Political Prisoner Jalil Muntaqim Denied Parole – by Stephen Lendman
On November 18, Jalil Muntaqim (formerly Anthony Bottom) was refused parole a day after his November 17 hearing. The board called his record exemplary, but still denied him. Muntaqim thanked everyone who wrote letters of support and said he’ll appeal the decision. Failing that, his next scheduled hearing is in June 2010. His earlier 2002, 2004 and 2006 hearings were also unsuccessful.
In a November 19 letter to supporters, he wrote as follows:
“The parole board ignored the overwhelming support from the community for my release, and denied me parole. I have come to the conclusion after this, my fourth parole appearance….that the parole system is not a fair and impartial decision making body. It is a political institution with a law enforcement agenda….incapable of being fair and impartial in cases where a police officer’s death is involved….The judiciary generally supports the law enforcement agenda of the parole board.”
To rectify this “double standard,” he urged his supporters to:
— “organize a coalition of progressive folks willing and able to concentrate on this issue;”
— get the “religious/faith based community” on board;
— challenge elected officials “for their refusal and failure to intervene….;” and
— New York’s “Governor Patterson must be told his choice of parole chairman and commissioners must reflect the desires of the community.”
Short of these actions, nothing will reverse the “institutional repression and racism endemic (in) the NYS prison and parole system.” Muntaqim is its longest-punished example, an innocent man kept imprisoned since 1971.
The freejalil.com web site calls him a “political prisoner & prisoner of war.” Some history and background follows.
At age 19, he and Albert Nuh Washington were arrested in San Francisco on August 28, 1971, charged with the May 21, 1971 killings of two New York City police officers (Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini). Washington died in prison on April 28, 2000. In 1973, Herman Bell was also arrested and charged along with Gabriel and Francisco Torres. The two brothers were later acquitted for lack of evidence. Muntaqim, Washington and Bell became known as the New York Three.
The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. (odmp.org) said both patrolmen:
“were shot and killed in the 32nd Precinct when they were ambushed by members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA). (The) three suspects snuck up behind them and opened fire. Patrolman Jones was struck in the back of the head and killed instantly. Patrolman Piagentini was shot 13 times and succumbed to his injuries en route to the hospital. (The BLA) was a violent, radical group….responsible for the murders of more than 10 police officers around the country. They were also responsible for violent attacks….that left many police officers wounded.”
In a secret White House May 26, 1971 meeting, Richard Nixon, John Erlichman, FBI Director Herbert Hoover, and others named the murders “NEWKILL,” (for New York killings). It’s believed they decided to blame them on Black Panther Party (BPP) members as part of the COINTELPRO conspiracy to destroy them.
The first trial against the New York Five, including the Torres brothers, ended in a mistrial. The brothers were acquitted in a second 1975 one, but the New York Three were convicted of first degree murder, weapons possession, and conspiracy despite evidence shown to be inconsistent, fraudulent, and based on perjured testimonies.
The FBI claimed a crime scene fingerprint was Herman Bell’s. Not the NYPD, however, but the jury wasn’t told. The defense argued that federal agents took the print from Muntaqim’s San Francisco apartment, and together with the NYPD conspired to assure conviction in the second trial.
Two firearms were also seized when Muntaqim and Washington were arrested. The prosecution said one belonged to officer Jones. The FBI tested the second one, a .45 caliber automatic, compared its ballistics to crime scene evidence and found no link. The NYPD claimed its later tests matched the San Francisco weapon. Either the FBI or NYPD lied, but it didn’t help. On May 12, 1975, Muntaqim, Washington and Bell (the New York Three) were convicted and sentenced to two concurrent terms of 25 years to life, the maximum penalty at the time.
Prosecutorial charges were bogus as later exculpatory evidence showed. Linda Torres, Karen Parks and Jacqueline Tabb testified regarding matters relating to a Bronx, NY apartment the defendants shared. On October 14, 1971, Tabb and others were there when police raided it. Everyone was arrested. Tabb, Maria Torres Bailey and Stanley Bailey were subsequently indicted for hindering prosecution in the second degree, possession of a shotgun, and criminal possession of narcotics.
At trial, Tabb testified that from October 16 – October 28, 1971, the New York County district attorney (DA) questioned her but never mentioned the May 21 killings. Fearing imprisonment, however, she then became a prosecution witness, after which she was freed and given a DA-provided apartment.
Later, an FBI October 30, 1971 teletype showed her testimony was perjured, and the DA knew it. According to an NYPD inspector Jenkins, Tabb wanted her charges dropped in return for grand jury testimony. A deal was apparently struck.
At trial, she testified that on May 21, 1971, the five accused didn’t leave the apartment until 8PM. Later they returned in two groups from 10:45 – 11PM. After news reports of the killings, Bell allegedly said “we hit the wrong ones” (because one of the officers was Black). She also swore seeing three weapons belonging to Muntaqim, Washington and Bell on a table.
However, a November 5, 1971 FBI teletype, undisclosed at trial, differed from her trial testimony. In it, she said the five men left about 3PM, returned later, left again at 7PM, returned after several hours, and Muntaqim, not Bell said “we hit the wrong ones.” She also claimed seeing four weapons, not three.
