Jalil Muntaqim (born Anthony Bottom) has been a political prisoner for nearly 50 years. The 68-year-old former Black Panther Party (BPP) and Black Liberation Army (BLA) member was arrested and charged with killing two NYPD officers in August 1971, at the age of 19. He has been incarcerated ever since, despite being eligible for parole for the past 27 years.
In the past few months, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and the numerous prisons in the US become epicenters of the virus, Jalil’s supporters urged New York officials to grant his release from prison. A writ of habeas corpus on Jalil’s behalf cited his age, health and excessive time served. On April 27, Judge Stephan Schick in Sullivan Country granted his release. However, New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James – the first Black person and woman to be elected to her position – intervened and appealed the judge’s decision, preventing Jalil’s release. More than a month passed, and in the last week of May Jalil contracted COVID-19. He was soon hospitalized and struggling for his life. While his condition eventually stabilized, Jalil has been returned to the dangerous conditions in Sullivan Correctional Facility and is still fighting coronavirus.
The state has chosen to transform his life sentence into a death sentence, letting the coronavirus carry out a slow and painful execution. Jalil is not the only aging veteran of the BPP and BLA who is being left to die of disease: Sundiata Acoli, age 83, has also contracted COVID-19; Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, age 76, has colorectal cancer; Mutulu Shakur, age 69, has brain cancer; Imam Jamil al-Amin (who went by the name “H. Rap Brown” in the 1960s), age 76, has myeloma cancer … the list goes on.
For the US imperialist bourgeoisie, these aging prisoners serve as negative examples: dare to rise up in political revolt against the state and you will face punishment for life. We must be clear. Jalil was jailed for alleged acts committed as a political opponent of the bourgeois state. Jalil is part of a long line of Black revolutionaries who have resisted the barbaric, racist oppression that has historically been visited upon the Black nation by the dominant classes in this country. In particular, the BPP and BLA had a directly political understanding of police abolition, as arming the Black masses for struggle against white supremacy – not spending less money on cops and more on social workers!
Politics is a struggle around the question of the state, and the struggle for Black liberation is fundamentally a political struggle, but the bourgeois state will not even recognize this elementary fact! Instead, it proceeds from the fiction that Jalil and his comrades are common social prisoners – even while they serve excessive sentences that no common criminal would face for equivalent offenses.
National Conference of Black Lawyers attorney Standish Willis noted the hypocrisy of the United States’ treatment of Black revolutionaries in a report to the United Nations:
“The United States is very, very concerned when its citizens begin to raise questions in these international forums, because the United States still prefers to posture itself, including the Obama administration, as the leader of the free world and that they don’t have any human rights violations and they certainly don’t have any political prisoners, and we have to dispel that notion in the international community…They (American officials) do not want to have these issues reach the world’s people. How do you go into Iraq or Afghanistan telling people about their democracy when you got Black people that are locked down in prison for 30-40 years as political prisoners?”
When the US state treats Jalil and all its other political prisoners as social criminals, it is saying: there is no such thing as revolutionary politics. The revolutionary-democratic struggle of the Black masses for basic rights is reduced to a simple violation of the law. Outside of those who embrace the bourgeoisie and its state, there is nothing but criminality. “Politics” is reserved for political parties that play within the bounds of the imperialist consensus.
The effort to keep Jalil behind bars is a state effort, and not a policy put forward by one or the other bourgeois political party. For decades, the fascist Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has worked to influence the parole board, lobbying against the release of political prisoners like Jalil. In the current situation, however, we can also thank “progressive” Democrat Tish James for her contribution to his continued imprisonment. Thus we have the fascist cop union and the first Black, first female Attorney General of New York united in struggle against the people.
Opposed in appearance only, both serve the interests of the same state that pursued a ruthless policy of repression against political groups and activists through the FBI’s COINTELPRO project. This once-secret, now notorious program targeted organizers of the Civil Rights, Black Power, American Indian, and Puerto Rican Independence movements. COINTELPRO demonstrated that democratic rights won’t stop the repressive arm of the state when it becomes necessary to suppress ideas which run counter to the interests of the ruling class.
Today we find ourselves in another titanic struggle over basic democratic rights for Black people in America, around the same questions that birthed the BPP and related groups. This is a struggle with potentially political stakes that the bourgeoisie wants to treat as a social problem – a problem of mental attitudes, of ‘modes of policing,’ of allocation of funds. In the face of fierce resistance, the bourgeois state is willing to “update” itself by enacting largely symbolic restrictions on its own institutions, reducing municipal police budgets or contriving schemes for “restorative justice.”
These are the limited measures the state will take in exchange for pacification. To accept them is to allow the bourgeoisie to incorporate the politics of the movement in order to advance its own politics of conquest.
The question of liberation for Jalil Muntaqim and other veterans of the Black liberation movement must be posed as a political question: will the people take the initiative against the imperialist state and demand his release? Or will the state keep him imprisoned as an example, a ‘model’ that serves to demonstrate the limits of the acceptable struggle? Jalil’s liberation would represent a victory of the revolutionary-democratic current now in rebellion against the violence of the US “democratic” state.
White people and Americans of all backgrounds who have joined protests in recent weeks following the murder of George Floyd must take a position on the relation between America and the Black nation, including the situation of its political prisoners. This relation is not only a “Black issue,” but concerns the whole people—genuine unity of the popular camp can only be won through a common struggle against national oppression and racism.
We must work for Jalil’s liberation through various democratic mobilizations: holding public meetings, raising the demand in the press, bringing the call for his release to the streets, and distributing educational literature. We must contribute to the development of a popular current of opinion and exert pressure on public figures like academics, municipal officials and activists. All those who have paid lip service to the current struggle against racism and national oppression must now choose a side on the question of freedom for Jalil Muntaqim.
Oppression is always a lawful custom in the courts of the oppressor. The US bourgeoisie has proven itself hypocritical and inconsistent, entirely incapable and unwilling to reverse its long and bloody history of oppressing the Black nation. Jalil and his comrades will be freed by the mass movement or they will not be freed at all. To support Jalil’s liberation is ultimately to support the right of the working class and the masses to our own politics – a revolutionary socialist politics opposed to the project of the imperialist bourgeoisie. All socialists worthy of the name must take up the battle cry to “Free them all!” until the last prisoner is freed.
TAKE ACTION TO FREE JALIL:
- Sign and share this petition
- Tweet @NYGovCuomo and tell him to commute Jalil Muntaqim’s (Anthony Bottom) sentence
- Tweet @NYSDOCCS and tell Anthony Annucci to grant Jalil Muntaqim’s (Anthony Bottom) medical parole.