Mutulu Shakur [Source:]

Black Panther Leader Led Rainbow Acupuncturists Treating Addictions

Acupuncturist and activist Mutulu Shakur died on July 7 at the age of 72. Mutulu helped raise rap icon Tupac Shakur and led a group of White, Black and Puerto Rican revolutionaries pioneering the use of acupuncture to treat addiction in New York.

He had spent more than 37 years confined as a political prisoner, before being given compassionate release at the end of 2022.

Mutulu Adopted into the Activist New York Shakur Family

Mutulu Shakur (slave name Jeral Williams) was born in Baltimore in 1950. Salahdeen “Aba” Shakur (s/n James Coston) adopted Mutulu, who grew up with Aba’s biological sons, Lumumba (s/n Anthony Coston) and Zayd Shakur (s/n James Coston) in Harlem. Salahdeen and his family had first taken the name Shakur, Arabic for “the thankful,” in the early 1960s.

In the ’60s, these activists had shed what they called their “slave names”—the names of their ancestors’ slave masters—for those of African independence leaders, such as the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba and Guinea’s Sékou Touré.

Salahdeen Shakur took part in Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association in the first half of the 20th century, while Malcolm X’s father organized with that group. Salahdeen then joined Malcolm X’s OAAU from its start, becoming a close confidante of Malcolm’s. Salahdeen’s sons also joined Malcolm X’s OAAU, just before Malcolm’s assassination.

Activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale started the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966. By 1968, they asked Lumumba to lead the Harlem Black Panthers and Zayd to help lead the Bronx Black Panthers with Lumumba’s friend Sekou Odinga (s/n Nathanial Burns).

Mutulu Shakur
Mutulu Shakur as a young man. [Source:]

Salahdeen and Mutulu joined Muhammad Ahmad (s/n Maxwell Stamford) and Herman Ferguson’s Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). Salahdeen initiated a RAM-based Panther chapter in New York. Ferguson, the first Black assistant principal in New York City, was another surrogate father for Mutulu.

Afeni Shakur (s/n Alice Williams) joined the Harlem Black Panthers in 1968, and married Lumumba Shakur within the year.

A black-and-white photograph of Afeni Shakur, dressed in a black turtleneck and vest and holding a camera.
Afeni Shakur in 1970. [Source:]

Also in 1968, 18-year-old Mutulu and 500 other Black activists nationwide (who were also aligned with the Black Panthers) met at New Bethel Church in Detroit. Pastor C.L. Franklin (“Queen of Soul” Aretha’s father) presided over New Bethel. They officially started the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika at that gathering.

Police and the FBI Attack the Panthers, the Republic of New Afrika and the Shakurs

Police attacks on the Black Panther Party and its leadership started swiftly. They first shot and arrested Huey Newton for uncertain reasons, with the arresting officers also being shot and one dying.

Amongst the evidence that eventually exonerated Newton was that at least one report said the only ammunition recovered at the scene was police-issued.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman sitting on a bench outside an office. A large glass window is covered with posters and has “Black Panther Party” painted on it.

The FBI then paid and coerced Black people nationwide to infiltrate Panther chapters, including at least six that had infiltrated the Harlem and Bronx, New York, Black Panther chapters.

This led to frame-ups and murders around the country, including the 1969 murders of Illinois Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, along with Los Angeles Panther leaders Bunchy Carter and John Huggins.

In 1969, the second year that the Republic of New Afrika met in Detroit, the police fired 800 bullets into New Bethel Church, wounding and arresting many activists.

Mutulu Shakur’s life-long activism would put him under constant FBI surveillance, as seen in his FOIA-released file that revealed agents’ reports on him that were delivered to the FBI Director every three months since he was 19 years old.

In 1969, police arrested Afeni Shakur, Lumumba Shakur and Sekou Odinga, who were being held in prison awaiting trial as part of the New York Panther 21. The group of New York Black Panthers voted for Afeni to gain bail first, act as the Harlem leader, and become the spokeswoman for the group.

Rally to free the Panther 21. [Source:]

Afeni became pregnant with New Jersey Black Panther Billy Garland’s child in the fall of 1970. The judge revoked her bail that year and Lumumba divorced Afeni in early 1971 when he found out about the pregnancy.

Afeni Shakur was the only Panther 21 member to represent herself in court. Her effectiveness during the trial was so compelling that jurors credited her with their decision to acquit all of the Black Panthers in court on their dozens of charges each.

Afeni gave birth to her child, Tupac Amaru Shakur, in 1971. Colleges nationwide invited her to lecture on Black liberation issues.

When Afeni returned, she worked for law firms aiding in cases but the FBI visited firms and scared them away from employing her.

When anti-war activists burglarized an FBI office in 1971, they stole documents that revealed the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) which had spent the vast majority of its time attacking socialists, anti-war, and civil rights activists. The Black Panthers fit all of these categories and were murderously targeted, as were members of the Republic of New Afrika.

