Sankofa Studies

Afeni Shakur and the Panther 21 Trial

February 19, 2020

On April 2, 1969, 21 members of the Harlem Chapter of the Black Panther Party were formally indicted and charged with 156 counts of “conspiracy” to blow up subway and police stations, five local department stores, six railroads and the Bronx-based New York Botanical Garden. 

By the early morning hours of April 2, mass sweeps were conducted citywide by combat squads of armed police. Law enforcement agencies, ranging from the CIA, FBI and U.S. Marshals to the New York State Police, worked simultaneously to coordinate assaults on Panther homes and community-based offices. After the raids, 10 Panther men and two Panther women were formally arrested, processed and quickly jailed. 

Each member of the 21 was held on $100,000 bail, totaling over $2.1 million. It was not until January 1970 that the first Panther was able to post bail. That was 22-year-old Alice Faye Williams, better known as Afeni Shakur. 

In a grueling and tedious trial, Afeni Shakur (facing 300 years of prison time) daringly chose to be her own attorney in court, partly because financial resources were already razor-thin. Afeni, however, meticulously conducted her own legal research, her own interviews, as well as in-court cross examinations — fully realizing that “she would be the one serving, not the lawyers.” She was the only Panther who served as her own counsel. 

Despite the odds, after all the surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, infiltration and frame-ups, not one shred of state’s evidence stood up in court. In their undying efforts to “discredit,” it was revealed during the trial that the FBI had actually planted undercover infiltrators who, under oath, admitted their role as provocateurs. 

Though the case of the Panther 21 was the longest trial in New York state history, on her own guts and wit, Afeni Shakur successfully secured her freedom. No money. No attorney. No privilege. Pregnant with her second child, Tupac Amaru Shakur. What Afeni was able to do in that courtroom was nothing short of miraculous. Magical. Mind blowing. 

On May 12, 1971, after two years of legal proceedings, all 21 Panthers were acquitted of the charges. The jury needed a mere 45 minutes to see the truth. 


Read more about Afeni Shakur in Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary, by Jasmine Guy and here: 

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