'Freedom Walk' for former Black Panther — By George Spohr
AUBURN – He was sentenced for killing two police officers, but more than a dozen people rallied Thursday morning for the release of Anthony Bottom from the state prison term he’s serving here.
Bottom, 50, was a member of the black Panthers organization when he and two others fatally shot New york police officers waverly Jones, 33, and joseph Piagentini, 28, on May 21, 1971. According to police accounts, the officers had just answered a call at the Colonial Park in Harlem when a bullet hit Jones in the back of the head, killing him instantly. He was hit three more times. His partner was shot 13 times and died in a patrol car as other officers tried to get him to a hospital.
Bottom, who now calls himself Jalil Muntaqim, will appear before a state parole board July 30. To build support for his release, members of Justice for Jalil began a trek across central and eastern New York.
The organization’s Freedom Walk began Thursday at Calvary Presbyterian Church on Franklin Street. At a news conference there, Rochester attorney Cheryl kates argued for Bottom’s release, citing what she called an unfair parole system.
"Jalil’s been incarcerated for over 30 years," she said. "They set him up. He never really received a fair trial."
She’s gotten involved because U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s has been given FBI agents the authority to monitor public forums if there’s the concern that terrorist activity could occur there.
Who’s to say what we’re doing isn’t terrorism?" said the Rev. Suzanne Monzon of Michigan, whose husband is an inmate in Auburn.
That same sort of broad authority is what got Bottom incarcerated, Kates said. Next time, "It could be you, or it could be me."
Maria Ferrin is one of the local organizers. She said it’s important for Auburn residents to support events such as the Freedom Walk because "with the prison on the main street, it’s important to support the prison and its inmates."
Monzon said the state is unfairly denying parole to older inmates because they bring in revenue to prisons.
"These are old guys – they’re 40, 50, 60 years old – in a prison with young gangbangers," she said.
As part of the Freedom Walk, five people walked from Auburn to Skaneateles. From there, they took a shuttle to Camillus before rallying in Syracuse.
They’re walking to Utica, making stops in Canastota and the Oneida Indian Nation, before driving to Schenectady. From there, they’re walking to Albany, where their efforts will end with a July 26 rally.