At 85 years old, former Black Panther member Sundiata Acoli will finally be released from prison for his role during the 1970s Black liberation struggle. After initially being arrested for acts of violence, the Supreme Court has determined he is no longer a threat to public safety.
Yesterday (May 10), Acoli — whose real name is Clark Edward Squire — became the oldest member of the Black Panther Party to receive parole after spending 49 years in jail.
Judges referred to his prison record as “exemplary,” noting that Acoli had positive evaluations from prison officials, developed a constructive rapport with prison staff and inmates, and participated in multiple counseling sessions over the years. Officials also say that the former Black Panther focused on his education and completed 120 courses while incarcerated.
In May 1973, Acoli was arrested for shooting a New Jersey state trooper named Werner Foerster. The following year, Acoli was found guilty of the crime and received a life sentence plus 24 to 35 years.
When speaking of Acoli’s case, Supreme Court judges said the parole board responsible for granting Acoli’s freedom “lost sight that its mission largely was to determine the man Acoli had become.”
Civil rights attorney and advocate for Acoli, Soffiyah Elijah, added that it’s time for him “to live the rest of his life in the loving care of his family and community.” She noted that his release could bring hope and raise awareness “to the thousands of elders like him trapped in the New Jersey prison system.”
Black Panther member Assata Shakur had also been with Acoli in the May 1973 incident. They were both arrested, but Shakur escaped and fled to Cuba. Although the Cuban government granted her asylum, she is currently on the FBI’s most wanted list. Shakur is listed as a “domestic terrorist” and there is a $2 million reward for information leading to her arrest.