US Political prisoner Sundiata Acoli granted parole after 49 years

Sundiata, a Black revolutionary activist, politically persecuted by the US government before being incarcerated on false charges, is now finally to be released

May 10, 2022 by Nino Brown
Image via Sundiata Acoli on Twitter

Sundiata Acoli, a militant in the struggle for Black liberation and US political prisoner for the past 49 years, was granted parole on Tuesday, May 10. After going underground following political persecution by the US government, Sundiata was falsely charged with killing a police officer in 1973, and has been held in prison ever since. He was arrested alongside legendary revolutionary Assata Shakur, his comrade. 

On May 10, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Sundiata’s release after reversing his previous parole board’s decision, determining that “the Parole Board’s decision to deny Acoli parole is not supported by substantial evidence in the record or by a reasonable weighing of the relevant factors in N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.11(b) that govern parole.” 

The previous parole board in Sundiata’s case had determined that “by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that [Acoli] will commit a crime if placed on parole.” The New Jersey Supreme Court denounced this decision, stating, “Even under the most deferential standard of review, the Board has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that, if released on parole, Acoli will commit a crime.”

Below we share reflections from Nino Brown on the news and its significance. Brown has been involved in the struggle to free US political prisoners for 7 years, including as an organizer with the Boston branch of the Jericho Movement, a national organization dedicated to freeing political prisoners. He also taught 5th grade in Boston Public Schools for several years and has dedicated his time to activism and organizing in his community around a variety of issues, including Black liberation and the anti-police brutality struggle.

I am so overjoyed with the news that our dear brother and comrade Sundiata Acoli is being freed from prison after serving 49 years behind enemy lines. Sundiata is so many things, he is a New Afrikan political prisoner of war, mathematician, and computer analyst, foremost a warrior for our people in the fight against poverty and oppression. 

Sundiata joined the movement in the 1960’s like so many other Black people did, through struggling for their basic constitutional and human rights. In the summer of 1964 he took part in the massive voter registration drive that centered in Mississippi. Four years later, he found himself joining the Black Panther Party’s Harlem chapter where he did community organizing work around the issues of public education, access to adequate housing, jobs, child care, illicit drugs being pumped into the community, and rampant police brutality. 

Just one year later, in 1969 he and 13 others were arrested in the Panther 21 conspiracy case. Due to internal factional issues caused by the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) the Panthers did not receive much support from the national party as a split caused them to be divided among themselves. 

Sundiata was held in jail without bail and on trial for two years before being acquitted, along with all other defendants, by a jury deliberating less than two hours. 

In 2014, when the Ferguson uprising began giving form to the Black Lives Matter movement, Assata Shakur became almost a household name for many young Black people as she stood as an example of heroic resistance to racist police state terror who esacped to liberated territory, not unlike Queen Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons. 

Sundiata was Assata Shakur’s dear comrade and arguably her right hand man. Sundiata Acoli was not foregrounded as much as he should, but 8 years later, with much a mass movement, revitalized radical Black consciousness, and even calls for the “abolition” of the prison and police state, the fight to free Sundiata has drawn in ranks of new young people interested in his freedom and that of several other political prisoners.

As Assata Shakur said of Sundiata, “I want so much for Sundiata to know how much he is loved and respected. I want him to know how much he is appreciated by revolutionaries all over the world. I want Sundiata to know how much he is cherished by African people, not only in the Americas, but all over the Diaspora. I want him to know how much we admire his strength, his courage, his kindness and compassion. Sundiata loves freedom and we must struggle for the life and freedom of Sundiata.”

Now that Sundiata is released, we have much more work to do. We have to ensure that he lives out the rest of his life well. He should have delicious healthy food available for him, access to healthcare, adequate housing, intellectual and cultural engagement, he should not suffer the crimes of capitalist poverty. Far too many of our political prisoners, who were sentenced to decades behind bars for doing nothing other than fighting poverty, war, and oppression, return to “outside society” which is even poorer, deeper in war, and more overburdened with oppression than when they went in! We freed this brother, now we must take care of him the best we can. He deserves this, and so much more.

The struggle continues! 

What’s the call? Free Them All!