Appeal To US President Obama Oo Pardon Political Prisoner Sundiata Acoli

Melbourne activist and writer Steven Katsineris urges readers to appeal to the US president to release a political prisoner, now behind bars for 42 years.

Please act to urge US President Obama to pardon Political Prisoner Sundiata Acoli.

The deplorable situation of former Black Panther Party member Sundiata Acoli, who has been imprisoned since 1973, that’s 42 years, is very distressing and exceptionally unjust. He is now 79 years of age and it’s surely well and truly time to free him. 

Sundiata Acoli is a mathematician and computer analyst who was born on January 14, 1937, in Decatur, Texas and raised in Vernon Texas. He graduated from Prairie View and A and M University of Texas in 1956 with a degree in mathematics and for the next 13 years worked for various computer-oriented firms, mostly in the New York area.

During the summer of 1964 he participated in civil rights work and voter registration in Mississippi. In 1968 he joined the Harlem Black Panther Party and did community work around issues of schools, housing, jobs, child care, drugs and police brutality. Sundiata later became the Harlem B.P.P.’s finance minister. 

On April 2, 1969, he and other members were arrested in NY in the Panther 21 conspiracy case. He 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. 

Upon release, FBI intimidation of potential employers shut off all employment possibilities in the computer profession and the stepped-up COINTELPRO campaign of harassment, surveillance and provocations soon drove him underground.

On May 2, 1973, three former members of the New York City chapter of the Black Panther Party, Sundiata Acoli, Assata Shakur and Zayd Malik Shakur- were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike for a purportedly "faulty tail-light." A shoot-out ensued during which a state trooper, Werner Foster and Zayd Shakur were killed and Assata and Sundiata wounded. Although there was no evidence that Sundiata or Assata shot the state trooper, both were subsequently convicted of the murder of the trooper and related charges and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. 

At that turbulent time many members of the Black Panther Party (and other black organizations) were being targeted and attacked by various security and armed groups intent on repressing and destroying the BPP and killing its leaders and rank and file members in the process. BPP members felt like they were under a state of and were therefore fearful of being arrested, killed or wounded for campaigning for their civil and human rights. Scores of BPP members were killed or badly injured or jailed (some framed) in the operations to suppress the organization. Numerous other militants fled overseas or underground to escape persecution. The context of the era is very important in looking at Sundiata’s case. And many of these glaring social and racial problems still exist in the US today, as President Obama himself said not long ago, “a simmering distrust ... exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.” 

Since then Sundiata has found it difficult to even be considered for parole. Forty two years later Sundiata remains in prison and if New Jersey governor, the New Jersey State Parole Board has their way, will remain there for the remainder of his life. In 1994, Sundiata appeared before the Parole Board was denied parole and assigned a new parole eligibility date in 2006. At the time of his appearance before the Parole Board, Sundiata had maintained a "charge free" record for eight years and had outstanding educational and work reports. 

The Parole Board, in denying Sundiata's release ignored all of the evidence supporting his release and instead concluded that a substantial likelihood existed that if released on parole Sundiata would commit another crime because of, inter alia, his former membership in the BPP; his characterization of himself as a "political prisoner," and because his family, friends and supporters had written letters to the Parole Board demanding his release. In other words, Sundiata is being held in prison because of his and his supporters First Amendment protected beliefs and activities. 

No evidence exists that if released on parole, Sundiata, who is now 79 years old, will embark on a life of "crime." The purpose of prison, is supposed to be rehabilitation, not punishment and torture. Sundiata has already spent more time in prison than others convicted of similar crimes. Just because Sundiata is a former member of the Black Panther Party should not mean that Sundiata should spend the remainder of his life in prison. 

What Sundiata did and is in prison for, is not much different to what Nelson Mandela did; the actions they took were in reaction to what they saw as a brutal system of racism, discrimination and abuse. In racially divided societies they were both motivated by the quest for justice and fought to change things for the better. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail for struggling for equality, civil and human rights. Sundiata Acoli has now spent 42 years in jail fighting for the same aspirations.

Surely forty-two years is long enough! After so many long years of imprisonment in the nation's harshest penitentiaries, Trenton State Prison, USP Marion, Il., and USP Leavenworth, Ks., and with an exemplary prison record, it’s time to free Sundiata. Even at his elderly age Sundiata has valuable contributions to make to his community and society. And his release will not only have a positive impact on his life and that of his family and friends, but will have a much wider constructive effect of healing and repairing painful wounds of the past. 

Sundiata is now the longest held prisoner in New Jersey’s history for similar convictions. He has maintained an outstanding record in prison and has had only a few minor disciplinary reports and none during the last 16 years. He’s also maintained an excellent work and scholastic record and has always been a positive influence in prison, particularly in mentoring prisoners toward becoming crime-free benefactors to the community upon return to society and thereby breaks their cycle of recidivism.

Sundiata is a 79 year old grandfather who has long been rehabilitated, has long satisfied all requirements for parole and has no or little likelihood of committing another crime, which is the main criterion for parole in New Jersey. Sundiata is an elderly man, in declining health, who wishes to live out the rest of his days in peace tending his grandchildren.

Sundiata Acoli is a good man and a Black political prisoner who has stuck to his principles and he is no danger to society. Please join in the campaign to seek the release of long-term US political prisoner Sundiata Acoli. Publicise his unjust situation by talking to friends, posting on facebook and by whatever other means you can to support this campaign. Write a polite letter or email to the US President, Barak Obama requesting he pardon Sundiata. It’s time he was set free.

What to do to help Sundiata

Write a letter to:

The US President,
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your message gets to the White House as quickly as possible.

1. If possible, email us! This is the fastest way to get your message to President Obama. 

2. If you write a letter, please consider typing it on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. If you hand-write your letter, please consider using pen and writing as neatly as possible.

3. Please include your return address on your letter as well as your envelope. If you have an email address, please consider including that as well. 

4. And finally, be sure to include the full address of the White House to make sure your message gets to us as quickly and directly as possible:

Write to Sundiata Acoli: 

Sundiata Acoli #39794-066 (Squire),
FCI Cumberland,
Federal Correctional Institution,
P.O. BOX 1000,
Cumberland, MD. USA. 2150. 

Contact the Sundiata Acoli Freedom Campaign
SAFC, PO BOX 766, Harlem Station, New York, New York, USA. 10027.

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