SELMA-After 40 years incarcerated in Alabama State prisons, political prisoner Sekou Kambui ( William Turk) was granted parole on June 18, 2014. His supporters worked for years for his release saying that he was being punished for his civil rights activism in the 1960’s turbulent South. He first became involved in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and soon became a member of the Black Panthers.
In 1975, Kambui was accused of murdering two white men in Alabama. Witness tampering was an issue because witnesses of both murder investigations said that they were coerced into providing false testimony against Kambui and that they had been coached by the Tuscaloosa County/Jefferson County Sheriffs’ Department. At trial, witnesses and their families received threats and racial intimidation from the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham police departments and eventually fled the state for their safety.
During his trial, he could not be placed at the murder scene nor could a murder weapon be found. Although he was found with a pistol, it was never determined to be the murder weapon nor could it be linked to the crime.
In 1976, a Congressional Sub-Committee, known as the “Church Committee” was formed to investigate and study the FBI’s covert action programs. It was not uncommon for civil and human rights activists to be surveilled and targeted under COINTELPRO including through infiltration of dissident groups. The Church Committee found that the FBI conducted sophisticated covert operations to prevent First Amendment rights of speech and association in attempt to prevent the growth of “dangerous ideas” under the claim that these ideas would threaten national security. The Church Committee found massive human rights violations usually against people of color, or those with political ideas or associations that challenged the government. Many of those targeted can be found in US prisons to this day.
Dissidents point to COINTELPRO operations for the violence and even murders that were explained through false accusations and prosecutions. Organizations such as the Puerto Rican Independence movement, the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, the Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society, the Republic of New Afrika, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and others, several of which Sekou Cinque T. M. Kambui / William J. Turk was affiliated. Members of some of these groups spoke at a May 31, 2014 40- year commemoration event of Los Seis de Boulder-six student activists who were bombed in 1974 and whose friends point to COINTELPRO operations as playing a role.
In prison, Kambui continued his activism which turned to advocacy for prisoner rights. He gained the respect of the community through his work including as a paralegal and through his representation of prisoners and his continued defense of civil and human rights. While working for the right to healthcare, a tumor was found in his intestines, which was removed through surgery. He is expected to make a full recovery.
In July of 2014 he was released following the work of those outside advocating for his release as well as his own work. Activists pointed to Alabama’s Board of Pardons and Parole Statutes and a change.org petition that might have facilitated his release.
At the 50th commemoration of Bloody Sunday events in Selma, Alabama, he spoke of his incarceration and his work and then later talked to KGNU about where his work will take him now.