Faith and Community Leaders Call On DA to Drop "Politically-Motivated" Prosecution of Jalil Muntaqim
by DARIEN LAMEN
(ROCHESTER NY) -- Local faith leaders, elected officials, and community members are demanding Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley drop all charges against a formerly-incarcerated man who is accused of illegally registering to vote.
"For far too long our elders have been incarcerated as political prisoners, kept behind bars for years on end, when our communities need them now more than ever," Reverend Lane Campbell said Thursday during a press conference in front of Spiritus Christi Church.
"Jalil Muntaqim is welcomed back into the community with open arms," Campbell said. "He deserves to be reunited with his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren."
Jalil Muntaqim recently won his parole after 50 years in the carceral system and a struggle with COVID-19 this spring.
But just days after his release on October 7th, local Republican Party operatives and right-wing pundits were calling for him to be re-incarcerated, claiming the 69-year-old former member of the Black Liberation Army had committed voter fraud when he allegedly submitted a voter registration form.
One week later, Muntaqim was arraigned on two felony and one misdemeanor charges that his supporters say have never been used to prosecute anyone here before--tampering with public records, offering a false instrument for filing, and providing a false affidavit.
In New York State, people with felony convictions lose the right to vote until they complete their maximum sentence or their parole. Since 2018, however, they have been able to vote while still on parole if they receive a conditional pardon from the governor. Muntaqim has not yet received such a pardon.
Meanwhile, people on probation remain eligible to vote. But according to Brighton Town Councillor Robin Wilt, it's not unheard of for local elections boards to reject their voter registrations unlawfully.
"The confusion around the rights of formerly-incarcerated people amounts to voter suppression," Wilt said Thursday. She added that Rochester's newly-elected state representatives had a chance to change that by supporting legislation currently under consideration in Albany that would restore the right to vote to people on parole automatically upon release (A4987/S1931).
Muntaqim's mother, Billie Bottom Brown, also spoke at Thursday's press conference.
She thanked the community for supporting her son's return to the Rochester suburbs where he was raised.
"You'll find that he is going to be a great asset to this community," Bottom Brown said. "He taught his fellow inmates history, computers. He organized a poetry class that was held every Monday. He encouraged his fellow inmates to put their frustrations and aspirations on paper."
Bottom Brown believes the District Attorney's office was pressured into filing charges against her son, and called on DA Doorley to show compassion as a fellow mother.
"This is the first time that I have been able to bond with my child in 49 years," she said. "And the thought of him being put back in for a mistake that was made in a packet of papers that was issued to him to help him assimilate himself back into society is devastating."
A voter registration form was reportedly one among many forms and applications Muntaqim received when he was released in early October.
"When Jalil and I started this journey, he was 19 and I was in my 30s. He's now 69, and on the 19th of this month I will be 86. It's been a long, long journey, and I appreciate your trying to bring it to an end for us," Bottom Brown told supporters Thursday.
Jalil Muntaqim's next court date is Monday, November 16th.
DARIEN LAMEN is news director/producer for Reclaiming the Narrative. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.