BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — At SUNY Brockport, where a virtual lecture with controversial “political prisoner” Jalil Muntaqim is still scheduled virtually, one teacher resigned in protest. Dan Varrenti, the now-former-SUNY Brockport criminal justice teacher, is also the former chief of police for the Village of Brockport.
“This is the worst of the worst in my opinion,” said Varrenti. He said he’d had enough on March 11, when cconvicted cop-killer Jalil Muntaqim aka Anthony Bottom was invited to speak at SUNY Brockport.
“While the incident troubles me, the philosophy of the college and what they promote troubles me even more,” he said, calling out what he describes as an increasingly anti-law enforcement environment at the school. “I just can’t be affiliated with a college that welcomes a murderer to a stage.”
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. “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 that if the school doesn’t cancel the event, the least they should do is to invite family members of the dead officers to speak. He said the school should focus on inviting positive role models to learn from. Though he acknowledged Muntaqim’s first amendment right, he said the platform is the problem.
“I blame the college for allowing him to exercise that right,” Varrenti said. For those young people attending the event, he said: “Listen to him, take whatever he says with a grain of salt, and as they always say, ‘consider the source.'”
In response to the event going virtual in response to pressure to cancel, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), released the following statement to NEWS10’s sister station in Rochester (where Muntaqim lives):
“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.”
SUNY Brockport’s president Heidi McPherson said that the school does not support the violence he exhibited 50 years ago, and that Muntaqim’s presence on campus is not an endorsement. Rather, she said that the school believes in freedom of speech. Knowing this conversation will be uncomfortable, she says it’s meant to alert individuals to new perspectives.