Even if the turmoil of the 2020 presidential election does not end with the preparation of the first debate and the publication by the New York Times Donald Trump’s tax return information, I’ll take you elsewhere, if only for this morning.
We learned on Sunday that Anthony Bottom (now known as Jalil Abdul Muntaqim), 68, would finally be eligible for parole. I am writing ultimately because he has been denied this release on numerous occasions.
Bottom was convicted of the murder of two police officers in 1971 while a member of the Black Panthers. Like other members of the movement, he has spent the last decades behind bars.
As protests continue to divide the country, Bottom’s release brings back the story of a revolutionary and radical movement. Born in 1966 under the leadership of Bobby Seal and Huey P. Newton, the movement strives for greater social justice and an end to police brutality. Claims that seem from a recent article …
Among the actions carried out by the Black Panthers were police surveillance patrols. On several occasions, the participants listened to the frequencies of the police before coming to the scene of police interventions carrying weapons and law books. They were relying on California law and the Second Amendment to justify the presence of open weapons.
As the organization was torn apart from within in 1971 and declined, Anthony Bottom and accomplices from a wing of the Black Panthers called the Black Liberation Army, trapped police officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini in a Harlem apartment. They then shot the two men dead.
If I allow myself a little detour to this story this morning, it is because in the current context of racial tensions and protests, it is quite possible that the announcement of the release of a former Black Panther could be shocking.
It is already the case in New York where the widow of one of the two police officers deplores this sudden decision of the correctional services. As early as 2004, she was leading a campaign to prevent the murderers of her husband from being released. She pointed out that Bottom and his accomplices had been convicted of first degree murder.
Representatives of the New York City Police Union were quick to respond to the announcement: “They have chosen to stand with the murderers, cold-blooded assassins and radicals bent on overthrowing our society.” The leaders, whom they describe as mad and fearful, preferred to side with the assassins, they say.
If we present Anthony Bottom as a very different man from the one who was convicted in 1971, the decision of the parole board nevertheless raises questions. The release is justified by age and the very low risk posed by the former Black Panther.
Other observers argue that the decision could also be explained by the greater cultural diversity within the members of this commission. Not only are there more minority representatives, but members come more and more from different backgrounds, whereas previously there was a strong representation of police forces.
More than a dozen activists from the 1960s and 1970s continue to serve sentences in 2020. We risk revisiting the subject as the debate over police brutality rages on. The Black Panthers have left a murky legacy. If responding to violence with violence is sometimes justifiable, one can legitimately ask whether this strategy leads to lasting gains.