Former Black Panther to be released after more than 49 years in prison

A former Black Panther who has been in prison for almost half a century has finally won his decades-long battle for freedom after a New York parole board ordered his release.

Jalil Muntaqim, AKA Anthony Bottom, has been in unbroken custody for more than 49 years having been arrested and later convicted of the 1971 murders of two police officers in Harlem. Under the terms of his parole he must be released from the maximum-security Sullivan correctional facility in upstate New York by 20 October.

At a hearing earlier this month – at least his 10th such panel appearance since he became eligible for parole in 1998 – Muntaqim expressed his remorse for the killings of Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. The officers had answered what they believed was a domestic dispute call but were then ambushed and shot.

The two parole commissioners on the panel accepted his expression of remorse as genuine.

Muntaqim, 68, was the subject of a Guardian profile in 2018 as part of a series that looked at black liberation radicals incarcerated for decades in the wake of political and racial turbulence in the late 1960s and 70s. At the time of the Harlem incident he was a clandestine member of the underground wing of the Panthers, the Black Liberation Army.

In the course of a three-hour filmed interview with the Guardian in Sullivan, Muntaqim described how he was only 18 years old when he signed up for the Panthers, quickly going on to join the armed and clandestine BLA. He said that in his many years behind bars he had matured from the revolutionary position that he adopted in 1971, though he remained committed to the cause of racial equality and justice.

“I now take the ‘r’ off the word and make it ‘evolutionary’,” he said. “Revolution for me is the evolutionary process of building a higher level of consciousness in society at large. I’m an evolutionary revolutionary.”

Muntaqim’s release has been virulently opposed by the New York police union, the PBA, and by the widow of one of the murdered police officers, Diane Piagentini. In a statement she said: “We are heartbroken to see another of Joe’s killer set free by politics. But more than anything else, we are angry.”

Muntaqim was one of a dwindling number of black liberation radicals who were incarcerated during the heyday of the Black Panthers and who have been locked up ever since. Edward Poindexter, convicted of the killing of a police officer in Omaha, Nebraska, marked his 50 years in a prison cell in August.

Others have been released on parole in recent months. The surviving seven members of the Move 9, black liberation and environmental radicals from Philadelphia who were arrested following a police siege of their communal home in 1978, were all released on parole over the past two years.

One of the seven, Delbert Africa, died in June just five months after he was set free.

Muntaqim had two co-defendants at trial for the killings of the police officers in Harlem, when they each received sentences of 25 years to life. Albert “Nuh” Washington died in prison in 2000, and Herman Bell was released on parole in April 2018.

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