Ex-Black Panther Freed; 19 Still in Prison for Decades

Jalil Muntaqim, a former member of the Black Panther party and its underground wing the Black Liberation Army, he has spent almost 47 years in prison for his part in the 1971 murders of two New York city police officers, The Guardian reports. Muntaqim is one of 19 black radicals, including two women, who are still imprisoned 40 or more years after they were arrested for violent acts related to the black liberation struggle. Next year the longest-serving inmate, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, will have been locked up for half a century. The oldest, Sundiata Acoli, is 81. Since 2000, another 10 black radicals have succumbed to ill health and died in prison. The incarcerated militants were all part of the 1970s black revolutionary movement. They fought for black power, they were convicted of killing for it – though many profess their innocence – and today they are still imprisoned for it.

As they grow older, and the length of their incarceration ticks up, the ethical battle over what to do with these men and women grows ever more intense. Just last week, Robert Seth Hayes, 69, like Muntaqim a former member of the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army was released last Tuesday from the same New York maximum security prison where Muntaqim is held. Hayes had been imprisoned for 45 years for the murder of a New York city transit officer, Sidney Thompson during an encounter at a Bronx station in 1973. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life. He became eligible for parole in 1998, but every two years he was told the same thing: despite a clean prison record, he remained a threat to society in the eyes of the parole board. It was only on his 11th attempt, 20 years later and with his health rapidly failing, that he convinced them he was worthy of rehabilitation.