million from a Brinks armored truck. This incident gave rise to the conspiracy charges, bank robbery and other charges against him and his subsequent incarceration in 1986. Two officers were killed during the Brinks incident.
Information from the campaign supporting his release explains that the evidence does not show that Shakur had been involved in either officers killing. But he has acknowledged and taken responsibility for his role in the underlying events and expressed remorse for the family and loved ones of the officers.
Umoja stressed the political nature of Shakur’s continued incarceration, given the reasons for denying his parole involved signing letters in correspondence with references to resistance claiming that made him dangerous.
“It clearly makes him a political prisoner that keeps him incarcerated due to his ideas,” Umoja explained. “Even though he had a model record.”
He said the one infraction in Shakur’s file relates to his speaking by phone with a California university in a conversation that included actor Danny Glover. During the course of conversation, Shakur advocated for a Truth and Reconciliation process like what happened in South Africa, consistent with his advocacy for human rights in the U.S. and abroad.
Both Muhammad and Umoja urged people to sign the petition demanding the release of Mutulu Shakur. The Movement for Black Lives is also calling on people to take action. As of this article’s publishing, the petition had over 60,000 signatures, with a goal of 75,000.
Shakur, who now uses a wheelchair according to Umoja and losing weight and strength according to Muhammad, wants to spend his remaining time in the care of his family. But Shakur’s repeated denial of relief points to a broader issue within the U.S. so-called justice system.
“This man has done his sentence, he’s done his time, he should be released,” Umoja said.