Former Black Panther Jalil Muntaqim freed, but still harassed

Jalil Muntaqim in 2000. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
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Being a revolutionary and a political prisoner means there is always a target on your back. For Jalil Muntaqim, recently freed after almost 50 years behind bars, this means fending off continued persecution by the state of New York.

In 1971, as a 19-year-old member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, Muntaqim was convicted of murdering two New York policemen. He was sentenced to 25 years to life. While locked up, he earned multiple college degrees, acted as a mentor for younger inmates, and took responsibility for his actions.

Last October, after his twelfth bid for parole, Munataqim was finally released. Now in his late 60s, he had contracted and recovered from Covid-19 in prison. Pressure to release non-dangerous and medically vulnerable prisoners during the pandemic may have played in his favor. Statistics show that elderly parolees almost never commit new crimes.

After leaving Southport Correctional Facility, Muntaqim went to his mother’s home in Brighton, New York, to begin rebuilding his life.

But that target was still on his back. Within days, the chairman of the Monroe County GOP and a local right-wing radio host mounted a campaign to put Muntaqim back behind bars. His “crime”? Registering to vote! Muntaqim had signed a voter registration form that was included with a packet of papers provided to help parolees re-integrate into society. For that, he has been charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor.

Muntaqim’s relative Blake Simmons told this reporter that as a former Black Panther Party member, Muntaqim is “in the crosshairs of the state.” And that the police guild in particular would like him to die behind bars.

Numerous supporters and groups including the Northeast Political Prisoner Coalition and New York State Jericho Movement have demanded justice for Muntaqim. Activists in Rochester, New York, held a press conference to call for all charges to be dropped. “Make no mistake, this is an issue of race, class and white supremacy,” said Rev. Lane Campbell of the First Universalist Church. In addition, a former Rochester City Court judge, Leticia Astacio, said state laws restoring voting rights to felons are very confusing, even “to attorneys and to governors.”

Community pressure is having an effect. A grand jury hearing to decide whether to press charges was twice postponed in December and has yet to be rescheduled.

Readers are encouraged to join thousands who have signed a petition that demands charges be dropped.

This harassment needs to end. Stop the persecution of Jalil Muntaqim and free all political prisoners!

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