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Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Grant compassionate release to Richard ‘Mafundi’ Lake

Monday, January 2, 2017 10:33
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This is Richard “Mafundi” Lake fighting the Klan. From @haki_kweli_shakur on Instagram comes this information: At Alabama’s Atmore Prison, the revolutionary prisoner organization IFA (Inmates For Action) was formed. The IFA was instrumental in the federal courts taking over the Alabama penal system. “In an environment that consists of a majority of Black people, it is an insult to deprive Black people of knowledge of themselves. It is not only an insult, but it also rank racist arrogance! Out of one’s history and culture evolves one’s values, principles and perspective on life. People have the tendency to behave in accordance with what they value. If you want to destroy a people, destroy their history and culture. White racists have tried for over 400 years to destroy Black peoples’ history and culture, but they have never been successful! It is a crime and a sin before God that in a predominately Black prison, Black inmates are not allowed to be taught their history. Although Black history has been called ‘racist’ and ‘irrelevant’ by those ignorant of its true affect, it is unconscionable to cancel the Black History class. The Civil War is over! The slave culture lost the war! The South will never rise again! Let Jim Crow die!” – Mafundi Lake

Dear Madam Attorney General:

We write to ask your assistance in securing compassionate release from prison for an elderly, disabled prisoner in poor health.

Richard (Mafundi) Lake is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in an Alabama state prison – the mandatory term under the state’s “three strikes and you’re out” policy – for having been convicted of three felony offenses. During the late 1950s and ‘60s, when the civil rights struggle was in full sway, racial strife and attacks by the Ku Kux Klan were rampant in Mafundi’s neighborhood, Birmingham’s Dynamite Hill. At least 40 homes were dynamited, and the police brutalized and harassed young African-American men.

The local community was well aware that the Klan was involved in the Birmingham Police Department, but, as you know, the FBI’s involvement in quashing civil rights activism at the local level did not come to light until the 1971 burglary of documents from the Media, Pennsylvania, FBI office resulted in the disclosure to the public of the purpose and operations of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO.

Mafundi stood up in resistance to the savagery of the attacks. His courage and leadership qualities became apparent. Retaliation against this resistance to the effort to shatter civil rights activity was quick: He was set up on a false robbery charge and convicted of a felony crime. He was a high school senior at the time.

He turned his resistance into activism during that first prison term by organizing prisoners against attacking one another at the behest of the guards, establishing basic education and law classes for Black and white prisoners, and putting together a group called Inmates for Action. He remained an activist upon his release; he organized a defense committee for prisoners, support for their families, documentation of police brutalization of the community, corruption, graft – and presented the findings to the City Council and in public forums.

The publicity prompted intensification of the effort to discredit him and destroy the effectiveness of his leadership through new felony charges: threatening police with a deadly weapon and possession of marijuana, a charge that begged credulity for a person who did not use alcohol or drugs. At the trial, the evidence technician testified that the pistol allegedly taken from him had no fingerprints on it – an impossibility if Mafundi had actually been holding the gun.

The next day, the technician recanted his testimony and said he hadn’t checked the gun. Some police officers who respected Mafundi told him he was being railroaded, but they were too intimidated by what it would do to their careers to speak out against the injustice.

We write to ask your assistance in securing compassionate release from prison for an elderly, disabled prisoner in poor health.

In 1977 we were in Birmingham interviewing people for our book of first-person accounts about the experience of not working in this society, where work is such an important part of identity (“Time Without Work” by Walli F. Leff and Marilyn G. Haft. Boston: South End Press, 1983), and a local public television newsperson arranged an interview for us with Mafundi, who had been convicted of the second felony just two weeks before. The enclosed copy of his story as it was published in the book includes Mafundi’s description of his first two felony convictions.

Released from prison on probation while serving his sentence for the second felony charge, Mafundi was arrested again and charged with a third felony, rape: The Birmingham police used a woman with whom he had previously had consensual sex to set him up because his sentence for the second felony had not achieved the purpose of keeping him from community organizing.

According to Mafundi, he and the woman had not had sex on the date and time when she alleged she had been raped, and no medical evidence of rape, injury or recent sexual activity was introduced at the trial. The trial was compromised by the fact that several months before it began the judge expressed bias toward Mafundi, saying he would not be a credible witness because he had a propensity for violence.

Despite these openly stated views, he refused to recuse himself from the proceedings. For this reason, Mafundi chose not to testify at his trial.

Because Mafundi maintains he is not guilty of any of the charges for which he was convicted, he does not seek a pardon, which entails acceptance of guilt. He no longer has legal representation. Twice in the past he arranged for legal representation to challenge his convictions, but unfortunately each of the attorneys died before either was able to present a case on his behalf. Mafundi and his wife do not have funds for further legal representation.

Because Mafundi maintains he is not guilty of any of the charges for which he was convicted, he does not seek a pardon, which entails acceptance of guilt.

Now 76, Mafundi is in poor health in an overcrowded prison that is inadequately heated during the cold weather and without air conditioning in the stifling Alabama summers. He has diabetes, has suffered two strokes and has lost most of the functionality of one arm.

With difficulty, he is able to write a few lines to address an envelope, but he can no longer write the letter he would put in the envelope, so contact he used to be able to maintain with the outside world for all his years of incarceration is now virtually nil. His vision is impaired.

The amount of time he has served is more than enough to discharge his obligation to society for each of his felony convictions; it is because of Alabama’s “three strikes and you’re out” policy – a policy that states across the country are reconsidering as ill-advised and non-productive – that he remains incarcerated.

The widespread public recognition of the gross inequities in the sentencing of African-American prisoners and of the scandalous level of prison overcrowding and the sub-standard healthcare for prisoners has created a new climate of concern. The release from federal prisons of longtime prisoners who are not a danger to the community is a welcome new policy. Mafundi may be in a state prison, but the dark cloud of COINTELPRO lends a meaningful federal component to his confinement.

The amount of time he has served is more than enough to discharge his obligation to society for each of his felony convictions; it is because of Alabama’s “three strikes and you’re out” policy – a policy that states across the country are reconsidering as ill-advised and non-productive – that he remains incarcerated.

Somehow, after all these years, there should be a way for at least some measure of justice to be done in this sad account of an unconscionable stain upon our national history. We hope that from the respected office you hold, you will agree to facilitate the effort.

We, of course, understand that the federal government has no direct jurisdiction over the state penal system and that you cannot demand Mafundi’s release, but we ask that you exercise as much influence as you can bring to bear with Alabama state authorities to win compassionate release from prison for reasons of poor health, age and medical rehabilitation.

Somehow, after all these years, there should be a way for at least some measure of justice to be done in this sad account of an unconscionable stain upon our national history.

His address is: Richard “Mafundi” Lake, 079972, William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, 100 Warrior Lane M-21, Bessemer, AL 35023-7299.

We would profoundly appreciate any and all support you would be willing to provide on Mafundi’s behalf.

Sincerely yours,

Walli F. Leff and Marilyn G. Haft

Walli F. Leff is a writer, former director of research and analysis in the Office of the Inspector General, New York City School Construction Authority; former director of the Bureau of Standards and Oversight, New York City Department of Health; former acting chairwoman, Department of Psychology, Marymount Manhattan University; and a former psychology instructor and researcher, New York City area universities. She can be reached at leffwrite@sprintmail.com.

Marilyn G. Haft is an entertainment lawyer, president of the Friends of the World Federation of United Nations Associations, former deputy counsel to Vice President Walter Mondale in the White House and former attorney at the national office of the ACLU.

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