Mutulu Helps Start Lincoln Detox and Marries Afeni Shakur

In 1970, Mutulu Shakur and José Aponte, representing activists from the Republic of New Afrika, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords (Puerto Rican version of the Black Panthers), as well as Whites in a group called White Lightning, took over the Bronx publicly run Lincoln Hospital, known as a “butcher shop” at that time.

These activists had formed the United Bronx Drug Fighters and forced Lincoln to start a drug treatment program in the Bronx—Lincoln Detox—that first used methadone maintenance for heroin treatment.

Mutulu and other activists then studied acupuncture in Canada, China and the U.S, receiving a license to practice it and institute it at Lincoln Detox for treating addicts, discontinuing the problematic methadone maintenance being pushed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. It was reportedly the first program of its kind in the United States in 1973.

As Assistant Director of Lincoln Detox under Director Richard Taft, MD (a descendant of President Taft), Mutulu also employed a Black, Puerto Rican and White activist staff who provided both addiction counseling and political education in line with Malcolm X’s drug treatment model.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Academic Research Society and the World Academic Society of Acupuncture would recognize Lincoln Detox as the largest and most effective treatment program of its kind as it detoxed thousands of addicts.

Dr. Richard Taft receiving acupuncture from a patient-trainee at Lincoln Detox Center (Photo from Taft Family History).
Dr. Richard Taft receiving acupuncture from a patient-trainee at Lincoln Detox Center. [Source:]

Mutulu Shakur said, “Acupuncture, in the hands of revolutionary thinking Puerto Rican, Blacks, and progressive white people, was an intervention that the government was not willing to accept at the time because it attacked and exposed the intention of the government to impose chemical warfare on a certain segment of the community. And it exposed the fact that the government wanted to control the flow of drugs into the community.”

Mutulu Shakur also co-founded and directed the National Task Force for COINTELPRO Litigation and Research, which was joined by activists such as Abbie Hoffman, Afeni Shakur, attorney Barbara Handschu and others. Their efforts eventually won broad restrictions on New York City’s police intelligence unit (known as the “Red Squad).

Afeni had volunteered at Lincoln Detox, worked with Mutulu against COINTELPRO, and moved in with him in 1973. They were married in 1975 and Afeni gave birth to Mutulu’s daughter Sekyiwa that year.

People lined up outside the Bronx’s Lincoln Detox clinic in the 1970s. [Source:]

Murderous Attacks As New York City Defunds, Closes Lincoln Detox

In the early 1970s, New York police intelligence increased their murderous attacks on activists, pushing Black Panthers such as Zayd Shakur, Assata Shakur (s/n Joanne Chesimard), Sekou Odinga and others to join the Black Liberation Army and go “underground” in hiding.

Shakur is escorted from Middlesex county jail, November 1973.
Assata Shakur being escorted from the Middlesex County jail in 1973. [Source:]

Militant white activists, such as former leaders of the largest civil rights-supporting anti-war group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), had also gone into hiding, forming the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground and others started bombing anti-civil rights and pro-war institutions.

A close-up of a wanted poster

Description automatically generated

Jennifer Dorhn, the sister of SDS and Weather Underground leader Barnardine, worked at Lincoln Detox.

Attacks on Lincoln Detox started soon after they launched their acupuncture program. First, Director Richard Taft’s body was found dead in a storage closet with heroin under his skin but no needle marks on him, as if someone was trying to make the non-addicted doctor look like he died from a heroin overdose.

Then, in 1976, Lincoln Detox’s lawyer Stanley Cohen, who also had helped attain acquittals for Bronx Black Panther Assata Shakur, had just reported a breakthrough on a new case against Assata when Cohen was found dead in his home. Someone had injected Cohen with cocaine and stolen all his legal papers.

Within a year of Cohen’s death, New York City defunded the clinic. Mutulu and other staff kept it going for another year on a volunteer basis, leading New York City to surround Lincoln Detox with police, allowing no one to enter in November 1978.

Mutulu had further started trainings at Lincoln for his staff to learn acupuncture. After police closed his clinic, he spread such trainings far and wide in founding the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America with Richard Delaney.

Multinational Activists Rob Banks and Free Imprisoned Assata Shakur

After Lincoln Detox’s forced closure, a group alternately called the Multinational Task Force and the Revolutionary Armed Task Force “expropriated” bank money from armored trucks for several years.

Assata Shakur had been in prison after a shootout in 1973 where police pulled over Sundiata Acoli’s car, with Zayd Shakur and her in it. Police killed Zayd Shakur, while wounding Assata and Acoli. Police Trooper Werner Foerster was killed with his own gun and Trooper James Harper was wounded.

In November 1979, the Black Liberation Army freed Assata Shakur from her New Jersey prison. Assata remains a political fugitive in Cuba.

