Former Black Panther Party (BPP) member Sundiata Acoli has been imprisoned since 1973. More than 40 years on, he continues to protest his innocence and maintains that he is a political prisoner. Last year he was granted release on parole, but in February this was overturned on appeal.
Acoli, now aged 79, is a mathemat-ician and computer analyst. Having been active in the civil rights movement, he joined the Harlem Black Panther Party in 1968, organizing the community around schools, housing, jobs, childcare, drugs and police brutality. He spent two years on trial and in jail in the Panther 21 conspiracy case, and was acquitted. After that, a state campaign of surveillance and harassment ensued.
On 2 May 1973, he and two other BPP members were stopped by police on the New Jersey Turnpike for a ‘faulty tail-light’. A shoot-out followed, killing a state trooper and one of Acoli’s friends. Although there was no evidence that Acoli shot the trooper, he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Since then, Acoli – now a grandfather – has found it difficult even to be considered for parole, despite an exemplary prison record. He is now the longest-held prisoner in New Jersey’s history for similar convictions. Add your voice to the campaign for his release here: sundiataacoli.org