Free Sundiata Acoli

Melbourne activist Steven Katsineris with a poem dedicated to the imprisoned Sundiata Acoli.

In prison he may be, but his mind is free,
Is so free and always will be free, 
But for far too long they have kept him in chains, 
And now let’s get his body out of this wretched captivity.
Sundiata fought discrimination, racism and inequality,
He struggled and sacrificed himself for the freedom of others,
You and me and the next generation yet born. 
Let’s see his brave and boundless spirit liberated, 
To wander away in the world with his beloved family and friends.
His body confined, but his mind is free, always so free.
Sundiata is freer than all those corrupt cronies and functionaries,
That have imprisoned will him will ever be.
Sundiata dared to challenge the colonial, oppressive elite,
For that temerity they wanted him off the street,
To bury his strong and principled voice under harsh prison rules.
This injustice just can’t go on; we’ve got to do whatever we can, 
To campaign to stop the corporate state’s cruel plan,
And see Sundiata Acoli set free at last. *

* I wrote this poem in response to hearing that political prisoner Sundiata Acoli had been denied parole again. Sundiata Acoli was sentenced to life in prison plus 24 to 30 years in 1974. He was denied parole in 1993 and 2004 due to his political activism and his affiliations. Sundiata is now 77 years old has spent over 42 years in prison.

Sundiata Acoli is a mathematician, and computer analyst. During the summer of 1964 he did voter registration work 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 Acoli was found guilty of murder in the 1973 shooting death of trooper Werner Foerster during a struggle at a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Despite no evidence he killed the state trooper or even fired a gun, he was sentenced to life in prison. Black Panther, Zayd Shakur, was also shot and killed in the scuffle. Another Black Panther Assata Shakur was also wounded in the clash. 

At the time Sundiata Acoli and his friends were members of the Black Panther Party and were subject to a campaign of harassment, arrests and violent attacks that resulted in the killings of numerous BPP activists and the jailing of hundreds. Many Black Panthers went into exile or underground to escape the harsh repression unleashed by state authorities and other organizations.

Sundiata Acoli became a target of the FBI’s counterintelligence program, which carried out brutal direct and covert actions to destroy against national liberation movements like the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement and others during the 1960s and 70s. 

Sundiata Acoli was also a member of the New York Panther 21 case, a group of 13 militants who were held in jail for two years without bail. When the case came to court they were quickly acquitted on May 13, 1971, when a jury rejected the government’s frame-up after deliberating for only 45 minutes.

Sundiata Acoli is one of hundreds of U.S. political prisoners who have been unjustly jailed for decades. Their real “crime” has been advocating for the freedom of their oppressed peoples from racism, inequality and oppression in the US. Sundiata’s imprisonment and this injustice must end. There is a campaign asking US President Obama for a pardon for Sundiata, please write nice letters or emails requesting this and publicize this campaign as widely as possible. With enough support we can exert sufficient pressure for the president to release him. It is customary for outgoing presidents to do such compassionate gestures. 

Steven Katsineris. 30/6/16.

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