Hasan Shakur: A Maroon on Death Row
"Whether they murder me or not on Friday, I'm telling you, watch what Ima do, the ancestors are gonna be proud." Hasan Shakur uttered these powerful words a few days before he is scheduled to be executed in Texas, Thursday August 31st.
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
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