CHOKWE Lumumba, the African-American lawyer assigned to help Buju Banton appeal his drug-trafficking sentence, is best known for representing superstar rapper Tupac Shakur and members of the Black Panther Party.
On Tuesday after it was announced he would replace David Oscar Markus as the singjay’s attorney, Lumumba told the Jamaica Observer that he finds himself in a “unique situation.”
“This is the first time I’m representing someone from the Caribbean, but I’m also aware of the pressure authorities place on high-profile persons,” he said from his Jackson, Mississippi office. He added: “I’m not going to be making any pronouncements until I read the transcripts and talk to the brother in person.” Lumumba says he was contacted three months ago by persons close to Banton, with a possibility of taking up his case. He has spoken to him at least three times by phone from Florida where the Grammy winner is serving a 10-year sentence on drug-related charges.
Banton was found guilty last February in a Tampa, Florida Federal court. He also faced a gun possession charge but that was dismissed by Judge James Moody. The 65-year-old Lumumba is likely to make his first appearance at Banton’s side at a October 30 re-sentencing. An Atlanta, Georgia appeals court recently ruled that there is sufficient evidence to sentence the artiste to an additional five years on the gun charge.
Markus, a Miami lawyer, had represented Banton since his arrest on cocaine charges in December, 2009. Almost 20 years ago, the Detroit-born Lumumba worked with another controversial artiste, the charismatic but mercurial Tupac Shakur who had numerous clashes with the law. Like Johnnie Cochran of O J Simpson fame, Lumumba was a Civil Rights advocate who built an impressive resume working for embattled members of the Black Panther Party.
After graduating from Wayne State University in Michigan, Lumumba was admitted to the state Bar in 1976. He says his passion for the law was inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements that exploded in the United States a decade earlier. “That’s the reason I became a lawyer, when I saw people like Martin Luther King being thrown into prison. I wanted to represent people who were wrongly persecuted,” he said.
Tupac’s standoffs with authorities kept Lumumba busy for much of the 1990s. His most famous case involving the rapper came in 1993 when he was charged with assault for shooting two police officers in Atlanta. He was eventually cleared of the charges. Lumumba also successfully represented Lance Parker, a black man implicated in the beating of white truck driver Reginald Denny during the infamous 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Born Edwin Taliaferro, he has been known as Chokwe Lumumba for most of his life. He took his Christian name from an Angolan tribe, while his surname was inspired by Patrice Lumumba, the iconic Congolese prime minister. Lumumba, a widower and father of three adult children, says he is a big fan of Motown music. He has visited Jamaica three times.