Mos Def mixes activism, music


NEW YORK -- Although a jury convicted Jose Padilla of supporting terrorism earlier this week, rapper-actor Mos Def thinks that Padilla may not have gotten the due process the criminal justice system promises.

"We all know the history of insufficient evidence or testimony under duress -- at the very least, legal circumstances that demand some sort of reinvestigation, a new consideration for facts, and just the truth -- basically saying these people are not the criminals they're being made out to be," he said in an interview Thursday.

"(It's) the climate that we live in, people's rights and liberties being taken advantage of -- the whole situation with Jose Padilla," he said. "Basically the state being able to just charge any individual with anything and prosecute them on the basis of that."

Mos Def is hoping to draw attention to what he sees as inequities in the U.S.' criminal justice system this weekend with the 10th annual Black August benefit concert at the Nokia Theater in New York. Other performers include socially minded rappers such as Talib Kweli and Dead Prez and rapper Saigon.

Organized by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Black August was organized to create awareness about the cases of people that the organization believes has been unfairly convicted, such as Assata Shakur, whose image is included on the concert flyer.

Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army, escaped prison in 1979 after being convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper and lives in Cuba as a fugitive.

"It's so interesting how people are doing all this international philanthropic work, but this is real philanthropy -- freeing innocent people, clearing their name or calling this system into account for how it responds to the truth. These people are telling the truth," Mos Def said.

Padilla, a Chicago resident, was convicted earlier this week along with two defendants of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas. The three were accused of being part of a North American support cell that provided supplies, money and recruits to groups of Islamic extremists. The defense contended they were trying to help persecuted Muslims in war zones with relief and humanitarian aid.

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, in addition to defending human rights, lists in its mission a commitment to protecting its people against police brutality and racial profiling.

Mos Def said that the value of his work as an artist is measured only by how much he can do to lift his people out of such oppression, and wishes that more people in the music industry would do the same.

"People in key positions as artists, programrs, presidents, chairmen -- they're letting their people down. Wake up!" Mos Def said. "If (Tupac Shakur) could get killed, then your life means nothing, no matter if you have 100 cents or a 100 million."

Mos Def also pointed the finger at people are too wrapped up into Hollywood gossip to pay attention to critical matters, like what has happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"There's certainly more urgent issues in the world," he said. "It's that whole entire gossip industry, as it relates to us (black people), and what we have to do, and what our position is on a global level -- it's just totally counterproductive."