[Pnews] It's time to release Sundiata Acoli: commute his sentence to time served!

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 17 21:59:22 EDT 2021

http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2021/jun/17/release-sundiata-acoli/ It's time
to release Sundiata Acoli: commute his sentence to time served!*Rev. Lukata
Mjumbe* | 6/17/2021, midnight

[image: Sundiata Acoli is an 84-year-old grandfather, mentor, teacher and
artist who has been in prison for more than 48 years.]

Sundiata Acoli

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.

As an octogenarian COVID-19 survivor in the early stages of dementia,
currently suffering from heart disease and emphysema, Sundiata does not
represent a safety threat to anyone, anywhere. As recently as May 2021, the
N.J. Board of Parole seemingly ignored the fact that Sundiata has had a
perfect disciplinary record for almost 30 years and teaches a class in
federal prison for young prisoners preparing for re-entry into communities
on parole.

Currently, Sundiata sits in a federal prison cell on the verge of what many
of his supporters see as a politically motivated death sentence. At last
count, close to 10,000 women and men have signed an online petition calling
upon New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to grant compassionate release and allow
Sundiata to go home to his family. I pray every day that those in power
will submit to the call of a higher power which calls humanity for
forgiveness, mercy and grace.

Over the decades of his incarceration, I have come to know him as a father
of two daughters and grandfather that longs to hug his grandchildren
outside of a prison. I know Sundiata as a source of wise and calming
counsel to scores of young activists who needed to understand the
connection of one generation of freedom fighters to the next. I know
Sundiata as a mentor who encouraged me to be a committed father to my
newborn children, return to college and complete graduate school as I
discovered my true calling as an activist-minister. Two decades ago, I
would have jumped at any opportunity to debate the details of Sundiata’s
case and argue the tragedy of political calculations which extend prison
sentences for prisoners such as Sundiata and many other aging political
prisoners. No more. Today, I am focused on the moral tragedy of a
government that waits for aging prisoners to die through the use of de
facto death sentences. In this hour, I am committed to calling upon
communities to prevent these political death sentences from being executed.
The deaths of those identified as “political prisoners” stigmatize freedom
movements, institutionalize vengeance and revoke our best hopes for healing
and reconciliation.

I remember in one of our first telephone conversations, I asked Sundiata,
“When do you think that you will be released?” He answered, “That’s up to
you. The people make that decision.” It is a decision that is overdue. If
not now—Sundiata Acoli will die in prison. It is time for New Jersey Gov.
Phil Murphy to do what is right and exercise his executive power to release
Sundiata Acoli by commuting his sentence to time served.
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