top of page

Speech to The Racial Justice Summit, Pittsburgh

Hello Everybody:

My name is Keith LaMar (aka Bomani Shakur), and I’m a death row prisoner in the state of Ohio. A little over a hundred years ago, in 1916, an African-American man by the name of Jesse Washington, who was falsely accused of murdering a white woman, was lynched in Waco, Texas. He wasn't hanged, as was customary during the time. First he was castrated, then his fingers were cut off, then he was raised and lowered over a bonfire for two hours, until he finally died. His charred body was then dismembered, the torso dragged through the streets, and other parts of his body sold as souvenirs to a throng of white people who had gathered to witness this gruesome scene. This is the true face of racism, what it looks like under the false front of civility, behind the simulated gestures of normality. In other words, it's harder to see it nowadays, harder to put your finger on it, but it's there.

I saw it when the state of Ohio falsely accused me of murder in 1993, after claiming I was the leader of a group dubbed the "death squad," who, according to the state, was responsible for the deaths of five jailhouse informants during the infamous Lucasville prison uprising. After proclaiming my innocence and demanding my day in court, my case was moved to a virtually all-white city called Ironton, Ohio. The proceedings lasted 30 days, during which time a white judge aided and abetted two white prosecutors in depriving me of a fair hearing of the facts. Indeed, there were no facts: no physical or forensic evidence linked me to any of the murders. And yet an all-white jury found me guilty and sentenced me to death!

On the day of sentencing, though the courtroom had remained virtually empty throughout the entire trial, another throng of white people gathered to witness the not-so gruesome scene. Apparently, they had no interest in hearing the evidence or weighing the facts: word went out that a black man was about to be lynched, and they simply surfaced out of thin air. I remember standing there thinking to myself, "Where did they come from; how did they know?”

This is the kind of racism that's difficult to pin down, the kind that shows up wearing suits and ties, pretending to be "concerned citizens"; the kind that drapes itself in black robes, and hides behind legal statutes and blindfolds. No, they won't cut your fingers off these days, or hoist your body over a bonfire; worse, they'll give you what appears to be a fair trial, then find you guilty with no evidence to support the verdict, then throw you in solitary confinement for decades (until you either lose your mind or exhaust your appeals), then strap you down to a gurney and pump poison through your veins--and, worse of all, after all is said and done, they'll call it justice!

I write these words on the verge of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, having just received the news that the state of Ohio intends to carry out my execution on the 16th of November, 2023. As you all know, Dr. King was himself executed on the 4th of April, 1968, shot through the head with a bullet, and it was racism that killed him. It was racism that killed Jonny Gammage in Pittsburgh; it was racism that killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland; it was racism that killed Eric Garner in Staten Island; it was racism that killed Sandra Bland in Texas; it was racism that killed Freddie Gray in Baltimore; it was racism that killed Trayvon Martin in Florida. And if they kill me, it will be racism that does it. Hence, it is racism that must be killed:

But we must study the problem. . .

(Racism is evil--kill it!)

We need more time. . .

(Racism is evil--kill it!)

Not all officers are bad. . .

(Racism is evil--kill it!)

We're filling up the prisons. . .

(Racism is evil--kill it!)

We're doing the best we can!

(Racism is evil--kill it!)

"For evil to succeed," said Martin Luther King, Jr., "all it needs is for good people to do nothing." Well, you are the good people, the ones in whom the future of this society rests. I truly believe this. It may be too late for people like myself, hard as that is to admit, but I'm hoping that sharing a little of my story will add fuel to the fire that is already burning where you are. I hope you'll believe me when I tell you that people are dying who could be saved. Fear and hate doesn't have to have the final say. And, of course, when I say that racism must be killed, I'm speaking about the erroneous "idea" that the color of a person's skin is determinative of a person's worth. No matter what THEY say. We all have a place on this earth, a right to live and fight for what's real, and a right to die for what we believe in. If worse comes to worst… well, it’s freedom first above all things.

Peace and Love,

Bomani Shakur

bottom of page