Linda Torres, the estranged wife of Gabriel Torres, testified that on May 21, 1971 she was at the Bronx apartment with her husband, his brother Francisco, Muntaqim, Washington, Bell, Karen Parks, and Tabb. She said the defendants left together from 8 – 9PM, then returned from 11 – midnight.” She also claimed hearing Muntaqim say “we just offed some pigs,” and the Torres brothers placed guns on her table.
However, in her October 27, 1971 NYPD statement, she said the five men returned together “during the late hours of May 21 or the early hours of May 22.” Contrary to her trial testimony, she mentioned no contact with the defendants prior to the shooting nor that guns were placed on a table.
Three days later on October 30, she changed her story, saying the men left at 7PM, returned from 11 – 11:30PM, and “one of the individuals place(d) three pistols on a table,” contrary to at trial claiming each defendant placed a weapon there.
The prosecution also withheld a January 13, 1972 FBI teletype regarding an interview with Karen Parks, allegedly in the apartment on May 21, 1971.
At trial, Valerie Wall and Patricia Bryant identified Muntaqim as one of two shooters, but prosecutors didn’t disclose material relating to a May 29, 1971 FBI interview with Bryant. Also withheld was evidence proving other individuals, not the defendants, committed the murders.
After the crime, NYPD detective David Gregory told the FBI that he interviewed a woman named Will Jean Davis who said her boyfriend, Michael Williams, told her that his brother, Reggie, fit the description eyewitnesses provided. She also identified photos of persons she knew as the Davis brothers, not Muntaqim and Washington, even though they resembled the individuals she knew. Neighbors identified them as well.
In sum, charges against the New York Three were inconsistent, fraudulent, aided by perjury, and based on a deal struck between the prosecution and a key witness. The defendants were denied due process and judicial fairness, never should have been convicted, and at minimum deserve a new trial.
Under New York State constitutional law, prosecutorial withheld evidence entitles a defendant to retrial if what’s suppressed creates a “reasonable possibility” that the verdict might have been different. Clearly that’s true. A new trial should be ordered, or charges dismissed altogether after decades of injustice.
The trial was a mockery of justice. Testimonies were riddled with inconsistencies and perjury:
— from Jacqueline Tabb and Linda Torres;
— from Willie Jean Davis, who identified two other men, not the defendants, as the killers;
— undisclosed evidence that a suspected drugs trafficker, Adolph Porter, was the real target, and the killings were drugs related;
— the suppressed exculpatory FBI ballistics test on the .45 caliber weapon seized after Muntaqim and Washington were arrested;
— the perjured testimony of NYPD detective George Simmons concerning the test; and
— the recanted testimony of one witness, Rubin Scott, who was intimidated to cooperate at trial.
In total, these violations create a “reasonable probability” that had jurors known the truth their verdict might have been different.
The three defendants were named in later revealed COINTELPRO documents as Black Liberation Army (BLA) and Panther Party (BPP) members, targeted to be “neutralized” by the FBI’s war on dissent, political activism, and opposition to government injustice against society’s most vulnerable – a war still raging against Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, activists, and heroic lawyers who defend them.
Some Background on Muntaqim
Born in Oakland, CA, he grew up in San Francisco and engaged in NAACP youth organizing during the civil rights movement. In high school, he was a leading Black Student Union member. After Martin Luther King’s assassination, he joined the Black Panther Party for Self Defense to fight racism and injustice.
More on them below and the San Francisco Eight, that included Muntaqim and Herman Bell, targeted for their activism against racism, imperialism and injustice, not crimes they never committed, and prosecutors knew it.
When arrested in 1971, Muntaqim was a high school graduate, a social worker, an activist for social justice, and an FBI target to be “neutralized.”
His Prison Achievements
Incarcerated since 1971, he’s one of the nation’s longest held political prisoners and one of the 10 longest held Black political prisoners in the world. He has a daughter, two grandchildren, one great grandchild, and states:
“I came to prison an expectant father and will leave prison a grandfather….The United States does not recognize the existence of political prisoners. To do so would give credence to the fact of the level of repression and oppression, and have to recognize the fact that people resist racist oppression in the United States, and therefore, legitimize the existence of not only the individuals who are incarcerated or have been captured, but also legitimize those movements of which they are apart.”