In 1981, Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert drove a getaway truck for a group of Black Liberation Army members attempting to rob a Brinks truck in Nyack, New York. After a number of successful armored truck robberies with no one harmed, this one failed and two police officers and one Brinks truck driver were killed.

In 1981, Brinks heist suspects Kathy Boudin, David Gilbert and Judith Clark are led from Nyack police headquarters after arraignment on murder charges.
In 1981, Brinks suspects David Gilbert, Kathy Boudin and Judith Clark are led from arraignment hearing in courthouse in Nyack, New York. [Source:]

A group of city, state and federal law enforcement formed in New York, calling itself the Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF). They used this incident to target a vast number of White, Black and Hispanic activists who were forced underground but captured and charged in association with these actions over the next five years.

While Mutulu Shakur did not participate in the Brinks truck robberies, the JTTF indicted him for “conspiracy” to rob these Brinks trucks under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

The JTTF did not capture Mutulu until 1986, making him the last person captured for these actions. Along with the conspiracy charges, prosecutors charged Mutulu with involvement in the Black Liberation Army’s liberation of Assata Shakur.

Despite the fact that presiding Judge Charles Haight admitted that the FBI’s COINTELPRO violated Mutulu’s rights and top witness Tyrone Ryson was a paid informant involved in the actual Brinks truck crimes, Judge Haight sentenced Mutulu to 60 years in prison.

Mutulu’s Stepson Tupac’s Entertainment Stardom and Activist Projects

By the end of 1991, Mutulu’s stepson with Afeni, Tupac Shakur, had his first rap CD, 2Pacalypse Now, released with Interscope Records and starred in his first movie, Juice. Witnesses also told a Crip gang leader that police had murdered several more unarmed gang members, including his cousin, just before the Los Angeles riots started at the end of that year.

A color photograph of Tupac Shakur, wearing a red ball cap and red shirt.
Tupac Shakur [Source:]

The Los Angeles “riots” (“rebellions” according to activists), started after news media showed film of many police nearly beating Rodney King to death and the police then being found not guilty in court. By April 1992, some former Black Panthers convinced gang leaders to call a gang peace truce, and to turn to political activism.

Mutulu and Tupac’s extended Black Panther family took part in this movement, with Tupac and Mutulu devising the “Code of THUG LIFE” that called for gangs to decrease any damage to their community. Tupac helped bring together rival Bloods and Crips gang leaders fighting over drug-selling turf, and they agreed to the Code of THUG LIFE and called peace truces.

Mutulu organized Bloods and Crips gangs throughout the federal prison system to end hostilities.

President Bush, the CIA, and the FBI worked with the Los Angeles police to stop this movement politicizing gangs.

This gang politicization and peace truce movement spread nationwide, even leading the New York City Latin Kings to stop drug dealing and convert to the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation.

Prison officials then transferred Mutulu Shakur to the highest maximum-security prison operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons—the super-max prison in Florence, Colorado—out of concern over his “outside contacts and influence over the younger black element.”

At least five police-linked attacks on multi-platinum CD-selling Tupac finally led to his “unsolved” murder in 1996 at the age of 25. Afeni Shakur died in 2016 at the age of 69.

Mutulu Shakur Denied Parole Until Seven Months Before His Death

While most prisoners are eligible for parole halfway through their sentence, the U.S. Parole Commission denied Mutulu parole 30 years into his 60-year sentence. They continued to deny parole for more than six additional years until he developed blood cancer.

Prison doctors gave Mutulu six months to live in May of 2022. By November 2022, the Parole Commission finally granted Mutulu compassionate release, saying he was “so infirm of mind and body” that he could not be a criminal threat.

Mutulu was released on December 16, 2022, and passed away on July 6, 2023. He was survived by Tupac’s half-sister Sekyiwa “Set” Shakur and his close step-brother Mopreme Shakur, along with four other children and three grandchildren.

The New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement said in a joint statement that “Dr. Mutulu Shakur taught us that ‘people struggle for liberation because they love [the] people.’”

Mutulu was mourned and praised by many surviving activist comrades including Sekou Odinga, former New York City Councilman Charles Barron, and NAPO leader Watani Tyehimba.

Recommended Reading

Lumumba Shakur et al., Look for Me In the Whirlwind: A Collective Autobiography of the New York 21 (San Francisco: PM Press, 2017).

Santi Elijah Holley, An Amerikan Family: The Shakurs and the Nation They Created (Boston: Mariner Books, 2023).

Peter Zimroth, Perversions of Justice: The Prosecution and Acquittal of the Panther 21 (New York: Viking Press, 1974).

Huey P. Newton, To Die for the People (New York: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1972).

Michael Newton, Bitter Grain: Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party (Holloway House Publishing, 1980).

M. Wes Swearingen, FBI Secrets: An Agent’s Expose (Boston: South End Press, 1995).

Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression (Boston: South End Press, 1990).

Assata: An Autobiography (Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Hill Books, 1987).

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