“For centuries, nothing has so stirred up American fury like the escape of a slave. That ain’t just distant history. For daring to slip her bonds and escape from brutal and unjust bondage, the Empire now labels her a terrorist. That’s because to them, nothing is more terrifying than resistance to their imperial will.”
— Mumia Abu-Jamal on Assata Shakur
When it comes to “capturing” “terrorists” or America’s political fugitives, the same litmus test applies: What makes less noise, a prisoner or a corpse?
With the United States and Cuba resuming diplomatic ties, there has been a lot of speculation about what will happen to Assata Shakur, a 67 year old black liberationist and political fugitive. Almost immediately after President Obama announced resurrecting ties between the two nations, the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) started scheming to get their hands on her.
According to the NJSP’s Facebook page, Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, issued the following statement:
“We continue to work closely with the FBI towards the capture of Joanne Chesimard [Assata Shakur], a convicted felon and fugitive who escaped from jail in 1979 and remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, as well as New Jersey’s Most Wanted List. We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring her back to the United States to finish her sentence for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. We stand by the reward money and hope that the total of two million dollars will prompt fresh information in the light of this altered international relationship.”
But of course that’s the state sponsored narrative of whom she is and why she is wanted by US authorities. This is the only propaganda you are supposed to unquestionably swallow as you rally behind the most racist nation in the world to go lynch yet another life in the name of “justice”.
In reality Assata was a prominent female member of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. She became a member of the Black Power movement at a time when many activists were galvanized following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. And she experienced firsthand the authentic history of a nation built on genocide and slavery, something which stands in stark contrast to the whitewashed beacon of exceptionalism that mainstream America propagates today.
“The baby of J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO was designed to monitor, infiltrate and destroy social justice movements seen as a threat to national security, including civil rights and antiwar groups, the Black Power movement, [the American Indian Movement], and the Young Lords. Some of the stated goals of the program in an FBI memo were to “prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups,” to “Prevent the RISE OF A ‘MESSIAH’ who could unify…the militant black nationalist movement,” to “Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to…both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy…,” and to “prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth.”
As a result, black leadership was decimated, either assassinated… or thrown in prison with the key thrown away. Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba, was the last woman standing, so to speak. And apparently that is embarrassing to someone in the FBI, so they want to make an example of her as a so-called “domestic terrorist.” That is why last year, 40 years after the shooting, the FBI made the politically-motivated move of placing Shakur on their Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list, making her the first woman and second U.S. citizen on that list. If you listen to the FBI, you’d think the ten most dangerous people on Earth are essentially nine Al Qaeda operatives and—Assata Shakur.”
Yet still, to peoples struggling against American oppression she remains a prominent figure in the fight for liberation, and that’s the REAL problem. To put it how Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin might, a former political prisoner himself, the reason that the US government is still after Assata is not because they fear that she will engage in violence or to just punish her, but rather because they fear her effects upon the oppressed, who see in her the inspiration to fight — and more importantly, the strength to win.
Primarily it is for this reason that the US government is unlikely to seek extradition of Shakur. Further still, bringing her back stateside in the midst of a social movement like BlackLivesMatter, the likes of which has not mobilized since her last years in America, would only add fuel to the flame of public outrage over police terror in our communities.
There are more logistical reasons she is unlikely to be extradited anytime soon though.
But if we know anything about the United States’ treatment of political dissidents, extraditions are low on the priority list.
There is a reason Osama bin Laden was brought back dead rather than alive. The U.S. government didn’t want to try him. They didn’t want bin Laden, a former partner of the CIA, to recall in intimate detail the U.S. sponsored terrorism in the Middle East that has killed millions. They didn’t want to remember that before the Taliban they funded, trained, and partnered with the Mujahideen and countless other militias in proxy wars with the USSR, devastating and destabilizing entire regions in the process. LEAST of all did the U.S. government want a lesson in historical accuracy to rally the victims of U.S. oppression around the fact that AmeriKKKa has never given a shit about brown bodies — not here, not anywhere.
Nope. They didn’t want any of that. What the U.S. government DID want was a trophy for U.S. imperialism. They wanted to hang a dead body in the public square. They wanted a dead body because dead bodies don’t talk.
This is why Fred Hampton never spoke again. Why Dr. King never spoke again. Why Malcolm X never spoke again. Why Huey P. Newton never spoke again. Why George Jackson, John Huggins, Bunchy Carter, Sylvester Bell, and so many others never spoke again. Any threat to the hegemony of AmeriKKKa’s narrative that it is the benevolent land of milk and honey — of democracy and freedom — MUST be dealt with.
It is why if we understand the current options available to the U.S. government, and if we remember its history, the danger of Assata’s U.S.-sponsored assassination is now more menacing than ever. AmeriKKKa doesn’t want to bring her to “trial”. That was done already and it was a farce. This government wants her shut up, out of sight, or dead. And a re-established U.S. embassy in Havana would make it that much easier. It would put agents of repression closer to Shakur than they may have ever been in the past 40 years.
So now is the time to renew our conviction to Hands Off Assata. Now is the time to remind our oppressive government that we are here, we are watching, and we will fight for Assata no matter where she is. This is the time to remember, in the powerful words of Dr. King, that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, because any effort to silence Assata Shakur is an effort to silence us.
Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party who, like many other Black activists in the 60s and 70s, became a target of COINTELPRO. As part of the FBI’s campaign against the Black Panther Party, Assata was falsely accused of bank robberies and other crimes up and down the East Coast in the early 1970s. Her real “crime” was fighting for the liberation of Black people and other oppressed peoples from racist oppression.
