Jalil Muntaqim was born on October 18, 1951, in Oakland, California. He has spent thirty eight of his fifty seven years locked behind bars, paying a heavy price for his participation in the Black Liberation Movement, a struggle he has never abandoned, even behind bars.
Jalil grew up in a family environment imbued with an awareness of the political battles of the day, of the history of Black people in amerika and the struggle for freedom that has been waged on this continent for centuries. As he has explained,
My mother taught us [my sister and I] that we are African. She made that a very important lesson for us; she said, “You are African, don’t let anybody call you anything other than that.” … In our house we used to have pictures of H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X – so these individuals, these were our icons in the household …
In the 1960s Jalil attended high school in San Jose, California, where he earned a scholarship to an advanced high school math and science program. He also received a summer scholarship for a San Jose State College math and engineering course. Jalil participated in NAACP youth organizing during the civil rights movement. In high school, he became a leading member of the Black Student Union, often touring in “speak-outs” with the BSU Chairman of San Jose State and City College.
As he has stated in the documentary Jalil Muntaqim: A Voice for Liberation:
The assassination of Martin Luther King, that’s one thing that impacted me. The other thing that really impacted me was the 1968 Olympics when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in protest – that was significant. John Carlos used to be one of my math tutors, so the culture, the African culture and the politics and the time, the struggle that was going on, the civil rights movement that was going on at that time, being a part of that and being impressed by that – and then, on the other hand seeing the Black Panther Party taking this other stroke after the death of Martin Luther King – after his assassination I began to realize that maybe this non-violent protest thing in not going to be all that there’s going to be in order to make real changes in this country.
Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) giving the raised fist salute in the 1968 Summer Olympics, while Silver medalist Peter Norman from Australia (left) wears an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge to show his support for the two Black athletes.
Two months shy of his 20th birthday, Jalil was captured along with Albert “Nuh” Washington in a midnight shoot-out with San Francisco police. When Jalil was arrested, he was a high school graduate and employed as a social worker.
Jalil was subsequently framed for the assassination of two police officers in New York city by the Black Liberation Army. After his first trial – along with four other codefendants – ended in a hung jury, the State pulled out all the stops, arranging to have him and two codefendants (Herman Bell and Nuh Washington) convicted in a second trial – a trial that was riddled with the kind of inconsistencies and corruption that amerika is famous for:
When Jalil was arrested, he had a gun in his possession. The prosecution would claim that this was the gun that had been used to kill the New York City policemen, even though this was contradicted by the findings of the FBI’s crime lab. The FBI’s findings were suppressed, and an NYPD ballistics expert committed perjury with the prosecutor’s knowledge. In 1983 an appeal would be made for a new trial: shortly after, all ballistics evidence was removed from the police evidence locker and destroyed, thereby preventing the gun from ever being retested. In 1992 a Federal District Court would acknowledge that the NYPD’s witness did in fact commit perjury, but also found that the perjury was a “harmless error”.
Apart from the bogus gun, the only other evidence against Jalil was that of an eyewitness who “thought” he “might be” one of the assailants. This was contradicted by four other eye witnesses, who stated that he definitely was not.
Two women who testified against Jalil and his codefendants did so only after being jailed and separated from their young children for over a year. They were threatened with prosecution if they did not testify against their friends.
The trial judge barred the defense from questioning FBI or police witnesses about the state’s campaign against the Black Liberation Movement. Had these questions been allowed, it might have come to light that Jalil and his codefendants Herman Bell and Albert “Nuh” Washington had all been singled out by name as targets for “neutralization” by the FBI’s COINTELPRO programme.
The FBI uncovered an alternate explanation of the crime: a drug dealer who stated that he had had the cops killed. This information was suppressed. Similarly, the NYPD arrested a prostitute who stated she knew who had committed the crime, yet this too was withheld from the defense.
Even some of the dead policemen’s family members have seen through the government’s lies – not an everyday occurrence, as the emotional and political pressures on people to seek “revenge” against whomever they are told is to blame for their family’s tragedy is strong indeed. But in 2004 Waverly Jones Jr. – the son of police officer Waverly Jones – spoke up on behalf on Jalil at his parole hearing:
I feel that Herman Bell and Anthony Bottom [Jalil’s birth name] were both victims as well of a much larger scheme which got them incarcerated to this day […] I think that keeping them in prison is only strengthening resentment among grassroots individuals and is producing a greater passion in them to pick up a weapon, and I believe that keeping them prison in their eyes is almost like there is no justice, if you will. I just don’t think that’s a good message to send out, and that’s why I requested to meet with the NYS Parole Board.
Jalil and his codefendants were known as the “New York Three”; in 2000 one of the three, Albert “Nuh” Washington, died in the prison’s medical unit after having spent twenty nine years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In Washington’s case, the only evidence against him was his political beliefs and his association with his comrades.
Just over two years ago, in January 2007, the state upped the ante in this case, charging Muntaqim and his codefendant Herman Bell in the notorious San Francisco 8 frame-up.
The SF8 case developed as certain law enforcement officials realized that with the new repressive legislation the Bush regime had passed in the wake of 9-11, it might be possible to replay some of COINTELPRO’s greatest hits.
In practical terms what that meant was that one of the government’s most obscene and disreputable attacks on the Black Liberation Movement – a case in which New Orleans and San Francisco police proudly engaged in torture – could be dusted off. The case – which had been thrown out of court in 1976 when it was revealed that the defendants had “confessed” only after being subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings, cattle prods, suffocation (plastic bags & hot wet blankets), and electric shocks – was for the 1971 assassination of a San Francisco police officer by the Black Liberation Army. All of the accused were at the time known to have been close to the Black Panther Party.
