‘Radical’ podcast digs deep into convicted civil rights activist’s story

Host Mosi Secret and producer Johnny Kauffman discuss the reporting for new investigative series on Jamil Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown, that launched this month.
Defense lawyer Tony Axam (on left), defendant Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, and defense lawyer Michael Warner confer during the first day of Al-Amin's trial in Fulton Superior Court .

Credit: Bill Rankin

Credit: Bill Rankin

Defense lawyer Tony Axam (on left), defendant Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, and defense lawyer Michael Warner confer during the first day of Al-Amin's trial in Fulton Superior Court .

Growing up in Atlanta, one of the stranger experiences of Mosi Secret’s childhood involved a summer camp. It was a weeklong, military-style boot program in the North Georgia mountains. Secret was 12 or 13, with young Black Muslim boys from the West End he saw as being attracted to life in the streets. He felt out of place.

The camp’s organizer was the leader of his family’s mosque, Imam Jamil Al-Amin, once known as the civil rights and Black power activist H. Rap Brown.

Black Power activist H. Rap Brown is returned to New Orleans by federal agents in February 1968. (Photo credit: Associated Press)

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Secret is the host of “Radical,” a podcast that tells the story of Al-Amin, the Muslim leader currently serving a life sentence in prison for shooting two Fulton County sheriff’s deputies — killing one — in the West End. The podcast, part of a partnership with Atlanta-based Tenderfoot TV, Campside Media and iHeartPodcasts, is comprised of eight episodes that explore the history and myth behind the man, what happened during that violent confrontation, conspiracies, and never-heard-before audio accounts.

“I think the podcast not only illuminates ... what happened that night, but also what was in the minds of the people who were involved, and what was this explosion of violence that happened and how can we understand it and explain it,” said Secret, a veteran journalist whose credentials include investigative reporting with The New York Times and ProPublica.

“Radical” delves into that fateful night on March 16, 2000, when deputies Aldranon English and Ricky Kinchen were in West End to serve a warrant on Al-Amin tied to a stolen car. As the podcast explains, what happened next differs depending on who you ask, but there was a shootout that left Kinchen dead and English wounded. English would later identify Al-Amin as the gunman.

The local Muslim community, Al-Amin and his family continue to say he’s innocent, the victim of government conspiracy. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, in a 2020 event at Tyler Perry’s studio, said that the case “weighs heavy on my heart because I really think he was wrongfully convicted.”

Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown, in front of his West End Community grocery store on Oak Street in 1990. (Kathryn Kolb/AJC file photo)

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“In that way, the story is a true crime story about what happened that night, but it is way more than just a whodunit,” Secret said.

The series plays out like an audio investigative piece that spans roughly six hours, documenting Al-Amin’s rise in the civil rights movement as the fiery, exceptionally gifted orator and chairman of the Atlanta-based Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It explores his conversion to Islam, becoming an imam and being credited with single-handedly cleaning up the West End.

The idea started with Johnny Kauffman, a senior producer at Campside Media and experienced local journalist. He was working on a story about a voting rights activist, a Black Muslim guy who had been formerly incarcerated and was doing some activism with convicted felons. Through that interaction, he caught wind of Al-Amin’s story.

Questions surrounding the shooting and Al-Amin’s involvement have lingered since he was sentenced to life in prison in 2002. Kauffman started filing open records requests with the Atlanta Police Department and Fulton County District Attorney’s office. It was a slow process.

Another wrinkle was the DA office’s newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit, a program launched to free the wrongfully convicted or potentially shorten sentences. The DA said their office was actively investigating, so they couldn’t turn over documentation.

Eventually, Kauffman, with help from the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, was able to get access to court documents and police reports. As he continued to work on the story, Kauffman had a thought. “I was always like, I’m not going to be the person to host this. I’m a reporter too, but I just knew it was going to be better if it wasn’t me as a white guy who didn’t grow up in Atlanta to be the voice.”

At the time, Secret was working pitching a different podcast to Campside Media. When he discussed his idea with the Campside team, they mentioned Al-Amin’s story and the work Kauffman was doing, and that he was looking for a host.

Secret was in college when the shooting happened. He thought back to memories of the camp and his family traveling from their home in Ormewood Park to Al-Amin’s West End mosque.

“I wasn’t even sure if this was something that I should do, in part because I knew how devoted people were, people are, to Imam Jamil,” he said. “I knew the reputation of them as being not only devoted, but in some cases willing to fight for him.” After reading through the documents Kauffman obtained, Secret felt in his gut that there was something wrong with Al-Amin’s case and that alone was worth reporting out. He felt like the story was incomplete.The podcast grapples with the idea of how the United States labels its heroes and villains, and controversial programs such as the FBI’s COINTELPRO taking down those deemed enemies of the state. The name, “Radical,” speaks to that, says Kauffman. “I think the show raises questions about what other institutions in the country maybe could be considered radical or have taken radical steps in order to pursue their own goals.”

The first two episodes of “Radical” were released on Dec. 5, and feature original music by Organized Noize co-founder Ray Murray. The remaining six episodes will drop every Tuesday, looking at other possibilities and potential suspects from that night, and taking its host and producers into unexpected, sometimes dark places.

Their goal is not necessarily to crack the case or be the catalyst to exoneration. “These things take a while, but I will say that there is truth to the fact that these stories shine a light,” Secret said.