In her book titled "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," Michelle Alexander cites Martin Luther King in 1968 highlighting the need to shift from civil to human rights advocacy, saying initiatives for it just began. In fact, it's truer now than then with Blacks and Hispanics comprising two-thirds of America's prison population, by far the world's largest at around 2.4 million, most incarcerated for nonviolent or political reasons.
Focusing on the war on drugs, Alexander characterizes the New Jim Crow as a modern-day racial caste system designed by elitists who embrace colorblindness. Believing poor Blacks are dangerous and economically superfluous, America's gulag became an instrument of control. According to Alexander:
"Any movement to end mass incarceration must deal with (it) as a racial caste system, not (a method) of crime control. We need an effective system of crime prevention and control in our communities, but that is not what the current system is. (It's) better designed to create crime, and a perpetual class of people labeled criminals, rather than to eliminate crime or reduce the number of criminals."
Overall, America's most vulnerable are victimized by judicial unfairness, get tough on crime policies, a guilty unless proved innocent mentality, three strikes and you're out, racist drug laws, poverty, and advocacy for social justice issues challenging repressive state policies.
As a result, figures like former UN ambassador Andrew Young believes "(t)here are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people (in America incarcerated as) political prisoners." Including undocumented Latino immigrants and other aliens, it's tens of thousands, an April 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report saying Washington annually spends over $1.5 billion imprisoning them.
Currently, around 55,000 are in federal prisons, another 75,000 in state facilities. At a November 2010 Workers World Party conference, International Action Center organizer Gloria Verdieu said:
"Freeing all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war" tops America's social justice struggle, "because the state uses the criminal justice system to lock up those who sacrifice their livelihood for freedom and justices for the masses."
In fact, international precedent recognizes releasing them. France freed anarchists, Germany Baader-Meinhof figures, and Britain IRA members. Not America, however, in contrast to notorious criminals pardoned, including Iran-Contra conspirators Caspar Weinberger, Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter, as well as others convicted of serious offenses warranting long internments.
Unlike them, today in America, heroic activists are incarcerated unjustly, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Ramsey Muniz, Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Cuban Five, lawyers Lynne Stewart and Paul Bergrin, and, among many others, Sundiata Acoli (born Clark Edward Squire) for 38 years.
Access his complete profile at:
Born in January 1937, it calls him a New African political prisoner of war, mathematician, and computer analyst with a BA in math from Prairie View A & M College. In summer 1964, he did voter registration work in Mississippi. In 1968, he joined the Harlem Black Panther Party, doing community work relating to schools, housing, jobs, child care, drugs, and police brutality.
In 1969, he and others were arrested in the Panther 21 conspiracy case, jailed for two years without bail, then acquitted and released. Afterward, FBI pressure denied him professional employment, and COINTELPRO harassment and surveillance drove him underground.
Driving on the New Jersey Turnpike in May 1973, he and others were accosted by state troopers. Zayd Shakur was killed, Assata Shakur wounded and captured. One state trooper was killed, another wounded. Acoli was captured days later. In a highly charged, "sensationalized and prejudicial" trial, he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life plus 30 years.
Initially for five years at Trenton State Prison (TSP), he was confined to a special Management Control Unit (MCU) solely for political reasons, given only 10 minutes daily for showers and two hours weekly for recreation.
The International Jurist (TIJ) "publishes perspectives and opinions on the current state of international law and its future," especially international humanitarian law, human rights law, transitional justice and international criminal law, and comparative law.
After interviewing Acoli in September 1979, TIJ declared him a political prisoner. Days later, he was secretly transferred to solitary confinement at maximum security US Penitentiary, Marion, IL despite no outstanding federal charges. In July 1987, he was sent to Leavenworth, KS federal prison.
Eligible for parole in fall 1992, he was denied permission to attend his own hearing, permitted only to participate by prison phone. Despite his exemplary prison work, academic and disciplinary record, hundreds of supportive letters, and numerous offers as a computer professional, he was denied in a 20 minute proceeding, giving him "a 20-year hit, the longest in New Jersey history," minimally requiring him to serve another 12 years before again becoming eligible for parole.
Reasons given were his Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army membership, as well as hundreds of "Free Sundiata" form letters calling him a "New Afrikan Prisoner of War" and that he hadn't been sufficiently rehabilitated. At issue, however, is forcing him to renounce his social justice advocacy and admit wrongdoing for struggling to liberate his people.
On March 4, 2010, the New Jersey State Parole Board (NJPB) denied him for the third time, again calling him "not rehabilitated" despite over a 1,000 supportive letters and petitions from noted figures, including lawyers, clergy, academics, psychologists, community members, and journalists.
Then in mid-July, with no explanation, he got written notice of a 10-year hit, requiring at least another six years imprisonment before parole eligibility at which time he'll be 79 years old or perhaps dead.
On August 27, 2010, an administrative appeal to the New Jersey Parole Board was filed, his legal advisers saying his case is strong based on NJPB procedural errors.
Throughout his incarceration, he's endured harsh treatment yet maintained an exemplary record, as well as becoming a talented painter and writer on prison industrial complex issues. He's also a father, grandfather, and both brother and mentor to fellow inmates besides making invaluable community contributions before incarceration.
In the 1960s, after years as a skilled computer programmer, he participated in southern civil rights struggles. Moreover, his New York chapter Black Panther Party activities involved him in numerous social justice struggles, including education, slum housing, school breakfasts, healthcare, legal help, and politics. He also worked on anti-drug and police brutality initiatives, an admirable record overall deserving praise, not incarceration for nearly four decades.
A Final Comment
On April 17, 2011, Acoli's latest article headlined, "Sundiata Acoli: Why You Should Support Black Political Prisoners/POWs and How," saying:
"My name is Sundiata Acoli....and am now a Black Political Prisoner and Prisoner or War (PP/POW) who's been (incarcerated) for the last 37 years."
"So why should you care," he asked? "Why should you support Black PP/POWs? Well, maybe you shouldn't. If you're happy with (how America) and the world is going, and if you want (Washington and Western powers) to dominate and oppress the rest of the world, then (don't) support Black PP/POWs (and it agenda to end predatory) capitalism, sexism, (racism), and all unjust oppressions of people and life (on) earth."
That advocacy got Acoli and many others imprisoned for supporting and doing the right thing. Now it's up to mass activism no longer to tolerate it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.