[Ppnews] Hasan Shakur: A Maroon on Death Row

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 30 15:06:24 EDT 2006

Hasan Shakur: A Maroon on Death Row
Written Aug. 29, 2006

By Walidah Imarisha

I am sitting in my rented Chevy Equinox outside 
of the Polunsky Unit, in Livingston, Texas. The 
middle of farm country, there are stables right 
next door to the prison, within pissing distance 
of the electrified fence and concertina wire. I 
wonder if they belong to the prison. How much of 
this farmland is the prisons? The inmates wear 
all white here. It is ghostly figures I see 
pushing wheelbarrows, carrying rakes through a 
manicured lawn with flower boxes shaped like the 
star of Texas. This place reminds me so much of 
the California state prison my adopted brother 
Kakamia is in, the town, the hotel I’m staying 
at, the prison itself, that I walked into the 
visiting room expected to see my afro-haloed 
hermano. But I guess maybe all prison towns start to look the same.

The processing is the fastest I‘ve ever been 
through going to a prison. I have had to wait 
hours before to be cleared. I do not know if it 
is this prison, or the fact that I’m visiting at 
off times, or the fact that I am visiting someone 
who has an execution date set. Set for Thursday. 
Days are bleeding away, the 29th is just a breath away from the 31st.

Hasan Shakur, aka Derrick Frazier, aka #999284, 
is dressed all in white as well. Visiting is only 
through glass, and Hasan sits in a cage, the 
telephone pressed to his ear. He is as big as I 
figured he would be. He stands up to go to the 
bathroom, sticking his hands through the slot so 
they can put the handcuffs on him and he towers 
over the three guards around him.

But what doesn’t come through in the photos on 
his website is his baby face. 29 years old now, 
with a face of a 15 year old. He barely made it 
to 29, wasn’t supposed to make it. His life reads 
like a text book case of black ghetto life (“I 
always felt more comfortable in the ghetto, you 
know?” he says, eyes clear as spring water): dad 
gone, addicted beloved mother gone, didn’t 
graduate high school, slanging and banging and 
hardening his face to survive, and here he sits, 
for 9 years, on Texas’ death row, dressed in 
baptismal white. He was reborn here, held not by 
heavenly loving hands but by night sticks and 
pepper spray. Not gently laid back to be quietly 
submerged, but head pushed into toilets, and 
balls crushed under boots. Hasan Shakur born out 
of Derrick Frazier, not through water but a hail 
of bullets and billy clubs, child of George 
Jackson and Angela Davis, Mumia and Sundiata and 
all the political prisoners. Grandchild of Nat 
Turner and great great grandson of Seminoles and 
maroon colonies and quilombos. He takes his 
heritage serious as a heart attack, induced by a 
pound of poison shoved into your veins by the state.

The visiting room is busy today. Yesterday was 
family day, with his aunt and grandmother coming 
in to see him, making a three hour drive both 
ways. Today is supporter day. Hasan’s wife and 
support coordinator Debbie came from Canada a few 
days ago. Ray from the New York-based group the 
Welfare Poets came, and me from Philly. Only two 
people are allowed in the visiting room for him 
at one time, so we keep trading off, two hours 
in, two hours out, a game of death room musical chairs.

I met Hasan six years ago when I helped to found 
the Human Rights Coalition, a prisoner family 
organizing group. It was the brainchild and 
heartchild of Russell “Maroon” Shoats, a 
Pennsylvania political prisoner, former Black 
Panther/Black Liberation Army who has served 
almost 20 years straight in solitary confinement, 
never touching another human being except for his 
captors. Hasan is also Maroon’s heartchild, his 
adopted son. “This,” Maroon wrote, ”this brotha 
is our future, with his lion’s strength and 
determination.” Hasan wears a bracelet 
embroidered “MAROON” around his wrist that twists 
and turns as he writes and organizes groups and 
organizations, concerts and newsletters, 
campaigns and strategy planning from a cell the 
size of a bathroom that has the held breath of 
murder in it. Hasan started a chapter of HRC in 
Texas and serves on our advisory council. He has 
given invaluable insight to our planning and 
visioning for the organization, and he keeps us 
grounded. “Wa Wa, I’m a workhorse,” he says with 
a half smile, “and I’m going to push everyone 
around me, if I see someone leaning back, Ima 
crack that whip.” He says I should be proud of 
him, because he got six hours of sleep the night 
before, double his usual dose, which I often nag 
him about. “Yeah but how many did you get the night before?” I ask, laughing.

Debbie comes back in and says the affidavits will 
be filed in court today. The hope is that these 
affidavits will win a stay of execution for 
Hasan. There is also hope of perhaps getting a 
stay of execution from the governor, and an 
international letter writing campaign has been in 
effect since the date was handed down several 
weeks ago. Hasan was convicted of killing a white 
woman and her son in Refugio, Texas. There is a 
lack of physical evidence to tie Hasan to the 
scene. In fact, the main piece of evidence 
against him is a forced confession the police 
illicited from him, a 19 year old black young 
man, while in their custody, after a promise that 
he would only get 30 years for it. He was found 
guilty by an almost all white jury, some of whom 
had contact with the victim’s family during the 
trial. He had an incompetent lawyer who was later 
suspended, and a questionable indictment that 
outlined several different theories about the 
murders. I said to Hasan that some people, even 
black folks, still believe in the inherent 
goodness of they system, that there are some 
glitches but once those get cleared up, it will 
be back on track. He snorted and said, “That’s 
where we go wrong, believing that simple shit. 
The system is on track
 it’s on track to ride over us.”

But there is still reason for hope. Hasan had an 
execution date scheduled for April 27, the day 
before his 29th birthday. Three days before, the 
courts gave him a stay. The prison shut down his 
visiting the minute the paperwork was filed, so I 
didn’t get to see him on that trip. This is our 
first time meeting face to face, even though we 
have organized and worked together for years. 
Also, another brotha was released from death row 
last week, a new trial won him a different 
sentence, and since he’d already spent 20 years 
on the row, they let him go. Debbie said, “Of 
course they got tight restrictions on him, he can 
do nothing, can’t use the computer, can’t leave 
the house, can’t drink
 but shit, at least he’s home.”

But this is Texas, after all, and hope does not 
grow well in this soil. When it manages to take 
root, it is promptly stomped back down. “Our 
people don’t prepare for the future, you know?” 
Hasan says, scowling. The shatterproof glass 
between us reflects the light from the vending 
machines behind the cages, and it looks like 
Pepsi is written sliding down Hasan’s face like 
tears, cracked right down the middle. “It took us 
damn near thirty years to recover after we lost 
Malcolm. We have to set it up so that things will 
continue even if they take us out, cause you know 
that’s what they’re going to do. Wa Wa, just 
wait, just wait until you see some of the things 
I’m going to do. Watch what I’m going to do,” he 
says, smile showing the nine-year-old face I saw 
on the internet, little 80s afro and solemn eyes. 
“Whether they murder me or not on Friday, I’m 
telling you, watch what Ima do, the ancestors are gonna be proud.”

Call and fax to Governor Perry and ask for a stay of execution:
phone: (512) 463-1782
fax: (512) 463-1849

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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