The mother of a controversial parolee living in Brighton who was imprisoned for nearly 50 years for killing two police officers and now faces felony charges related to his alleged attempt to register to vote said Thursday that her son made a “mistake.”
Billie Bottom Brown, 85, spoke outside of Spiritus Christi Church, where some 40 people, including local social justice activists and members of the clergy, gathered to call for the charges against her son, Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, to be dropped.
“This is the first time that I have been able to bond with my child in 49 years,” Brown said, “and the thought of him being put back in (to prison) for a mistake that was made on a packet of papers that was issued to him to help him assimilate himself back into society is devastating.”
Muntaqim, 69, was born Anthony Bottom in the San Francisco area. He was convicted along with two other men in the 1971 murders of two New York City police officers and sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison. All three were reportedly members of the Black Liberation Army, a revolutionary offshoot of the Black Panther Party.
Bottom assumed the name Muntaqim in prison, where records suggest he was a model inmate, although he did not change his name legally. He was released on parole on Oct. 7 and settled in Brighton.
A day later, however, prosecutors allege that Muntaqim filed a voter registration form knowing that his status as a parolee made him ineligible to vote. He was arraigned in Brighton Town Court earlier this month on two felony charges of tampering with public records and offering a false instrument for filing, and for providing a false affidavit, a misdemeanor.
His registration form, which was filed in court with the complaint against him, shows that Muntaqim registered under “Anthony L. Bottom” as a member of the Green Party and that the form was received by the Monroe County Board of Elections on Oct. 9.
Parolees in New York are allowed to vote once they receive a pardon from the governor restoring their voting rights.
That process was outlined in an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018 that directed the state Department of Corrections to submit a list of parolees to the governor monthly for pardoning. The Governor’s Office reviews each person on the list and issues pardons to those found to be acclimating successfully to their community.
The monthly list reflects parolees who were released from prison in the prior month, according to the executive order. Under that process, the list identifying Muntaqim as a parolee eligible for voting restoration rights would not have been generated until at least November.
“It tore my heart the day they came and arrested him, two days after he was released from prison,” Brown said. “He went to enroll to re-establish himself into society. And now, after 50 years, they’re trying to put him back in again.”
Muntaqim has been released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to appear in court next on Nov. 16.
Brown said she believes District Attorney Sandra Doorley was pressured to issue an arrest warrant for her son.
Indeed, the head of the Monroe County Republican Party, William Napier, held a news conference on Oct. 22 at which he called on Doorley to investigate whether Muntaqim registered to vote illegally and prosecute him, if appropriate.
The following day, the county Republican election commissioner, Lisa Nicolay, signed an affidavit attesting to the authenticity of Muntaqim’s voter registration form. That affidavit is now part of the court record.
It has been common practice in the United States to make felons ineligible to vote. Over the last several decades, however, various states have taken steps to restore voting rights to some extent to people serving a felony sentence.
Still, their approaches differ greatly, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Currently, two states — Maine and Vermont — and the District of Columbia allow convicted felons to vote, even while incarcerated.
Sixteen states strip felons of their voting rights only while they are locked up. Twenty-one states, including New York, prohibit felons from voting while behind bars and while on parole. In New York, however, that status can be overridden by a governor's pardon.
The policies disproportionately affect people of color, according to the Sentencing Project, an organization that aims to reform sentencing policies.
“Make no mistake,” said the Rev. Lane Campbell of the First Universalist Church of Rochester, who spoke on behalf of Muntaqim, “this is an issue of race, class, and white supremacy.”
Muntaqim, who is Black, was denied parole 11 times before he was granted parole this year. His advocates contend he has an exemplary prison record that included mentoring younger inmates.
Outside Spiritus Christi Church, his supporters furnished reporters with a petition on Muntaqim's behalf containing the names of hundreds of people and groups, including scores of law professors and more than dozen civil rights organizations.
His mother, who said she is visiting Rochester to be with her son but declined to say where she resides, noted that Muntaqim was 19 years old at the time of his crimes.
“I assure you, he is not a threat,” Brown said. “You’ll find that he is going to be a great asset to this community.”
David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.