A Message from Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) from Ohio’s death row about injustice, racism, and getting on with life

5 September 2015

Hello everybody:

Well, I finally received and read the court’s decision. What can I say? It’s so blatantly bogus that it’s almost impossible to form words to describe how I feel. It’s tragic. I mean, I’ve read the State’s theory quite a few times over the years, and I’ve refuted it every step of the way. But to now have it stand as the final word on the matter is a real slap in the face (to say the least). This system is such a joke, and these people, with their fancy titles and fancy robes, are nothing but a bunch of racist idiots with power—a power that they don’t deserve. And I’m expected to continue this charade by filing this or that motion, writing to this or that person, as if appealing to these people’s supposed conscience really means something beyond reducing me to a sniveling fool. I’m done with that. I’m done pleading and begging for my body, as if “my life” is something that they can truly take. My life is the sum total of all the thoughts and feelings that reside inside my mind, and they can never touch that.

We’ve given these people (?) way too much power over us, entrusted them with too much that is too precious, only to have them use, abuse and confuse us over and over again.

Why? Why do we continue to believe in this dream, this lie that we live in a post-racial society that recognizes only human beings? When will we ever wake up and see that all they have ever done is hide what’s real by revealing what’s false? I mean, contradiction after contradiction, and we swallow it all. Why? And this is how we’re expected to live our whole lives: watching little boys get gunned down at the playground for playing with toy guns—and no one is held accountable. How is that justice? A man standing on the sidewalk selling cigarettes (in the richest country in the world, no less) is murdered in broad daylight, on video, for everyone to see—and still no one is held accountable. And I’m supposed to be shocked and surprised that I lost my appeal?

Let’s get real. They’ve been killing niggers for centuries around here—hanging ‘em, burying ‘em, tar and feathering ‘em. . .  And ain’t I just a nigger, a THING? No? Well, tell that to the Supreme Court who, in 1875, declared that Dred Scott could not sue for his freedom because HE WAS NOT A PERSON, BUT PROPERTY. Better yet, tell it to Eric Garner’s family who, instead of receiving justice for their loss, were given a bag full of money to bury their grief, as if he was some kind of farm animal.

Make no mistake: when it comes to the so-called “justice system” in this country, we’re still stuck in the 1800s; the only thing that has changed is the vantage point from which we view what we choose to see. So look closely, adjust your scope, and you’ll see the tree and the rope. They’re still hanging niggers in America!

Over 100 of you showed up at my oral arguments last December and saw with your own eyes how ridiculous this whole thing is; the State couldn’t defend what they did. Many of you left with an optimistic feeling, believing that there was no way such a mockery could be rewarded with a victory. I feel your pain. It’s the same pain I felt after the blindfold was ripped from my eyes twenty years ago when a man, testifying at my trial, got on the stand and claimed to have had microscopic microchips embedded in his brain. There’s no way a jury is going to find me guilty of this, I told myself. But find me guilty they did—and then they sentenced me to death! Believe me, I know what it means to be disillusioned. Indeed, for the past twenty years, I’ve watched the so-called “wheel of justice” roll over my rights while my alleged attorneys have done nothing but sit back and collect a fee to auction off my life. Trust me, this whole process has been nothing but a sham.

Case in point: Three weeks after oral arguments were heard in my case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on another case in which the principal issue, once again, revolved around the withholding of exculpatory (favorable) evidence. In this case, a Mr. Darryl Gumm admitted to the kidnapping, attempted rape, and murder of a ten-year-old boy. However, since the State neglected to divulge to Mr. Gumm’s attorneys that other suspects—two of whom reportedly confessed to the murder—were initially pursued, Mr. Gumm was granted relief. He was also granted relief on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, after the prosecutor improperly elicited testimony from Mr. Gumm’s ex-roommate who testified that he (Mr. Gumm) “fucked a horse” that belonged to the roommate’s family.

Now, I think we can all agree that there’s nothing more deplorable than the rape and murder of a 10-year-old child (to say nothing of the horse!)—and yet, in reviewing his claims, the Sixth Circuit, notwithstanding Mr. Gumm’s confession, was correct in granting him relief since the State violated his Constitutional rights by not turning over evidence that contradicted their theory of events. This is the exact same thing the prosecution did in my case (and worse), and I, likewise, should have received relief. In fact, not only did Mr. Gumm and I have the same issue, but we had the same attorney, the same federal judge, and appealed to the same court (I wish I was making this stuff up).

