A public university in New York has come under fire for its plan to host an “intellectual conversation” with Jalil Muntaqim, a former Black Panther who spent nearly 50 years behind the bars for ambushing and killing two police officers in 1971.

Muntaqim, who remained in prison until October 2020, is invited to speak at an April 6 event by the State University of New York at Brockport. The event, titled “History of Black Resistance, U.S. Political Prisoners & Genocide: A Conversation with Jalil Muntaqim,” originally was to be funded in part by a Promoting Excellence in Diversity (PED) grant.

Facing intense pushback from the campus community and the general public, SUNY Brockport on Wednesday announced that the PED fund won’t be used to pay the speaker, but the event itself will proceed as planned.

Born Anthony Bottom in 1951 in Oakland, California, Muntaqim joined the socialist Black Panther Party when he was 16 and the Black Liberation Army (BLA) at 18. The two radical left-wing groups, during the height of their anti-police activities, were connected to a series of murders of police officers.

On May 21, 1971, Muntaqim and two fellow BLA members made a fake 911 call to lure in two police officers, Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini, to a residence in Harlem, New York. The ambushers killed Jones with one shot in the back of his head, but shot Joe Piagentini more than 20 times as the patrolman begged for life. Piagentini, then 28, died from his injuries en route to a local hospital.

Officers Joseph Piagentini (L) and Waverly Jones (R) were killed in an ambush on May 21, 1971, in Harlem, New York. (New York Police Department)

When previously asked why he killed Jones, who is black, Muntaqim allegedly responded, “A pig is a pig,” according to Piagentini’s widow, Diane, who wrote a letter urging SUNY Brockport administrators to cancel the event.

“While my husband lay on the ground pleading with them not to kill him, pleading he had a wife and children,” Piagentini wrote in her letter (pdf), “Bottom took his service revolver and emptied it into his body. There were 22 bullet holes in his body.”

A description for the April 6 event on the university website doesn’t mention the role Muntaqim played in the Harlem killings, but mentions a shoot-out in San Francisco that resulted in his capture. It further sheds the man in a benign light, describing him as “a grandfather, father, mentor to many, and loving human being.”

New York state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, along with several other Republican lawmakers, took issue with the characterization of Muntaqim as a “political prisoner,” and asked the university to consider students and staff who have family members in law enforcement.

“I am not sure how Anthony Bottom makes any student feel safer on campus—especially those who have family members in law enforcement,” said Ortt.

In response to criticism, SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson said the school the school has received “strong feedback” since announcing the event, arguing that Muntaqim’s talk isn’t meant to glorify his crimes, but serves as an opportunity for audience to “gain a new perspective.”

“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,” Macpherson said Wednesday in a statement. “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,” she added. “They’re about gaining a new perspective.”

Muntaqim is also known as a co-founder of the Jericho Movement, a group advocating for the release of long-time inmates associated with radical left-wing groups, such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and NPR journalist who is serving life without parole for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981; and Mutulu Shakur, a former BLA member who organized the 1981 robbery of an armored truck in which one guard and two police officers were killed.

The Jericho Movement describes Muntaqim and those who were sentenced to prison of similar crimes as “political prisoners” and “prisoners of war.” When Muntaqim was released on parole in 2020, the group’s website published an article celebrating his return and praising him for maintaining the “highest level of [discipline], integrity and self-respect and respect for others.”

Bill Pan


You Might Like
Learn more about RevenueStripe...