By Sasha Smith
Despite pressure from various groups in New York state, State University of NY College at Brockport has invited Jalil Muntaqim, former Black Panther Party member and activist to speak on April 6, for an “intellectual conversation.”
Muntaqim who considers himself a “political prisoner” was convicted of the killing a police officer in 1971. Several groups, including the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, are opposed to bringing him to speak in Rochester.
But, SUNY Brockport has refused to cancel the event and has chosen to rescind their previous decision to fund the event using a grant and will no longer pay Muntaqim to speak.
“The committee has rescinded the grant and no funding will be used to pay the speaker. We are not, however, cancelling the event,” said Chief diversity officer Damita Davis.
“Academic freedom allows our faculty to invite guests of their choosing to campus to address our students.”
This comes after a statement was issued from the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York. In that statement, Muntaqim is labeled a notorious cop-killer/ bloody assassin.
Muntaqim, previously known as Anthony Bottom was born October 18, 1951, in Oakland, CA. He joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 16, later joining the more militant Black Liberation Army at the age of 18.
“It’s important to understand that the Black Panther Party was a youth movement, young people,” Muntaqim said in a 2019 parole meeting. “It was a way to defend our struggle against racism, white supremacy, discrimination.”
Muntaqim spoke about having a good childhood, although his parents would fight sometimes.
“I was very close to my father. I loved my mother very much, as well. They had a contentious relationship, but at a young age, I didn’t really see it that much, but I did see it, sometimes, because they had little scuffles,” Muntaqim said in his 2019 Parole Board interview.
Growing up in a culturally African household, Jalil found pride and adoration for black culture, which naturally drew him to the Black Panther Party.
Muntaqim, along with another member of the Black Panther Party, Albert Washington, were convicted of the May 21, 1971 murders of Officer Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in August.
Muntaqim was sentenced to 25 years to life. He was released on parole after 49 years in October 2020.
Years after Muntaqim was incarcerated, he became a Muslim, changing his name from Anthony Bottom to Jalil Muntaqim.
During his time in prison, Muntaqim became an advocate and teacher for inmates. In prison, he received degrees in sociology, psychology, multiple certifications, as well as teaching people both inside and outside the prison.
Muntaqim reports that on multiple occasions his influence prevented prison violence. In one incident, he was called into the sergeants office and was complimented and thanked for defusing the situation.
Muntaqim was released on parole in 2019, and has since received backlash from a community hoping to keep him from sharing his story.
SUNY Brockport invited Muntaqim to speak for an “intellectual conversation” about his time in the Black Panther Party and serving nearly 50 years as a “political prisoner”.
The university is offering this event to its students, faculty and staff as a part of their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion program, previously funding the event with a Promoting Excellence in Diversity (PED) Grant.
The grant is to support events that provide intellectual activities that will engage their community in conversations about diversity issues, prepare their students for leadership in a diverse world, and increase respect and understanding for differences based on knowledge and shared experiences. This event would fit under the grant’s current qualification list.
Davis said effective immediately, the university will be pausing the grant program for thorough review and revision of the grant application process.
“We do not support the violence exhibited in Mr. Muntaqim’s previous crimes, and his presence on campus does not imply endorsement of his views or past actions. However, we believe in freedom of speech. SUNY Brockport has routinely held speaking events involving controversial speakers from various backgrounds and viewpoints, and will continue to do so. These conversations are uncomfortable. They are meant to be. They’re about gaining a new perspective,” according to an email from president of Suny Brockport, Heidi Macpherson.
Diane Piagentini, widow of officer Joseph Piagentini, one of the slain officers, demands that the Muntaqim speaking event be cancelled. Piagentini said Muntaqin is not remorseful. “I am formally requesting that this lecture be cancelled. He is not and never was a political prisoner,” Mrs. Piagentini said in her letter.
“While my husband lay on the ground pleading with them not to kill him, pleading he had a wife and children. Bottom took his service revolver and emptied it into his body. There were 22 bullet holes in his body,” Mrs. Piagentini said in her letter. Piagentini’s letter can be read at https://bit.ly/DPiagentiniLetter.
Piagentini is said to have attended every parole hearing for Muntaqim, demanding that he stay incarcerated, refusing to forgive him or his co-defendant.
However, the opposite is true for Waverly Jones jr., son of the other slain officer. Waverly Jones jr. supported the release of Muntaqim, stating that the 60s and 70s were a turbulent time, not only in NY but throughout the country historically for Black people and considered the parole process to be “humiliating.”
In a statement to the parole board, Jones stated “I don’t see [him] as someone that’s going to come out of prison and commit violent crimes or anything of that nature.”
Mary Lewis, Waverly Jones Jr.’s mother, said, “I’ve learned over the years that hate is a disease. … You keep hate in your life, then your whole life is empty. … I wasn’t brought up to hate. I just feel that 45 years is a long time.”
Based on his experience, Muntaqim has a wealth of knowledge to share with a community ready and willing to listen. “It’s not about spreading hate but about sharing life experiences that are not always favorable but they are true and acknowledging that they happened.”