Sundiata Acoli, former Black Panther, to be released from prison after 49 years

Trenton, New Jersey - Racial justice activists have been campaigning for former Black Panther Sundiata Acoli's release for years, and on Tuesday, that wish was finally granted.

Sundiata Acoli has been behind bars for more than 49 years.
Sundiata Acoli has been behind bars for more than 49 years.  © Collage: Screenshots/Facebook/The Sundiata Acoli Freedom Campaign

The New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that Sundiata Acoli may be released from prison to spend his remaining days together with his family, friends, and community.

"The New Jersey Supreme Court correctly upheld the law today, granting the release of 85-year-old Sundiata Acoli after serving more than 49 years in prison," advocates said in a statement after the decision.

Acoli had been convicted in the 1973 murder a state trooper named Werner Foerster. He was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

The former Black Panther had been targeted and surveilled by the FBI before the incident. Acoli's supporters said state troopers ambushed him and his friends at the New Jersey Turnpike when Foerster was shot, and that law enforcement killed his companion Zayd Shakur.

Another woman convicted in the shooting, Assata Shakur, escaped prison in 1979 and now lives in exile in Cuba. The FBI has issued a million-dollar reward for her capture.

Sundiata Acoli released from prison

Acoli's requests for parole were denied for years.
Acoli's requests for parole were denied for years.  © Screenshot/Facebook/The Sundiata Acoli Freedom Campaign

In Acoli's case, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided to overturn a 2019 Appellate Court ruling in which the state's Parole Board said he should remain behind bars.

Tuesday's decision came after years of denied requests.

"No member of the court disputes that Acoli committed a horrific crime," Justice Barry Albin wrote in the majority opinion.

"The issue, however, is whether Acoli, after nearly five decades of imprisonment, has satisfied the statutory demands that govern his parole eligibility," he continued.

"However despised Acoli may be in the eyes of many because of the notoriety of his crime, he too is entitled to the protection of the law – and to the fair and impartial administration of justice."

Acoli's supporters have celebrated the decision and are calling for the release of all Black political prisoners.

Cover photo: Collage: Screenshots/Facebook/The Sundiata Acoli Freedom Campaign

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