When a Sheriff Stumbles into the Point

The Prison System and Parole

I should preface this by saying that I do not believe in the integrity of any United States justice or prison system. I have personally seen too many miscarriages of justice, and there is more than enough collected data to embolden my stance. The prison system filled with products of a loophole in the 13th Amendment. Private prisons influence politicians and judges to severely criminalize nonviolent infractions in order to fill their prisons, thereby filling their facilities and turning more profit. A literal example is the former Judge Ciavarella’s “Kids for Cash” scandal, where he got $2.6 million in kickbacks for sending juvenile offenders away for long sentences. The only silver lining is that his 5-year scam was exposed, and now HE is in jail until 2035, and the cases over which he presided were dismissed and the victims’ records were expunged.

Parole is a controversial institution, as well, especially when the person was convicted of murder. The process is as follows: a prisoner goes before a panel of administrators and shows remorse for their crime. They show that they have made efforts while incarcerated to improve themselves and that they can be a productive member of society if allowed to be free. People affected by the person’s crime can argue against their release, and it is up to the panel to decide of the prisoner is worthy of freedom. Even if parole is granted, the recently freed person has to periodically check in with a parole officer, maintain a stable job, and a stable residence. Moreover, they are restricted on with whom they associate. It is freedom with a large asterisk.

 

About Jalil Muntaqim

Jalil Muntaqim spent 49 years behind bars. Before his 1974 incarceration, he was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. The latter, a Black activist organization known for more “radical” and militant calls to action. Muntaqim went by a different name back then, but I will not be using it since it is not his name now. Muntaqim was active in his hometown of Oakland as well as New York. In 1974, he was convicted for the 1971 murder two NYPD police officers and sentenced to life in prison with chance for parole after 22 years.

During his time in prison, he continued to educate himself, earning two degrees. He converted to Islam and changed his name to what it is now. He also organized for prisoners’ human rights. He taught history classes to his fellow prisoners. Muntaqim also wrote two books; We Are Our Own Prisoners and Escaping the Prism…Fade to Black. He was eligible for parole in 1993, but was denied, and then denied 11 more times in the following years. He was finally granted parole in 2020 because he contracted COVID-19 and nearly died. As a free man, he still writes, advocates for prisoners’ rights, and advocates for abolishing the prison system. He has also been a popular speaker at universities and other education centers.

 

An Open Letter

Jalil Muntaqim’s freedom and non-criminal activity is to the chagrin of many detractors, so much so that New York Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter took digital pen to virtual paper to write a letter. With official Monroe County letterhead, he wrote a 1-page open letter in opposition to Muntaqim’s speaking at State University of New York Brockport campus on April 6th, 2022. He started with a dramatization of one of the dead police officer’s alleged last words. He then called out Muntaqim by his old name, acknowledged that he changed it to what it is now, and then continued to use his old name throughout the letter. Baxter also acknowledged that he was not happy with Muntaqim’s parole and move to Monroe County, but he had “moved on” until now. Baxter then brought up his “Christian” faith, and how it compels him to forgive, but he sees no redemption in Jalil Muntaqim, again using his old name. He said that he took an oath to uphold the and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that he is committed to “securing the safety and tranquility” of its citizens. Finally he stated that Muntaqim should not be paid by the university to speak about his life.

Baxter got his wish, as SUNY Brockport pulled the funding to pay Muntaqim for his speaking event. They were bullied by Baxter and other elected officials, Democratic and Republican, to do so. Muntaqim will still speak, though. It is interesting that all these politicians who are obligated by oath to uphold the constitution were so adamant in attempting to stifle to speech of a citizen they don’t like because of his past. It is also interesting that Baxter claimed to take an oath to defend and protect the “safety and tranquility” of citizen in his county, but he went out of his way, on office letterhead, to specifically call out one private citizen. He believes in the system so much that he pledged an oath to it, and yet he used his office time and hours to attack someone who is supposedly protected under it.

