BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — Anthony Bottom, who now goes by Jalil Muntaqim, spoke at a virtual event as an invited guest of a SUNY Brockport faculty member Wednesday, prompting the college to cancel evening classes and activities.
The event has sparked an ongoing controversy as Bottom was convicted in 1971 in the killing of two New York City Police officers. He spent nearly five decades in prison before being released on parole in 2020.
College officials say Bottom was invited to speak at the school by Dr. Raphael Outland, of the department of counselor education. The school also said they do not support categorizing Bottom as a “political prisoner,” as event organizers originally described him, yet they said they respect the right of faculty members to call him such.
Due to ongoing protests in support of and opposition to the event, SUNY Brockport officials say the campus has engaged with community partners to build a plan that “prioritizes the safety of students, faculty, staff, and campus guests” for Wednesday.
A crowd who opposed Muntaqim’s virtual appearance started to form outside the SUNY President’s home on campus around 5 p.m., an hour an half before the start of the event. The group had a larger pro-police message alongside the specific concern over a college professor inviting Muntaqim to speak and labeling him as political prisoner.
“I don’t think he was a political prisoner. I think he was a cop killer and I can’t stand for that. I can’t stand knowing people have given up their lives to protect us an people like him kill them,” said Brockport Alum Carole Messina-Provost.
On the other side of the street, SUNY students like Jaiviana Jones applauded the college for not cancelling the event, though some were upset it was not in-person.
“Being a former Black Panther, I just feel like we’re witnessing history and I feel like that’s being violated, the whole free speech is being violated,” Jones said.
In the address, Muntaqim talked about the history of racism and its impact on the criminal justice system.
“It’s a criminal injustice system operating with the purpose of keeping Black, brown, indigenous people in prison,” he said.
SUNY Brockport officials confirmed last month the state would not be paying speaking fees for the event, but they added a private donor has stepped up to pay the 70-year-old parolee for his appearance.
“This event has elicited strong feedback, divergent opinions, and has already spurred protests. We are grateful for the various agencies and partners who will be supporting the safety of our campus,” SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson wrote in part online regarding an update on the event last month.
College officials say “out of an abundance of caution,” all in-person instruction and co-curricular activities concluded at 4:50 p.m. Wednesday. In-person classes that begin after 4:50 pm were canceled. The action was taken to help reduce pedestrian and vehicular traffic in advance of the speech officials say.
The event took place virtually from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.