[Pnews] After 47 Years Behind Bars, Will Jalil Muntaqim Go Free?
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 6 11:48:37 EDT 2018
After 47 Years Behind Bars, Will Jalil Muntaqim Go Free?
Messiah Rhodes <https://indypendent.org/authors/messiah-rhodes/> Jun 4
It all started the night of May 21, 1971. Two police officers, Waverly
Jones and Joseph Piagentini, were fired upon while walking to their
patrol car at a housing project near the Macombs Dam Bridge in Harlem.
Jones died instantly from a gunshot to his head. Piagentini, who was
shot 13 times, died en route to the hospital. Today nothing marks the
location of the shooting, but in the 1970s, it was among a string of cop
killings that garnered the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and even
President Richard Nixon, who told his FBI director “not to pull any
punches” in going after the black militants believed responsible.
Working with the NYPD, the FBI launched operation NEWKILL, casting a
nationwide dragnet to track down members of the Black Panther Party’s
paramilitary offshoot, the Black Liberation Army (BLA), which had issued
statements claiming responsibility for the deaths of Jones, Piagentini
and other officers in their war against the United States government.
After a shootout with police in San Francisco, two young men — Anthony
Bottom and Albert “Nuh” Washington — were arrested on August 28, 1971
for the killings of Jones and Piagentini. Nearly two years later a third
accomplice, Herman Bell, was arrested in New Orleans. They became known
as the “New York Three” and in 1975 were convicted of first-degree
murder, weapons possession and conspiracy.
‘I am an example of what was going on during the 1960s and ’70s
leading out of the Civil Rights movement.’
In 2000, Washington died in prison from cancer. On April 27 of this
year, Herman Bell was granted parole. Anthony Bottom, who later changed
his name to Jalil Muntaqim, is the only member of the New York Three
remaining behind bars. Just 19 years old when he was apprehended,
Muntaqim was a member of the BLA, but he’d already been politically
active years before that. An activist with the NAACP’s San Francisco
chapter, he joined the Panthers after Martin Luther King Jr. was
assassinated in 1968.
“I had a job at California human resources as a social worker and I
worked with them getting people employment,” Muntaqim said, recalling
the era in which he was radicalized during a recent interview conducted
at the Sullivan Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in
upstate New York. “At the same time, I was engaged with the Black
Panther Party and their operations.”
Since his arrest, Muntaqim has spent the past 47 years behind bars. The
66-year-old has done time at Attica and Sing Sing in New York and at San
Quentin in California, among other prisons. His case represents a
turbulent era in the United States, when the government actively
suppressed nonviolent movements as well as their militant counterparts,
including the Weather Underground, Puerto Rico Liberation Front, the
American Indian Movement and the BLA.
“We got close to a real revolution in this country,” Muntaqim said. “I
am an example of what was going on during the 1960s and ’70s leading out
of the Civil Rights movement.”
Since entering prison Muntaqim has been a tireless advocate for radicals
such as himself who are serving decades-long prison sentences, helping
to run an organization he formed called the Jericho Movement, which
raises awareness of their plight. In terms of his own case, he has
repeatedly been denied parole since he became eligible in 2002, although
his last parole assessment classified him as a low-risk inmate.
Until recently, the New York State Board of Parole could deny parole
solely based on the severity of a prisoner’s past offense, even if he or
she was deemed to have been rehabilitated and a low risk to society if
released. Under new regulations, the parole board is now required to
give much greater weight to an applicant’s record while incarcerated and
the likelihood they can be reintegrated into society.
In Bell’s case, the parole board cited his exemplary prison record and
his apology for his role in the killings of the two police officers.
“There was nothing political about the act,” Bell told the parole board
in March. “As much as I thought [so] at the time, it was murder and
Muntaqim has also garnered praise for his conduct behind bars and will
go before the parole board the week of June 11. Stung by Bell’s release,
the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and its political allies are
clamoring for Muntaqim to remain behind bars and point to his continued
identification as a political prisoner as a sign of his lack of penance
for his crime.
An organizer, writer, poet and educator, Muntaqim has twice received
commendations for quelling tensions and preventing prison riots. He has
written three books while incarcerated and, in 1994, graduated from SUNY
New Paltz with a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Sociology. These days,
he focuses on educating the inmates around him, teaching classes in
poetry, sociology and history.
He has also dedicated himself to his Muslim faith. “Prison is not easy,”
Muntaqim said, explaining how Islam helped him mature over the years and
find peace. However, he has refused to entirely renounce his
revolutionary views, which, he believes, is the reason he continues to
be locked up. His political convictions have also gotten him into hot
water in prison. He spent four months in solitary confinement at Attica
beginning in December 2016 because authorities were not happy about the
content of one of his classes.
“They came to my cell and took me to the SHU [Secure Housing Unit],”
Muntaqim said. “I was teaching a black history class for about two
months straight. I started from 1861 and I was bringing it up to 1960s.
So during the 1960s naturally I have to talk about the Black Panther
Party. That was one of the biggest things going on in this country at
the time. I was bringing a comparison to the Black Panther Party and
street organizations, particularly the Bloods. The [prison]
administration was not happy about the fact I was making that kind of
comparison. So they took my narrative and turned it into something
completely different. They put me in the box, saying I was trying to
organize the gangs or something.”
Meanwhile, as aging radicals such as Oscar López Rivera, Herman Wallace,
Herman Bell and others are finally released from state and federal
prisons, Muntaqim hopes the New York State parole board will set him on
the path to freedom so he can continue the work he began in prison on
He already has plans for what he will do when he’s free. Going to
federal prison at the age of 19, Muntaqim was separated from his
soon-to-be newborn daughter. At the age of 66, he has yet to spend time
with her, his granddaughter or his great-granddaughter outside of prison.
He wants to be involved in community gardens and to take part in forming
a community center where young people can learn computer skills,
especially coding. He also has a few history lessons he would like to
impart to the next generation.
“Some of us on the inside need to come out,” Muntaqim said. “We have a
voice that needs to be shared.”
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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