Dancehall reggae icon Buju Banton reached past prison bars to issue a belated tribute to his former lead attorney Chokwe Lumumba who died recently at age 66 amid suspicion he did not die of natural cause but could have been murdered.
In a statement sent from a federal prison in Miami, Banton aka Mark Myrie described the former mayor of Jackson, Mississippi as a warrior who volunteered to help him reverse conviction and imprisoned because of his beliefs.
“To the family and friends of the late Chokwe Lumumba: My heart goes out to you all. I share in your grief immensely.
Having been one of the many lives, attorney Lumumba has touched, it’s with a deep sense of privation that I mourn the passing of my friend and another great Black freedom fighter. Attorney Chokwe Lumumba, a warrior just like the great leader Patrice Lumumba who fought for the liberation of the Congo in Africa.
Attorney Lumumba fought for many who could not stand up against a profaned system that is filled with injustice — A well-disciplined and principled man.
We first met while I was going through the litigation process stemming from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to reinstate a gun charge — A charge that was previously dismissed by the district court judge.
This tall, dignified black man walked into the visiting room at the FCI Miami, introduced himself and got right down to business. Attorney Lumumba had already done his homework concerning my case and clearly saw that something was amiss. He never tried to sugar-coat his thoughts.
Attorney Lumumba believed it was imperative and made it very clear that I should do the same.
Throughout those protracted months I spent at the Pinellas County Jail in Tampa, Florida, Attorney Lumumba called at least twice weekly to discuss my case and ascertain all was well with me.
He travelled all the way from Mississippi to Florida for attorney client visits. All these actions of genuine interest in my situation gave me confidence in Attorney Lumumba. We developed mutual respect for each other.
His appraisal of my chances as it regards justice were always realistic, hence his proactive approach as opposed to being reactive.
This brought about a favorable outcome, with the gun charge being dismissed.
At the end of the evidentiary hearings in 2013, attorney Lumumba looked me in the eyes and said: “What did you do to these people. This is not justice at all. From the gate, you have been screwed.”
Attorney Lumumba also advised me that having been elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, he was unable to continue his career as a defense attorney.
However, he went on to recommend a few attorneys whom he believed would effectively assist me. Attorney Lumumba also reached out to my current attorney, Professor Charles Ogletree.
In parting, attorney Lumumba again said: “Mark, it’s going to be an uphill struggle. I saw what they did to you and, unfortunately, you didn’t see it coming. Once they have you, it’s hell to break free from their chains son. I wish you all the best. You can call me anytime for anything at all. However, I can render assistance, trust me I will”.
We spoke several times after he was no longer my official representative, even through third parties, even as recent as two days before his passing. So I was not only shocked but also in a state of denial.
Attorney Lumumba was vigorous and energetic, even when he spoke in a subtle manner. How could this happen without warning? This is really sad. I just have to pay my respects in whatever way I can.
Thank you for the time you dedicated to my cause. It will be with me forever and the countless others whom you have touched with your passion for justice. I know you are in a much better place. If what they say is true, then you are still fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Farewell, my friend. You shall be greatly missed.
Friends for life and even after.
Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton
Chokwe Lumumba last visited New York in January to speak at the inauguration of City Councilwoman Inez Barron. As always, the firebrand speaker delivered a poignant message to those who braved arctic temperatures in order to hear him. A friend to progressives, Lumumba became familiar to a new audience when he offered to defend the popular Jamaican deejay after he was convicted of drug crimes in Florida. Lumumba vowed Banton’s innocence and were it not for a political bid to become mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Lumumba might have dedicated time and effort to prove prosecutors wrong. Lumumba sought appeal for the dancehall deejay. After years of fighting against a weighted system, in 2011 he ran for public office. In a sweeping victory against his opponent Lumumba won mayoralty. Born Edwin Taliferro, the Detroit-born activist changed his name to Chokwe. Shedding of a name some might refer to as a slave name publicly associated him with Africa, the continent and its people there and throughout the diaspora. His regard for Patrice Lumumba stamped a permanent moniker when he adopted the surname of the Congolese hero.
On Feb. 27, he died of a heart attack at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. The county supervisor and others are skeptical that Lumumba died of natural cause. They are demanding an autopsy to determine whether or not the Civil Rights activist was murdered. A five-hour funeral was recently held for the 66-year-old where he was lauded for being America’s “most revolutionary lawyer.”