Sundiata Acoli, a legend of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, was released from prison after 49 years. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1974 for murdering a New Jersey state trooper during a traffic stop. Acoli was granted parole on May 10, 2022. He is 85 years old.
Born Clark Edward Squire, Acoli was 35 years old at the time of the arrest.
“When I was arrested, I was a member of the Black Liberation Army … similar to the Black Panther Party, we did basically community work, we organized around community needs, breakfast for children, anti-drugs in the community and against police brutality,” he told YouTube channel Rebuild Collective in a 2018 interview from jail.
The BLA was an underground revolutionary Black Power organization that operated from 1970 to 1981.
Following the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968, he joined the Harlem chapter of the Black Panther Party as its finance minister. On April 2, 1969, he was arrested in the infamous Panther 21 conspiracy case. Members were accused of a planned, coordinated bombing attack on two police stations and an education office in New York City. Acoli and the other defendants were ultimately acquitted of all charges in that case.
In the early morning of May 2, 1973, Acoli, along with Zayd Malik Shakur (born James F. Costan) and Assata Shakur (born JoAnne Chesimard), was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick for driving with a broken taillight. State Trooper James Harper was backed up by Trooper Werner Foerster in a second patrol vehicle. While the police were questioning Acoli, there was a confrontation that resulted in a shootout. Foerster was shot twice in the head with his own gun and died. Zayd Shakur was killed, and Assata Shakur and Trooper Harper were wounded.
Assata Shakur later fled the country and remained in exile in Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. She remains on the FBI’s most-wanted list.
A jury convicted Acoli of first-degree murder in 1974 and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole until after 25 years served, according to the Bring Sundiata Acoli Home Alliance. He was denied parole eight times until the New Jersey Supreme Court granted his request on May 10, deciding Acoli is no longer a threat to society.
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New Jersey’s Supreme Court voted 3-2 to overturn a parole board ruling and release Acoli, BBC reported.
The judges said that his prison record has been “exemplary” and that he had completed 120 programs behind bars.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy spoke out against Acoli’s release, saying in a statement that anyone who kills a police officer should “remain behind bars until the end of their life.”
Photo: Sundiata Acoli, courtesy of sundiataacolifc.org