It’s time to release Sundiata Acoli: commute his sentence to time served! Amsterdam News


From the Amsterdam News, By the Rev. Lukata Mjumbe

Sundiata Acoli is an 84-year-old grandfather, mentor, teacher and artist who has been in prison for more than 48 years. He and Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison (with the possibility of parole) for their role in the tragic shooting on the New Jersey State Turnpike which resulted in the death of New Jersey state trooper, Werner Foerster and Black Panther Party member named Zayd Shakur. The highly publicized trial and Assata Shakur’s subsequent escape from prison in 1979 have framed Sundiata’s imprisonment as one of the most emotional and passionately debated cases in the history of the state of New Jersey. Though Sundiata has been eligible for parole for more than 25 years his petitions for parole have been summarily denied eight times.

By the grace of God, Sundiata has endured almost five decades of imprisonment in some of the most torturous prisons in America. He has expressed deep remorse and regret and has taken full responsibility for his actions that fateful night almost 50 years ago. There is so much that this veteran freedom fighter can teach a country that does not seem to be able to move beyond the cycles of protest, retaliation and revenge. I am a pastor at a historic Black Church in Princeton, N.J. and I am blessed to serve as Sundiata’s “faith based” counsel and representative in the Bring Sundiata Acoli Home Alliance.

I first “met” Sundiata Acoli over 25 years ago after sending him a letter to where he was imprisoned in a maximum security prison in Leavenworth, Kan. Sundiata Acoli is a graduate of Prairie View University in Texas and was a mathematician and computer analyst who worked for NASA prior to committing his life full time to the civil rights movement and as a leader in the Black Panther Party. When I learned about Sundiata, I was a recent college dropout turned full time activist working as a Human Rights Fellow for Amnesty International-USA. I was intrigued by his story and I wanted to learn more. I was assigned the responsibility of working on a wide range of domestic human rights projects including the abolition of the death penalty and advocacy on behalf of those identified as “political prisoners” in the United States. I came to learn that Sundiata Acoli was so much more than his political history or an iconic symbol drawing passionate responses from both supporters and opponents.

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