On his initial appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, Mr. Gumm’s convictions were upheld (as were mine), after which an appeal was filed in federal court. Here, Mr. Gumm was appointed an attorney named Kate McGarry (as was I), who diligently pursued his claims, even after his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Chief Magistrate Michael Mertz  (same judge as I) presided over the case and recommended that Mr. Gumm receive relief. The State appealed to the Sixth Circuit, who ultimately upheld the District Court’s decision to grant relief to Mr. Gumm.

I present this case and its particulars, not to judge or castigate Mr. Gumm (obviously, he’s a very sick man), but to illustrate the arbitrary and capricious (and racist!) way in which “justice” is meted out in this country, and why the death penalty cannot be administered fairly.

Unlike Mr. Gumm, I never confessed to any crime; indeed, when the State offered me a deal, I rejected it outright and demanded a trial. I said it then, and I say it now: I didn’t kill anybody during the riot. But instead of turning over evidence that would help prove my innocence, the State played a game of mix and match, mixing random witness names with random excerpts of statements, and then told me to figure it out on my own. They never attempted to treat me fairly.

In 2007, when I was called back for an evidentiary hearing, I was allowed, through my attorneys, to put Lead Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier on the stand. He was the one who had fashioned the guidelines by which exculpatory evidence was turned over. Therefore, getting him on the stand was pivotal in proving that I was deprived of my right to due process. Under examination, he admitted that he had devised a Brady scheme that was decidedly narrow; to wit, in order for a statement to be viewed as favorable to my defense the witness had to “specifically exclude” me as a suspect.

In other words, if a witness came forward and claimed to have seen one of the murders, his statement was not viewed as exculpatory unless he specifically stated, “By the way, Keith LaMar wasn’t there.” This is crazy. Why would anybody, testifying to what they saw, think it necessary to specifically exclude me if they didn’t see me? And if they didn’t see me, how could they automatically assume I was a suspect? It didn’t make sense—unless, of course, the whole purpose behind narrowing the qualifications was to stifle and hinder the defense.

Because of what Piepmeier revealed on the stand at my evidentiary hearing, attorneys representing other prisoners who were sentenced to death after the riot (S.A. Hasan and George Skatzes) were able to convince the court to put their clients’ cases on hold while they combed the prosecutor’s files to determine for themselves what exactly was wrongfully withheld—and whether or not it was exculpatory.

It was the only fair and reasonable solution to circumvent the preposterous provisions that were established by the State (note: this all happened in 2011, over four years ago, and their cases are still on hold!). But when I asked my attorney, Kate McGarry, to file the necessary motions that would put my case on hold and allow me to go back and review the files, she refused (after initially giving me her word that she would). Why?

To put it plainly: racism. Kate McGarry is a racist. That’s the real reason why she didn’t diligently pursue my claims, and why I lost my appeal. I mean, how else to explain it? A white man admits to the kidnapping, attempted rape, and murder of a ten-year-old boy, and she goes above and beyond to protect his rights. Meanwhile, I’m swinging in the wind, strung up in a tree of lies.

About being a racist, I’m sure Kate would vehemently deny such an accusation. But racists very seldom acknowledge that they are racist. Once, while engaged in casual conversation, Kate broached the subject of Trayvon Martin’s death, wanting to know what I thought about it. I told her point-blank that it was racist bullshit.

“How can you justify killing a teenage boy who’s walking home drinking pop, eating Skittles?” I asked. She went on to explain George Zimmerman’s side, as if there was a plausible excuse for why he did what he did. That was the first time I saw it.

On another occasion, I asked Kate about a Senate bill that was being proposed in Arizona, having to do with improperly stopping suspected illegal immigrants. I wanted to know if she was in favor of something that would effectively violate the rights of large groups of Mexicans. She said something to the effect that, “those people enjoy our freedoms, but they don’t want to pay taxes. . .” She went on to tell me about a time when she was having one of her houses built and suspected that there were a few “undocumented workers” on the site.

“Did you go out and stop production? “ I asked.

“Oh, no, I didn’t do that,” she replied, without the slightest sense of hypocrisy in being willing to benefit from their cheap labor while at the same time denying them the right to live as human beings.