His prison achievements are impressive:
— from 1975 – 1977, he organized the first national prison petition campaign to the UN; the first revolutionary prisoners’ national newspaper called Arm the Spirit, and wrote some of the first Black political booklets, essays, and an unpublished novel and teleplay;
— in 1986, he drafted a legislative bill for New York State prisoners to receive good time off their sentence; former Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve submitted it to the NY State Assembly Committee on Corrections;
— in 1994, he established the first Men’s Council in the US prison system; Japanese television and The New York Times reported it;
— during the same period, he graduated from SUNY (State Univ. of NY) New Paltz with a BS in psychology and a BA in sociology; he also taught African studies to other prisoners;
— twice he got commendations from prison officials for quelling potential riots, once in the Great Meadow mess hall and again in the Greenhaven Correctional Facility auditorium;
— from 1996 – 1999, he was Eastern Correctional Facility computer lab office manager, responsible for teaching prisoners computer skills; at the same time, he raised money from inmate accounts for charitable children’s funds;
— in 1999, he established Auburn Correctional Facility (ACF) sociology, poetry and legal research discussion classes under the auspices of the Lifers’ Committee he chaired;
— he co-sponsored the Victory Gardens Project, a program enlisting Maine farmers to distribute produce to poor urban New York, New Jersey, and Boston communities;
— in 1997, he founded the Jericho Movement to gain US and UN “recognition of the fact that political prisoners and prisoners of war exist inside the United States despite the United States’ government’s continued denial (to win) amnesty and freedom for these political prisoners;” he’s filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of other prisoners and advocated for humane treatment for everyone; as a result, he was punished, abused, formally disciplined, and transferred often to other prisons;
— after 9/11 while still at ADF, he proposed raising inmate funds for the Red Cross and was acknowledged by the former deputy superintendent of programs for his efforts;
— during the same period, he worked as a pre-GED teacher’s assistant and earned a vocational certificate for architectural drafting; he proposed and got approval for a Life Skills Program for inmates; and
— he once initiated a campaign to provide school supplies to AIDS orphans in Africa.
In addition, he’s a published poet and essayist with writings found in several university sponsored books containing the works of prison writers. He says, “Remember, we are our own liberators!”
Muntaqim’s Legal Challenges
Muntaqim v. Coombe challenged New York State’s law disenfranchising convicted felons. He argued that the law disproportionately impacts Blacks in violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act regarding the denial of the right to vote based on race.
— in September 1994, he filed a pro se complaint in US District Court for the Northern District of New York alleging various constitutional and civil rights violations, one regarding the Voting Rights Act;
— in October 1999, defendants in his complaint moved for summary judgment dismissal; the motion was referred to a magistrate judge;
— in July 2000, the magistrate recommended that defendants’ motion be granted and Muntaqim’s complaint dismissed;
— in January 2001, the District Court judge accepted the recommendation; Muntaqim appealed to the US Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit regarding the dismissal of the Voting Rights Act allegation alone;
— in March 2003, the case was argued before a three-judge panel;
— in April 2004, his appeal was denied; he applied to the US Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to have his case heard;
— in November 2004, the High Court declined;
— in December 2004, the Appeals Court agreed to a rehearing;
— in March 2005, it ordered his case heard with a similar one, Hayden v. Pataki;
— in June 2005, the case was argued;
— in May 2006, it was dismissed on grounds that Muntaqim lacked standing as a convicted felon.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP)
As this writer earlier explained, they stood for ethnic justice, racial emancipation, and economic, social, and political equality across gender and color lines – radical ideas once and more than ever now in a climate of fear and intimidation targeting anyone opposing state policies – ones waging global wars against humanity masquerading as a democratic crusade.
Founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the BPP’s 10-point program stood for:
(1) freedom and “power to determine the destiny of our black community;”
(2) full employment for everyone, including Blacks;
(3) “an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black community;”
(4) decent housing;
(5) education to expose “the true nature of this decadent American society (and teach) us our true history and our role in the present-day society;”
(6) for “all black men to be exempt from military service” at a time they were drafted for foreign wars;
(7) “an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people;”
(8) “freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails” as political prisoners;
(9) in court, for Blacks “to be tried….by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities;” and
(10) “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.”
Words echoing the Declaration of Independence’s message that “all men are created equal (and) whenever any form of government (destroys democratic freedoms), it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and institute a new government.”
Fifty signers endorsed it, including John Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Harrison (father of America’s 9th president), Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.
The San Francisco Eight, Former BPP Members
On January 23, 2007, they were arrested in early morning raids in California, New York and Florida, charged with killing a San Francisco police officer and various conspiracy acts from 1968 – 1973. They were framed following decades of harassment, a ruthless vendetta against former Panthers, and anyone challenging imperial America. Included were:
— Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Hank Jones, Richard O’Neal, Harold Taylor and Francisco Torres;
— Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell, imprisoned since 1971 and 1973 respectively; and
— Ronald Stanley Bridgeforth, believed still sought.
For decades, no new evidence was found against any of them. On February 7, 2008, the conspiracy charge against Boudreaux, Brown, Jones, Taylor, and O’Neal was dropped, the result of successful defense motions challenging it on grounds that the three-year California statute of limitations expired.
Similar motions for Muntaqim, Bell and Torres were heard by the California Appeals Court. Despite their innocence, Muntaqim pleaded to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter and Bell to voluntary manslaughter charges. Both men were sentenced to time served and probation. Torres is the last one still charged, but maintains his innocence. O’Neill is now cleared of all charges.
Nearly three years of struggle and mass support included resolutions from the San Francisco Central Labor Council, the Berkeley City Council, and several San Francisco Supervisors. As a result, they’ve nearly thwarted the racist, vindictive persecution by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and California prosecutors.
No matter. Muntaqim and Bell remain imprisoned for crimes they never committed, because of them activism for social justice.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday – Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.