On Tuesday November 25th, 2014, Freedom Fighter Sekou Odinga was released on parole!
Sekou Odinga (formerly Nathanial Burns) was born in Queens, N.Y., on June 17, 1944 where he grew up with his parents, three brothers and three sisters. In tenth grade he was kicked out of school when he defended himself from a teacher attacking him.
At 16 he was sentenced to three years at Great Meadows Correctional Institution (Comstock) in upstate New York, for robbery. He went on to finish his high school education there. Comstock was notorious for its racism. One of the sergeants was head of the Ku Klux Klan and no blacks were allowed to work there in any capacity. In 1963 Sekou was caught up in a race riot that happened there in 1963. It was in this climate of intense racism and repression that Sekou started becoming politicized.
Malcolm X was a big influence on Sekou at the time and he became involved in revolutionary black activity in New York.
In 1965 Sekou joined the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), founded by Malcolm X, but after his assassination Sekou grew frustrated with the direction of the group. By 1966 he started working with other young revolutionaries to establish the Grassroot Advisory Council, in South Jamaica, New York, which worked on local anti-poverty projects.
In 1967 Sekou and some of his other friends started taking interest in the Black Panther Party and in the spring of 1968 attended a meeting of BPP representatives in New York and was there that he became the section leader of the newly formed Bronx Black Panther Party.
On January 17, 1969 two Panthers had been killed by police and a fellow New York Panther who was in police custody was brutally beaten. Sekou was informed that police were searching for him in connection with a police shooting. In his own words, Sekou recalls “On April 22, 1969, I awoke at 5:30 AM to the sound of wood splitting around my door. When I investigated, I found that my house was completely surrounded with pigs on my roof, fire escape, in the halls, on the street, etc. I was fortunate enough to evade them and go deeper into hiding.”
At that point Sekou went underground and traveled to Algeria to establish an international chapter of the Black Panther Party. the Black Liberation Army. Through COINTELPRO, FBI agents infiltrated the Party and successfully split the group. At that point Sekou decided to return to the US to continue his work with the Black Liberation Army.
On October 23, 1981, Sekou and Mtyari Shabaka Sundiata were ambushed by the NYC police and FBI agents. The police murdered Mtyari in the street. Sekou was taken into custody where he described how they tortured him mercilessly.
“When I was captured, I was burned with cigars, beaten, and had my head flushed in toilets. I was taken to a window, and the officers threatened to throw me out. This went on for about six hours, when they were trying to get me to give up information on other comrades. I was captured in October 1981, and didn’t get out of the hospital until February ’82.”
Sekou ended up being charged with the liberation of Assata Shakur and the expropriation of money from an armored car. At trial, the judge refused to allow Odinga to submit his medical records as evidence of torture, suggesting that he may have fabricated his wounds.
The charges themselves were manipulated to maximize the sentencing allowed. For example, the liberation of Assata Shakur was labeled as kidnapping because jail-breaking isn’t a felony. The courts justified this because two prison guards were tied up during the escape. Because they moved them from one rooftop to another this was somehow considered kidnapping. Sekou was convicted of two federal charges under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act and was sentenced to forty years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. He was also convicted of six state counts of attempted murder stemming from the defense of himself and Mtyari during the police attack in 1981. For this he was sentenced to concurrent life sentences.
Life in Prison
After sentencing, Sekou was immediately sent to the maximum security prison in Marion II, a prison reserved for those who have shown they cannot be in regular prison because they have killed someone, pushed drugs or attempted to escape. The state didn’t even wait for this to even be a possibility with Sekou and instead sent him there immediately. As Sekou explains,
“They treat me differently. They just don’t acknowledge that I’m a Prisoner of War.”
In 2004 he and three other Muslim prisoners were thrown into the hole for over a month because of a complaint from another prisoner that he and fellow inmates were looking at him threateningly. During this time his glaucoma worsened as well.
In 2006 the harassment continued when the prison refused to provide dental treatment to him.
Accusation of Killing a Prison Guard
In 2008, Sekou was taken suddenly in the middle of the night and taken to Los Angeles where a grand jury was investigating an incident the previous year when Sekou’s former cellmate was accused of killing a corrections officer and the prison administration took the position that Sekou and some other inmates were responsible for this act. That was not true and in fact impossible because at the time of this act, Sekou and the other inmates were in isolation. During his time in LA he was confined to a dirty solitary cell without running water and was denied any visits and only allowed legal calls.
They then transferred him to USP Lompoc where he continued to be held in long-term solitary confinement in an equally dirty cell. He was on 24-hour lockdown with the exception of showers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He was not allowed any exercise or recreation, no writing materials, no visits, no phone calls and the only book allowed was a copy of the Koran.
In 2010 Sekou finished his federal time and was moved to the Downstate Correctional Facility in New York State to serve his remaining New York State time.
- Free Sekou Odinga Facebook Page
-Prisoner of War in America: Pamphlet on Sekou Odinga