Seventy-five public figures sign letter to New York governor asking for release of Jalil Muntaqim after nearly five decades in prison
Leading civil rights activists, academics, actors and writers are calling on Andrew Cuomo to release Jalil Muntaqim, a former Black Panther who has been in prison for 48 years for one of the most high-profile killings of the 1970s black liberation struggle.
Seventy-five prominent public figures have signed a letter to the governor of New York state, headlined: 48 years is enough. The letter asks Cuomo to commute Muntaqims sentence to time served. They include the writer and activist Angela Davis, who was herself put on trial for a 1970 courtroom kidnapping but later acquitted.
Among other signers are Cornel West of Harvard university, actor Danny Glover, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, film-maker Boots Riley and Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow.
The authors write: We believe in the principles of restorative justice. While we understand the serious nature of the crimes for which Jalil has been convicted, a life sentence should not be a death sentence. Forty-eight years is long enough. After all this time, Jalil Muntaqim belongs with his family and his community.
The letter also emphasizes that he has had a clean prison record for decades. He has served as a teacher, mentor and role model for hundreds of other incarcerated people and stands as an example of the potential to reflect, change and grow despite the many challenges of the prison environment.
Muntaqim, whose birth name is Anthony Bottom, faces his 12th parole board in September, having been knocked back for release 11 times since he first became eligible in 2002 on a sentence of 25 years to life. He will be 68 at his next hearing.
He was arrested in 1971 at age 19 for the ambush and murder in Harlem of two police officers, Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. Days after the shootings, the Black Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Black Panthers, claimed responsibility and three members were arrested.
Of his two co-defendants, Albert Nuh Washington died in prison in 2000 and Herman Bell was released on parole in April 2018.
The Guardian highlighted the struggle for release of Muntaqim in July 2018 as part of a series of articles on black power behind bars. At that time 19 black radicals were identified who were still imprisoned, in some cases almost 50 years after the crimes for which they were convicted.
Another former Black Panther profiled by the Guardian for the series, Mumia Abu Jamal, is among the signers of the new letter calling for Muntaqims release. Abu-Jamal remains behind bars in Pennsylvania as one of the 17 incarcerated black radicals, where he is serving a life sentence having been taken off death row in 2012.
Muntaqims battle for freedom after almost half a century in New York maximum-security prisons has been hampered by ongoing vociferous opposition from New York City police unions and from one of the widows of the two slain police officers. A further challenge has been Muntaqims unwillingness to denounce the black liberation struggle of which he was part.
Herman Bell secured his release in part upon his statement to the board in which he said of the 1971 incident: There was nothing political about the act, as much as I thought at the time. It was murder and horribly wrong.
Muntaqim is more resistant. Though he has admitted to committing the police killings, he continues to describe the 1970s black power movement as noble.
In an interview with the Guardian he said: My engagement in the struggle was self-sacrifice because of my love of my people and humanity. Because of that I was targeted by the government and that indicates that my incarceration is of a political nature.
Angela Davis told the Guardian that she believed black radicals in prison were being forced to denounce their politics before they could go free: They have to denounce a party that was the forerunner of movements like Black Lives Matter today.
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