 

The hypocrisy

He didn’t make that much of a fuss about the system when district attorney Sandra Doorley attempted (and failed) to have Muntaqim sent back to prison for filling out a voter registration form that was provided to him by the state. He also didn’t say anything about how Doorley let two men who defaced and destroyed a statue of Frederick Douglass slide with writing an essay and some community service under the guise of “restorative justice”, a program meant to help disenfranchised young people not be bogged down by the justice system, not let rich college men get away with destruction of property. His claim of pledging to protect the safety and tranquility of those in his county flies in the face of his unwillingness to arrest and charge the man who drove through a blocked off street of protesters, hitting one of them, in Hilton, NY in 2020. A few inches to the left or right, and the woman struck could have been killed, but he didn’t even issue a ticket to the driver. For that matter, there were multiple accounts from my friends and acquaintances of neo-nazis and other white supremacists harassing and physically assaulting people at protests that year, but I see no record of arrests of those harassers.

The Sheriff’s office had no problem ambushing a group of protesters in the county who were breaking down their tables and signs and arresting two of them for “obstructing traffic”, even though they were not in the road at all. He also did nothing about the trucks of white men who revved their engines and blew smoke and nearly hit us that day. He also has said nothing about all of the sexual assault perpetrators who notoriously get light sentences, if any. A County judge of a bench trial for rape acquitted the assailant because a guilty verdict would be “too much of a burden” for him. He immediately went out to bars and bragged about the crime he did. No open letter from Baxter about that. All his actions, and lack thereof, seem very un-Christian and contradictory to his oath.

 

A people beset by perpetual violence will eventually respond with violence

I understand that a double murder is a lot more grave than destroying a statue and physically disrupting protests. I am not for violence in my activism, but I understand why some may use it. A people beset by perpetual violence will eventually respond with violence. I also understand that 1971 is the same year that George Jackson was murdered by prison guards while serving his sentence. It was two years after Fred Hampton was murdered in his sleep by FBI and police forces. Hampton had never even committed a violent crime. He was guilty of bringing together people of all races and class levels, even convincing gangs to get along, to organize a united front to fight poverty and boost education.

The FBI organized a years-long war on anyone they deemed a threat to the United States called COINTELPRO, and Black civil rights leaders were in their crosshairs. The FBI sent a letter to Martin Luther King, telling him that he should end his life. The Black Liberation Army was born from the United States’ aggression against social progress for all. The charges they threw at people in their crosshairs were questionable at best. I don’t think that all of the crimes associated with BLA members were trumped up. However, when the government is intent on using illegal surveillance activities and outright lying to silence people, it does not give them much credibility, even in Muntaqim’s case.

Even today, the after action reports that the local police gave to the press about the 2020 George Floyd and Daniel Prude protests are full of items that are in direct contradiction to what actually happened at the protests, and no one is being held accountable for the mistruths published.

Todd Baxter is more than welcome to his personal opinion about the release and post-release actions of Jalil Muntaqim. After all, this is supposedly a free country. I gather that he shares the same feelings of the families of the police officers were killed. What is disturbing is Baxter’s use of public resources to voice that opinion and intimidate a public university to pull funding for a speaker. He has, though, inadvertently arrived at the conclusion that the system he claims to hold dear has failed the public. This is quite ironic, because my colleagues and I have been saying that for years.

 

About Chris Thompson

(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes and regularly posts on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon. Chris is also a regular contributor for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for writing this. Many of us are deeply struggling psychologically and emotionally with what has been happening for centuries and what continues to happen on our streets and in our lives. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, “These things happen because enough good people did nothing.” I applaud your articulation, thank you for your contribution, and wish I could write as you do. So please continue to write friend, and I will do what I can, and we WILL change the hateful elements of our society that have been given permission by tRump to be open in their violent, hateful attitudes. If only they knew, that we all suffer when we do not have equal access. Who knows who can cure cancer, create beautiful art, invent incredible things, etc. When we keep any people down, we all suffer. I wish they would leave Jalil alone. He has a constitutional right to a life after incarceration.

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