BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — “This is the worst of the worst in my opinion,” said former SUNY Brockport criminal justice teacher Dan Varrenti.
After convicted cop-killer Anthony Bottom — who now goes by Jalil Muntaqim — was invited to speak at SUNY Brockport, it was on March 11th that Varrenti said he’d had enough.
“While the incident troubles me, the philosophy of the college and what they promote troubles me even more,” he said.
Varrenti is also the former chief of police for the Village of Brockport. He says the environment at the school has been increasingly anti-law enforcement.
“I just can’t be affiliated with a college that welcomes a murderer to a stage,” he said.
At first, Bottom was going to be paid with taxpayer dollars, now it’s via a private donor. The talk, at first in-person, is now virtual — still scheduled to take place on April 6. While concessions have been made, Varrenti says it’s the invite alone that is egregious.
“They’ve clearly displayed what they believe in, and they’ve clearly displayed what they promote,” he said.
Varrenti says what SUNY Brockport President Heidi McPherson can do, outside of canceling the event, would be to invite the family members of the murdered police officers to speak, or invite who he says most would feel are positive role models for youngsters to learn from.
“I’ve talked to and heard too many times from murderers, rapists, burglars … what they had to say, and frankly it’s of no importance to me,” Varrenti said.
Varrenti says Bottom has a first amendment right. It’s the platform that’s the problem.
“I blame the college for allowing him to exercise that right,” Varrenti said.
In response to some of the public pressure to call off Bottom’s talk, the organization FIRE, or the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, released the following statement last week to News 8:
“In cases like this where there is controversy tied to the speaker’s appearance, it is even more important for the event to occur in-person, as there should be room for robust debate and attention to tough questions. This is a classic example of a heckler’s veto — the university capitulating to detractors’ demands rather than defending expressive rights.”
For those young people attending the event, Varrenti says, “Listen to him, take whatever he says with a grain of salt, and as they always say, ‘consider the source.'”
Jalil Muntaqim, formerly known as Anthony Bottom, was convicted in 1971 of killing two New York City police officers. He is due to speak at SUNY Brockport next month. The engagement is being met with outrage from some in the community.
The talk is being called “History of Black Resistance, US Political Prisoners & Genocide: A Conversation with Jalil Muntaqim.” According to college officials, a faculty member invited Muntaqim, who was approved for a grant. Now the calls to stop this event are getting louder.
Known then as Anthony Bottom, he joined the Black Panther Party at 16. At 18 he joined the Black Liberation Army. In 1971, he killed two New York City police officers: Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini in an ambush attack.
He spent nearly 50 years behind bars and was released on parole in 2020, and now resides in Brighton. 1971 NYC cop killer now in region, area police chief concerned about parole system in New York
In a statement from SUNY Brockport’s president Heidi McPherson, she says she understands the outrage, adding, “the college has received strong feedback about this visit. Some are outraged that a man convicted of such crimes was invited on the campus. Others look forward to the opportunity to learn about [his] experiences.”
McPherson went on to add they do not support the violence he exhibited 50 years ago, and his presence on campus is not an endorsement. Rather, she says the school believes in freedom of speech. Knowing this conversation will be uncomfortable, she says it’s meant to gain a new perspective.
In a statement, Officials from the Rochester Police Locust Club said the tax-payer-funded talk should be replaced with a better lesson. Police union president Mike Mazzeo is asking for a talk that promotes positive change and will bring people together, adding they will always stand behind their slain brothers in blue.
The wife of one of the slain police officers is demanding the event be canceled, saying Muntaquim emptied 22 bullets into her husband’s body.
On Twitter, Rochester Chamber President and CEO Bob Duffy said “Sorry, Muntaquim is no political prisoner,” and he asked SUNY not to pay him for this appearance.
Most recently, SUNY Brockport officials confirmed the state will 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.
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 respect the right of faculty members to call him such.
Brockport did say if the event proceeds in person, there may be a large number of police officers on campus. Some the school said could be “traumatizing” for some students. The college is giving students an option to skip classes on April 6th due to “personal safety concerns.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.