Imagine what it felt like coming to the realization that I was being represented by a racist. And before I’m accused of singling Kate out, let me be clear: this whole process was steeped in racism, from the strategic selection of the all-white jury to the hand-picked racist judge that presided over my trial. And that’s the true truth.

So, here I am, standing on the other side of a very long and treacherous journey. What now? In thinking about what to do with what remains of my time, I think it’s important to turn my attention to the movement to abolish the death penalty. Indeed, if we are ever going to move beyond the 1800s, we have to end this barbaric practice of State-sanctioned murder.

There will be a 7-day Walk to Stop Executions (October 4-10) from the Death House in Lucasville to the State House in Columbus to show opposition to capital punishment, and I want to encourage all of you who are able to come out and show your support. We have to stop this thing, and only we—standing together!—can do it. So please show your support. You can find more information at: http://walkagainstthedeathpenalty.footprintsforpeace.net.

In addition to that, I intend to increase my efforts to reach out to at-risk youth. I’ve had several opportunities to phone in to juvenile detention centers and talk with groups of young men who’re at the beginning of this road, and it’s been a very meaningful exchange. I want to double my efforts there and get them some books that’ll teach them about what it means to be alive. A very good book called “Between the World and Me” (Ta-Nehisi Coates) just came out, and I want to get as many copies as possible into juvenile detention centers.  It’s a powerful piece, written to the author’s 15-year-old son about the perils of inhabiting a black body in a racist country.

To raise money to purchase the books, I’m putting up for auction one of the paintings I recently finished, a piece I’m calling “Chillin’ on Green Court,” a reference to the projects where I spent most of my formative years.  It took me 117 hours to complete, and I’m hoping you all will support me in my desire to get some books in to these young people. They need our help. The auction can be found online at Ebay through September 25th at: http://csr.ebay.com/sell/success.jsf?itemid=121760895747&mode=AddItem&draftId=483016342002

I also intend to resume writing my own manuscript. While awaiting the decision, I found it hard to concentrate on writing, which is why I took up painting. Now that the federal court has said what it has to say, I need to get back to my life. I refuse to allow these people, and this situation, to distract me from my purpose. They put me in this madness to make an example out of me, to show other rebellious souls what they’ll do to them if they resist. They tried to break me, to strip me of my strength and rob me of my smile, all so that they could parade me around as a warning to others. But, look! I’m still standing! I’m still smiling! I’m still fighting!

It ain’t over,

Signature of Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) Keith LaMar (Bomani Shakur) summer 2015 KeithLamar's mile 2015 KeithLamar with friends 2015   Bomani Shakur

New Film Sheds Light on Lucasville Prison Uprising Cases:

Ohio death row hunger striker: ‘If we must die’


By Bomani Hondo Shakur
Published Jan 3, 2011 7:49 PM
in: Workers World
Also see:
Lucasville, Ohio, prison uprising leaders go on hunger strike

IAC: Support Lucasville prisoners’ hunger strike!

Wrongfully convicted following a prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio, in 1993, Brother Bomani is currently at Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax prison, where he and other prisoners began a hunger strike on Jan. 3, 2011. http://www.iacenter.org/ to sign the petition in support of the demands of these prisoners.

Before I speak my piece, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t want to die. I want to live and breathe and strive to do something righteous with my life. Truly. For the past 16 years, however, I’ve been in solitary confinement, confined to a cell 23 hours a day for something I didn’t do and, speaking honestly, I have gone as far as I’m willing to go. Am I giving up? No.

This is a protest, the only nonviolent way I can think of to express the deep disdain I have for the unjust situation that I am in. Make no mistake: My physical and mental strength is intact. However, to continue on in this way would be to lend legitimacy to a process that is both fraudulent and vindictive; this I am no longer willing to do.

I realize that for some of you the thought that an innocent man could be sent to prison and ultimately executed is inconceivable. But it happens. In a system that’s based more on competition than the equitable treatment of others, the football field is not the only place where participants are encouraged to win at all cost.

Hence, in order to be victorious, some prosecutors hide evidence, lie in open court and even pay for the perjured testimony of their witnesses. And this is exactly what happened in my case (and in the majority of the cases stemming from the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville); there are a few people among you who have reviewed the file and know this to be the truth.

