Jamaal Bowman Defends Decision To Feature Prominent Anti-Semite, Cop Killers on Middle School ‘Wall of Honor’

Cynthia McKinney, Assata Shakur 'have complicated biographies,' Bowman spokeswoman says

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
February 8, 2024

New York Democratic congressman Jamaal Bowman is defending his decision to glorify a prominent anti-Semite and two cop killers on a "Wall of Honor" at the middle school he led, with his campaign saying those figures "have complicated biographies" and should still be taught to children.

As principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, Bowman in 2014 curated a "Wall of Honor" that featured former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D., Ga.), Assata Shakur, and Mutulu Shakur—all of whom Bowman said "played a major role in moving our society … toward a world of freedom, justice, and equality," according to a HuffPost report. Years before Bowman established the wall, in 2009, McKinney attended a Holocaust denial gathering in London, where she praised anti-Semitic leaders and writers. Assata Shakur was convicted for the first-degree murder of a New Jersey state trooper in 1973, while Mutulu Shakur led a group of armed robbers who killed a guard and two New York police officers in 1981.

Now, Bowman says his inclusion of those figures on his "Wall of Honor" is nothing to criticize, with his campaign even contending that the lives of McKinney, Assata Shakur, and Mutulu Shakur should be taught to American schoolchildren.

"It is correct that many leaders in the Black liberation movement … have complicated biographies," Bowman spokeswoman Sarah Iddrissu told Huffpost. "It is completely baseless, and a rhetorical tool of the far-right, to insinuate educating students on major figures of Black American history is serving to promote hateful or divisive rhetoric or actions."

"Suppressing the education of Black history only serves to enable violence against Black people," she concluded.

The ordeal marks yet another controversy for Bowman, who is facing a difficult primary campaign against Westchester County executive George Latimer.

Bowman in January attended a New York City panel discussion titled, "Palestine Oct. 7th and After." Bowman took the mic at the panel to gushingly introduce Norman Finkelstein, an anti-Israel author who celebrated Hamas's massacre as a "heroic resistance" that "warm[ed] every fiber" of his soul. Bowman said he was "starstruck" by Finkelstein and other anti-Israel panelists "because I watch them all the time on YouTube." After the comment prompted criticism, Bowman said he was "unaware" of Finkelstein's comments.

Just weeks later, the Daily Beast unearthed a poem Bowman published to his personal blog, which suggested the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks were a false flag operation used by the U.S. government to wage war in the Middle East. "Allegedly/Two other planes/The Pentagon/Pennsylvania/Hijacked by terrorist/Minimal damage done/Minimal debris found/Hmmm…" Bowman wrote in one stanza. He also served as principal of Cornerstone Academy at the time.

The poem may explain Bowman's affinity for McKinney, who in 2002 suggested then-president George W. Bush knew about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance and allowed them to happen so his father could make money. McKinney went on to post a photo to social media that blamed Jews for the attacks. Her father similarly blamed Jews when McKinney lost her congressional seat in 2002.

"Jews have bought everybody. Jews. J-E-W-S," he said.

Bowman, who did not return a request for comment, has lagged behind Latimer in fundraising. As of Dec. 31, he holds just $631,000 on hand, compared with Latimer's $1.3 million.