Retired FBI agents re-deputized under Bush started visiting these men – the same men whose torture they had been complicit with twenty-some years earlier – in 2005. The stress this created – the trauma of being harassed and bullied by your abuser even decades later – was great indeed. One of the men thus targeted, John Bownam, was already battling cancer: under the added strain of this FBI persecution, he died just on December 23, 2007.
Exactly one month later, on January 23, 2007, eight men were charged with the 1971 murder of Sergeant John Young and numerous related activities. The same charges, based on nothing but the same evidence that had been thrown out of court in 1976.
Amongst these eight were Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell, the two surviving members of the New York Three, who had already each spent over thirty years in prison.
As Jalil noted:
The SF8 case is about more than the continued persecution and destruction of the Legacy of the Black Panther Party. It is also an effort to legitimize and validate torture as a method to extract confessions from suspects to be used in a court of law. This case seeks to incorporate COINTELPRO tactics as a means to further law enforcement techniques under the auspices of the Patriot Act.
Both Jalil and Herman Bell were extradited to California, where they have remained incarcerated while awaiting the actual trial in the SF8 circus to begin. In the meantime, the fact that they have been in California has been a convenient excuse to deny their hearings for parole which were meant to occur in 2008.
As Jalil explains:
I was scheduled to see the parole board for the fourth (4) time in July 2008; however, since I am being held in California I have been denied an opportunity to appear before the parole board. The NYS Division of Parole will not grant a parole hearing without the physical presence of the prisoner. This matter in California is not expected to conclude before mid-2010, which means I will have missed two parole appearances – 4 additional years of incarceration when I could have been released on parole, essentially adding to 37 years of imprisonment.
What we have here is the threat of one frame-up being used to help prolong another.
As a result, a campaign has emerged around the demand for clemency/commutation to time served in the case of the New York Three. What this would mean would be that Jalil’s sentence for the 1971 killing of two NYPD cops would be over, done with, and what would remain would be for he and his comrades to overcome the impending SF8 frame up in California.
This is a time of great danger, which we are told must also mean great opportunity, no matter how difficult this may be to see. As the San Francisco 8 have explained in their joint statement:
This case and our call for action will teach today’s activists what to expect from the state in its efforts to suppress dissent and protest of government repression. Indeed, this task will forward a broader understanding of what happened in the Movement of the 60s and 70s, and how COINTELPRO disrupted and destroyed the most viable Black political party that emerged out of the civil rights movement. Ultimately, what is here proposed will tell of a youth movement and how the government sought to undermine and destroy it. The proposal will expose how the government seeks to retaliate because those youth (who are now Elders) did in fact challenge the system of racist oppression. They not only challenged oppressive conditions in our collective communities, but also worked to support all oppressed peoples fighting against colonialism and imperialism at that time.
Jalil Muntaqim is an Elder of the Black Liberation Movement, a comrade has remained politically active as he has lived his life on one of imperialism’s starkest terrains, the u.s. prison system.
He is a leader who represents historical dynamics and legacies that have nothing to do with the latest inhabitant of the Whitest House, but rather one who has dedicated his life to freedom from white supremacy and imperialism.
He is a man who stood up with countless others at a time when the last cycle of struggle was at its apex, and has been buried alive and made to suffer as a scapegoat for all those the state could never get.
Support for Jalil Muntaqim and other political prisoners and prisoners of war is a moral necessity, because decades behind bars are already testament enough to the inhumanity of this age.
It is a tactical necessity, because this new case (the SF8) seeks to further legitimize torture, and we all know where that is leading.
It is a strategic necessity, because it weaves our struggle into that against the prison system, against the u.s. traditions of racism and political repression.
It is a political necessity, because it affirms our connection to and identity with the forces of liberation that have struggled even within the belly of the u.s. monster, and have done so without cease ever since the first euro-amerikan imperialists began their invasion of this continent centuries ago.
Please also take some time to participate in the various letter-writing and phone-call-making activities that Jalil and his closest supporters have asked us to join in. This kind of thing can be demoralizing, and many of us make a mental note to write a letter or make a call, but then life gets in the way so we don’t. I mean, who wants to have any contact with the kind of scum who have been responsible for this ongoing travesty?
Nevertheless, this is where we’re at, and this is what we’re being asked to do. Jalil and other political prisoners and prisoners of war have spent decades of their lives behind prison for their commitment to human liberation – if this is what they need, well, isn’t it the least we can do?
Jalil has prepared a model letter to Governor David Patterson, supporting his application for Clemency/Commutation to Time Served. Please take a look at this letter and use it as a model to write to the governor yourself. Even better, have some friends over, and all of you write some letters!
All rhetoric aside, this is something that needs to be done.
There have been efforts to struggle on that level since the day we came off the boats, we’ve always been in rebellion. From the slave rebellions of the plantations to the days of Nat Turner and Mark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser to the Revolutionary Action Movement and naturally to the BPP and the BLA. So there’s always been that historical thread of resistance against white supremacy and racism; and when we recognize that thread of resistance throughout history then you can see that there’s always been a movement – no matter what name it took in time and place – there’s always been those individuals who militantly pursued the ideals of freedom and liberation.– Jalil Muntaqim