Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, also known as Anthony Bottom, had just been paroled last month from the Southport Correctional Facility near Elmira, New York, after spending 49 years in prison. But on October 9, only days after his release, a warrant was issued for his arrest. His crime: registering to vote.
During a November 12 news conference in front of the Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, New York, supporters said voter registration papers were among the documents Muntaqim was given when he was paroled. He thought he was permitted to vote because he was given voter registration forms.
“It was a mistake,” his 85-year-old mother Billie Bottom Brown of Brighton, New York, told the news conference. The event included speakers who are faith leaders and local politicians.
Muntaqim, who turned 69 on October 18, was 19 and a member of The Black Panther Party and its armed wing, The Black Liberation Army, when he and two other men were convicted of shooting and killing two policemen in Harlem. He was sent to Attica Prison in 1971.
For years, he appeared before the New York State Parole Board to convince them that he was remorseful about the killings. His “good behavior” in prison included earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology.
Muntaqim mentored other prisoners. He received commendations for preventing two riots. In 1976, he founded the National Prisoners Campaign. The organization charges that the US incarcerates Black people for working to bring about equality and justice for African Americans. His work, and subsequently, the organization, caught the attention of the United Nations’ Special Committee on U.S. Prisons.
Muntaqim was granted parole after a September 11 hearing this year. During his hearing, he told the Parole Board that he regretted his involvement in the police shootings, calling it “a misguided political act. . . . Revolution for me is the evolutionary process of building a higher level of consciousness in society at large. I’m an evolutionary revolutionary.”
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When Muntaqim filled out his voter registration papers at the Monroe County Board of Elections, his forms were “flagged,” said Lisa Nicolay, a Republican and the Monroe County Board of Elections Commissioner. She told The Spectrum News of Rochester. “Someone reached out to the State Board, the State Board reached out to us and because, this individual, he was immediately removed from the voting registration. So, he is currently not registered to vote.”
That “someone” was William Napier, who chairs the Monroe County Republican Party. Napier wrote to District Attorney Sandra Doorley and demanded that Muntaqim be investigated and prosecuted. “It says on the official New York State voter application, if you are on parole, you are not eligible to vote,” Napier told The Spectrum News.
Napier continued. “At the bottom is an affidavit that you have to sign attesting that you are qualified to register to vote and he signed that. It is a filing of a false instrument. The affidavit indicates that it’s a felony to do so.”
But on April 18, 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order which states that parolees convicted of felonies can obtain a partial executive pardon that would restore their voting rights. First, the governor must review each paroled felon’s case. However, Muntaqim did not have the partial executive pardon.
Napier said Muntaqim also violated the residency requirement for voting. A returning prisoner must live in the community where he or she is registering to vote “for a minimum of 30 days,” he explained. Muntaqim had only moved to his mother’s home in Brighton a day after his parole.
Some suspect that Muntaqim’s situation is politically motivated. Republicans in several states have tried to prevent former prisoners from voting. They fear that the disproportionate number of Black people in prisons who are paroled will register as Democrats, increasing Democratic candidates’ chances to win elections. Alabama Republican Party Chair Marty Connors, voiced this fear in a comment published in the Palm Beach Post: “We’re opposed to restoring voting rights because felons don’t tend to vote Republican.”
Meanwhile, Muntaqim has not been reincarcerated. He lives in Brighton with his mother and is now recovering from Covid-19. His court date is November 16. A campaign has been launched in support of his efforts to not be re-jailed.
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