Monday, February 17, 2014








(Monday February 17, 2014 32nd Precinct, 135th Street, NYC)  The housing projects, apartment buildings and busy sidewalks of this crowded predominately African American neighborhood are a long distance from the upstate penitentiary where two of the three men convicted of the 1971 assassinations of two NYPD Officers are incarcerated.  These two places are as separate in time as they are distance; over four decades have passed and much about our City and country have changed.  Not time nor distance has altered the fact that the two remaining convicts sentenced to terms of 25 years to life deserve to be imprisoned until the time of their natural deaths which hopefully will be many years in the future. During the past 40 years Herman Bell and Anthony Bottom have acquired college degrees and enjoyed relative lives of ease behind bars where they are still referred to, by themselves and others as, “political prisoners”, a rather ignorantly narcissistic distinction for two cold blooded “Cop Killers”.  And let there be no mistake about the facts of the matter: they casually dialed 911 to report a problem at one of the projects near here, laid in wait for the Police to respond and snuck up behind PO Piagentini and PO Jones shooting Jones four times in the back of the head killing him on the spot. These thugs  continued firing into Officer Piagentini a total of 19 times even as he plead for his life. All the prison cell conversions, model prisonership and degrees earned behind bars will never redefine these two men and they should never be permitted to draw a breath of fresh air beyond the walls and fences of the penitentiary. 

Police Officers Piagentini and Jones never had the opportunity to acquire college degrees, they worked hard serving their City and tragically had their lives taken in as barbaric and evil an urban ambush as our City has ever seen. These young men were never granted the chance to raise families, enjoy life and live it to the fullest as they saw fit.  They signed on for a dangerous job at a particularly dangerous time and paid the ultimate price; they made the ultimate sacrifice and for what?  Were they struck down defending others?  Had they lost their lives while saving the life of another?  No.  They were summarily executed by three ‘men’ so infused with racial hatred, virulent violence and deep seeded evil and  no amount of time in prison can alter these facts.


Bell and Bottoms became eligible for parole in 1994.  Every time they have appeared before the Board of Parole they never uttered a syllable of regret or remorse; actually, they refused and continued to refuse until 2012 that they were in any way even associated with the two heartless murders. It was only in their Parole Hearings in 2012 that they admitted to each having “had a role” in the slayings of Piagentini and Jones. Why did the same two “proud” political prisoners remain silent for so many years? No one knows for sure but once can fairly surmise the aging convicts must believe such admissions will reflect positively on them as they face the Board of Parole soon. For 40 years they would admit to nothing regarding that long ago night in Harlem. Why would they.  After all, they were greeted as “Heroes” by fellow convicts and enjoyed that certain status that only applies in prisons where a “Cop Killer” is treated with special respect and that was certainly the case when they began their sentences in the early 1970’s.Perhaps they were so comfortable in prison that they saw no interest in abandoning their cult status as original members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA).  The murderous uprising at the New York State Prison at Attica was still fresh in everyone’s mind and as BLA “soldiers” Bell and Bottom were highly regarded among their peers.

The prison culture as it was when Bell and Bottom were in the earliest years of incarceration was one that respected them for having done what they had.  In prison in those days to be a convicted “Cop Killer” was to have a certain celebrity status in that twisted code that pervades every cell block in every prison to this day.  Bell and Bottom were heroes to the other scum they shared space and time with.  They had no reason to forfeit that status even after they were eligible for parole; they both assumed their request for parole would be rejected automatically so they kept their silent defiance until 2012.

What became different in 2012 that these men would finally admit to perpetrating the crimes for which they were sentenced?  There are likely several reasons not the least of which is age.  These men are now in their 60’s, have been locked up for over 40 years and apparently thought their admission of guilt would be the key to freedom.  But no amount of time can be served that comes anywhere near commensurate with the premeditated murder of a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) or, truth be told, the murder of anyone.  Bell and Bottom committed what were then still Capital Crimes punishable by the sentence of death but subsequent to their convictions their sentences were reduced to the 25 to life term.  If New York State had kept capital murder on the books these men would have been executed years ago.  It was a change in the law not in the prisoners that spared their lives.

As stated on the New York State website section dedicated to the history of the death penalty here reads: “In 1967, a compromise law was passed allowing for a very limited death penalty. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated all death penalty statutes in the country in Furman v. Georgia. The New York legislature rewrote the state's statute in 1973, providing for a mandatory death sentence for murdering a police officer, a correctional officer, or a murder in prison by an inmate serving a life sentence. In 1977, New York's high court effectively struck down the death penalty for the murder of a police officer or a correctional officer, and a 1984 ruling struck down capital punishment for murders committed by inmates serving life sentences, effectively abolishing New York's death penalty. From 1978 until 1994, measures repeatedly passed both houses of New York's state legislature that would have expanded or reinstated the death penalty, only to be vetoed by governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.”


After the Confederate States surrendered to the Union at the Courthouse in Appomattox,  African Americans who had lived for generations on plantations working as slaves mounted a massive exodus to the states due North.  What is a segment of Interstate 55 today was known in the earliest years of the 1900’s as the “Dixie Highway”.  Those who made the trek were seeking good paying jobs in the industrial urban hubs of the Central Midwest and all across what today is known as the Rust Belt.  While many found factory or foundry jobs these new arrivals to the “Big Cities” were not welcomed with open arms.  They were forced to live if segregated neighborhoods, earned less than their White counterparts did and suffered from an often less obvious but perhaps more insidious form of racism.  Soon there were sprawling urban ghettos in cities from New York to Detroit.