But let us for the moment put aside the question of my guilt or innocence, because that, believe it or not, is not what this is about. On that score, we have written several books, produced a play, and are putting the finishing touches on a full-scale documentary to illustrate the travesty of justice that has taken place here; and these things are available to you if you are interested. For now, I want to talk about dying …

In all that is presently unclear, one thing is certain: I have been sentenced to death, which, as you know, is the severest penalty known to man. Typically, when one has been given the death penalty, one is placed alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners and they, together, are housed in an area that has been designated as death row. As living situations go, this is a very bleak and miserable place. Men are sent here to die, to be killed by the state. No one in their right mind would ask to be sent here; and yet, this is precisely what I am asking, which should give you an indication of just how insufferable the situation I am living under is. And I am not alone.

When the uprising was over, and all was said and done, five of us were singled out as leaders and sentenced to death. Jason Robb, James Were (or “Namir,” as he prefers to be called), Siddique Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes and myself. With the exception of George Skatzes, who for the past 10 years has been in a less pressurized — though by no means acceptable — situation, we have undergone penalty on top of penalty; been kept from fully participating in our appeals, from touching our friends and families; denied adequate medical treatment; and so many other things that are too numerous to name. In a word, we have been tortured. And yes, I’m aware that the word “tortured” is a strong word to use, but I know of no other word that more adequately describes what we have been through. We have been put through hell.

A few months ago, a federal judge recommended that my case be dismissed, which effectively moved me one step closer to being executed. It’s hard to explain how this made me feel, but upon hearing the news I immediately thought that a mistake had been made and that my attorney had somehow misunderstood the judge’s ruling. As it turns out, I was the one who misunderstood. Indeed, I have been “misunderstanding” things all along.

Treat us with ‘dignity’

When I was first named as a suspect in riot-related crimes, I was certain that my name would eventually be cleared. Instead, I received a nine-count murder indictment with death-penalty specifications. I was shocked. And then they offered me a deal: “Cop out to murder and we’ll forget the whole thing,” they told me. “But I’m innocent,” I said, thinking to myself that the truth of this would somehow set me free. And so, with the trust and faith of a fool, I went to trial, thinking and believing that I would receive a fair one (I didn’t) and that I would ultimately be exonerated (I wasn’t). And then, when I was sentenced to death, it was my understanding that I would be placed on death row and allowed to pursue my appeals alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners; but, again, I misunderstood … “Just wait until you get to federal court,” I was told, “and you’ll definitely get some relief there.” So I waited … I waited for 16 years!

If justice as a concept is real, then I could with some justification say, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But this has never been about justice, and I finally, finally, finally understand that. For the past 16 years, I (we) have been nothing more than a scapegoat for the state, a convenient excuse that they can point to whenever they need to raise the specter of fear among the public or justify the expenditure of inordinate amounts of money for more locks or chains. And not only that, but the main reason behind the double penalty that we have been undergoing is so that we can serve as an example of what happens to those who challenge the power and authority of the state.

And like good little pawns we’re supposed to sit here and wait until they take us to their death chamber, strap us down to a gurney, and pump poison through our veins. Fuck that! I refuse to go out like that: used as a tool by the state to put fear into the hearts of others while legitimizing a system that is bogus and sold to those with money. That’s not my destiny.

At the beginning of this I wanted to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t want to die, and I don’t. Life is a beautiful thing, especially when one is conscious and aware of the value of one’s life. Sadly, it took going through this process for me to wake up and finally understand the value of my life. I say “wake up” because, unbeknownst to me, I had been asleep all this time, oblivious to the reality of my situation and unaware that the only way for one to stop dreaming (and gain some control over things) is for one to open one’s eyes. My eyes are open now.

Is it too late? I don’t know. As I said, the books have been written, the play has been performed, and, pretty soon, the documentary will be completed. But what good are these things if they never enter into the stream of public opinion and force the governor (who answers to the public) to issue a general amnesty?

Admittedly, convincing the governor to bend in our favor will be a difficult undertaking, one which will require huge amounts of energy and effort on our behalf. But it can be done; at the very least, it can be attempted. In the meantime, we who have been sentenced to death must be granted the exact same privileges as other death-sentenced prisoners. If we must die, we should be allowed to do so with dignity, which is all we’re asking: the opportunity to pursue our appeals unimpeded, to be able to touch our friends and family, and to no longer be treated as playthings but as human beings who are facing the ultimate penalty.

Again, I stress the fact that I do not want to die, but in the words of [poet] Claude McKay, I share the following as my parting sentiments:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O, let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain: then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though deed!

O kinsman! We must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

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