After she was acquitted six different times on May 2, 1973, Assata, Sundiata Acoli and Zayd Malik Shakur were ambushed by state police on the New Jersey turnpike. A state trooper shot Assata in the arm and back as she had her hands in the air. Another trooper was killed. Zayd Malik Shakur was killed. Sundiata escaped and was later captured after a massive police manhunt.
After her arrest, Assata was shackled and chained to her hospital bed as the police guarding her shouted racist slogans, beat her with shotgun butts and threatened to kill her.
One of the state troopers admitted that he shot and killed Zayd Malik Shakur. But Assata was charged with the killing of Zayd–who she described as her “closest friend and comrade”–as well as with the death of the trooper. Sundiata Acoli was also charged with both deaths. No evidence linked either of them to the shooting of the state trooper. Defense testimony from several expert witnesses made it clear that Assata was not involved in the shooting. Nevertheless, in 1977 an all-white jury convicted Assata and sentenced her to life plus 33 years in prison. Sundiata was sentenced to life plus 30 years. He remains a political prisoner today.
Assata Shakur escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she lives today in political exile. The United States government has offered a $1 million bounty for her capture.
Note: The bounty was recently changed to $2,000,000 USD. And since the U.S. and Cuba just agreed on easing relations NJPD has already made it expressly clear that they plan on using this as a chance to capture her and answer (or be executed) for crimes she never committed.
New Jersey doesn’t want Assata Shakur back. The white supremacist imagination wants Assata Shakur back. It has nothing to do with her “killing a cop”. It has nothing to do with justice, something we as citizens rarely get when the system that is operating against Assata also operates against us (#HandsUpDont___? #whocantbreatheandwhy?)
This decades long lust over Assata Shakur’s freedom comes from a nation that had in its place a system that was considered to be impossible to defy being defied. They don’t know how this Black woman not only escaped from their maximum security prison, but also tracelessly made it to Cuba. They want her back like a child wants a toy back that never really belonged to them. They feel entitled to her freedom because she spat in their white supremacist patriarchal faces and made it out alive to the land of one of their biggest enemies. She broke every rule and like petulant children they can’t stand that someone else won.
They want her back because without her their headcount of all of us, meaning every US citizen, is incomplete. Her defiance is still a sign to them that others will come after her. They have to make an example out of her even though they never made an example out of themselves for all the atrocities they’ve committed worldwide, on their own soil. Justice…she found justice. They want to take it away.
“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that the knowledge will help set you free.” - Assata Shakur
You can be a revolutionary-thinking person and have your hair fried up. And you can have an Afro and be a traitor to Black people. But for me, how you dress and how you look have always reflected what you have to say about yourself.
[T]o peoples struggling against American oppression [Assata Shakur] remains a prominent figure in the fight for liberation, and that’s the REAL problem. …[T]he reason that the US government is still after Assata is not because they fear that she will engage in violence or to just punish her, but rather because they fear her effects upon the oppressed, who see in her the inspiration to fight — and more importantly, the strength to win.
Assata Shakur is one of the strongest and most courageous black women you will ever read about. Assata meaning “she who struggles” and Shakur meaning “the thankful one” is a true warrior in the fight for black equality. At a very young age in the 1960’s, she participated in various struggles including the Black Liberation Movement, the Student Rights Movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. As member of the Black Panther party, she fed thousands of black children every morning insisting that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. She, as a young teen, mentored many young black girls on the importance of natural hair and supporting black men. In 1973, she was falsely accused of shooting a state trooper on the NJ turnpike after medical evidence showed she clearly couldn’t have done the crime. She spent almost 7 years in prison in solitary confinement, suffering from brutal beatings from prison guards, severe malnourishment, and complete lack of medical attention. Through it all, she stood strong and with the help of the Black Panthers, was able to escape that hell.
While in prison she birthed a beautiful baby girl named Kakuya Shakur.
Today 40 years later, she is still being pursued by the FBI and recently was placed on the FBI’S “Most Wanted Terrorist” list. This is the same list the Taliban and OSAMA BIN LADEN were placed on. She is not only the first woman to be placed on the list, but the second person in history from the U.S to be placed on the list. The state of New Jersey also added $1 million to the FBI’s $1 million bounty on her head. They are offering $2 MILLION for her capture. Isn’t it crazy that New Jersey with all the problems it has can come up with $1 Million to place on Assata’s head? She was basically kidnapped by the police, sentenced to life in prison with no evidence, severely beaten on the regular, starved almost to death then she is able to finally escape the torture and now she’s the terrorist? Anyway, she is a phenomenal poet and if you get the chance read her autobiography. It’ll change your life. The fact that they are still chasing her and offering so much money shows that they are afraid of what she symbolizes. Assata is an inspiration to us all and shows us how important it is to be able to stand on your own two feet. Stand for something or Fall for anything. Strong, Black Woman I Salute your Existence!!!!!
“Freedom! You askin me about freedom?! Askin me about freedom? I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole lot more about what freedom isn’t than about what it is, cause I’ve never been free. I can only share my vision with you of the future, about what freedom is. Uhh, the way I see it, freedom is the right to grow, is the right to blossom. Freedom is the right to be yourself, to be who you are, to be who you wanna be, to do what you wanna do.” Assata Shakur
No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.