While the Deep South and some Northern cities were rocked by the institutional resistance to the Civil Rights Movement, integration became encoded within the body of laws we are governed by. However, down South  Jim Crow Laws died a slow, protracted death in some of the most virulently racists pockets of Dixie but it was the peaceful, passive nonresistance techniques and the leadership of The Reverend Martin Luther King and his closest advisors that eventually persuaded more and more Americans that segregation, racial bias and bigotry could no longer be tolerated. It was also during this time that the Nation of Islam was beginning to attract followers including Malcolm X who originally had no respect for Dr. King or his particular tactics.  For some younger members of the “Movement” Dr. King and his fellow clerics and legal cohorts were not moving fast enough.  These young men believed their struggle with “The Man” and “Whitey” called not for passivism and reasoned debate, legislative actions and patience but rather for a full blown “war” of liberation.  The Black Panthers was the largest of these groups sprouting chapters in cities large and small, coast to coast from the late 1960’s in to the early and mid-1970’s.  They were the instigators of riots in many Northern cities will large African American populations whose ancestors had fled the South after they gained their freedom from slavery.  Many of these cities had prominent predominately or all “Black” neighborhoods where poverty, unemployment and subpar schools were endemic.  These neighborhoods proved to be tinderboxes of anger and frustration and when the riots began in Newark, Jersey City and Camden, Chicago and Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Baltimore, Watts and South Central in Los Angeles and Oakland California, they raged on not for days but quite literally on and off for months. The Black Panthers were indeed producing a battlefield landscape within the confines of their own neighborhoods in these cities as well as others.  But their war was still not sufficient to placate the most radically militant in their ranks.

Even within the more actively aggressive and vocal organization, The Black Panthers there was a sect that decided to make their “war” on “White Society” a reality.  Thus, the Black Liberation Army (BLA) was established breaking ties with the Black Panthers and they soon began making headlines.  They robbed banks in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as well as other locations using the stolen money to finance their war.  Theirs’s would indeed be a war requiring safe houses, caches of firearms, ammunition, homemade bombs – whatever they thought it took to wage battle.  An oft spoken goal of the BLA was to kill Police Officers where ever and whenever they could.  They saw the Police as the most clearly identifiable front of White Society, the very machinery of which had “kept the Black man down”.  The BLA in all their belligerent rhetoric soon  declared “open season” on the Police who they also referred to as “Pigs”.

The three men who lured Officers Piagentini and Jones to that Harlem housing project (one has already died in prison) did so in order to ambush them; it was as simple and as sadistic as that.  Their actions in no way shape or form ever constituted anything like an act of political protest – it was murder.


Bell and Bottom like so many other brutal killers before them have their supporters on the “outside”.  All too often we have seen a vile criminal adopted as a cause celeb by rich and famous activists of one kind or another.  In 1979 a young waiter in a Greenwich Village eatery was stabbed to death by Jack Henry Abbot who was granted release from prison after corresponding with the famous author Norman Mailer for years.  Mailer managed to make Abbot’s case to the Board of Parole, enlisted some of his well-placed, influential friends and, Jack Henry Abbot walked out of prison. The young waiter, Richard Aden, himself an aspiring writer and gifted musician, had his life taken while trying to break up a fight between Abbot the career criminal and another patron. 

There has been a good deal spoken and written about how Bell and Bottom have been model prisoners as we have mentioned previously.  One article noted that a recent interview conducted by someone from the NY Department of Corrections determined that these men are very unlikely to return to murder or law breaking.  That may be so.  However, the point of incarceration is punishment for prior acts; these men were rightfully tried and convicted, duly sentenced as a way to “pay” for their crime.  Redemption and rehabilitation are not issues valid to these impending Parole hearings.  Actually among all criminal types the recidivism rates are astounding; our prisons are literally running revolving door camps. If Bell and Bottom say they will never again take another human life one must ask why they can say so with such certainty.  Is it because their “war” is over?  That they are no longer “political prisoners” and, as such should be released? 

The Board of Parole must ask these questions and carefully consider the answers.  In a truly just society every state would have the penalty of death imposed on a person tried and convicted of the murder of a Law Enforcement Officer.  The Law Enforcement Community (LEC) sometimes referred to as the Thin Blue Line is a vital strand of fabrics woven into our society.  Each time a LEO is cut down in the Line of Duty the strands of that fabric fray somewhat.  The fabric as a whole begins to loose its tautness, its integrity.

The life of an LEO is not worth more than the life of any other fellow man, woman or child.  The point is that a person willing and capable of killing a Cop not only takes that singular life but also weakens the concept of the rule of law and the men and women of the LEC who enforce our laws..  Cops do not keep the peace; the concept of the Cops keeps the peace and it is that very concept, a societal compact if you will, that there are laws governing our behavior in this society and to murder a representative of the law is to advance the decline of that conceptual certitude of the law.

Let’s hope and pray that the Board of Parole does the right thing regarding Bell and Bottom.

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