Nkechi Taifa: A Matter of Humanity, Not Politics
New Jersey has released 35 percent of its entire prison population because of the COVID outbreak. Last November, the state released 2,258 prisoners in a single day. But for decades, they have refused to let out a now-84-year-old man.
The grandfather is now in a federal facility in Maryland, but it’s New Jersey that can free him. Those of us who have spent our lives as advocates say to New Jersey Gov. Murphy and the state Department of Corrections: Why can’t you release a man who has maintained a perfect disciplinary record for 27 years? What is so dangerous about a 1960s Civil Rights Movement activist who was a computer expert, a young man who was so smart he once helped future astronaut Neil Armstrong with his homework?
That man is Sundiata Acoli. He recently recovered from COVID and has early-stage dementia. In January, he celebrated his 84th birthday with an international letter-writing campaign in his behalf. Why the campaign? Because he’s been eligible for parole since 1994, but the New Jersey parole board keeps denying him freedom. Counting the last denial—in November, when those 2,258 were freed—it’s six no’s in a row.
“The more voices added to the choir calling for his release the more impact we will have,” Acoli advocate Soffiyah Elijah told Dr. Jared Ball on imixwhatilike.org during the birthday launch. Attorney Elijah has represented Acoli for many years and is a campaign spokesperson for the #BringSundiataHome movement.
When Ball, a long champion of Black political prisoners, asked Elijah why Acoli keeps getting denied, she said that the parole board did “the most ironic thing that one could imagine in this situation” — continuing to label this senior citizen threatening and a danger to repeat-offend—a man that, before COVID, the Bureau of Prisons had assigned to teach the prisons’ recidivism course.
These are the kind of ridiculous ironies that abound whenever the subject is COINTELPRO-era people who have been imprisoned. This is why we have to fight for them.
I met Brother Sundiata in prison decades ago, before I even entered law school. Over 40 years later, he is of absolutely no danger to any community. This is not about politics. This is about human decency. If there ever was a case to be made for parole or compassionate release, this is it.
Also write to Acoli and let him know you support his release! Must use only white paper, black or blue ink, regular business envelope, no cards.
Sundiata Acoli (Squire)
P.O. Box 1000
Cumberland, Md. 21501
Nkechi Taifa is an attorney and author of the memoir Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice