Trump's recent policy shift and his comments on Cuba reminds us again of the case of Assata Shakur and the persistent drive by imperialist and racist forces to force Cuba to surrender Shakur and the drive by these imperialists to stamp out any memory or thought of opposition and revolution. Many people---and particularly many young people---are not familiar with Assata Shakur's case or the context surrounding it. We present some important details here and we recommend that readers go to the Assata Shakur Speaks! website. Defending revolutionary Cuba and defending Assata Shakur are one task, and we can do this best by building a united front with national and international allies.
An Open Letter From Assata
Assata: Exile since 1979
On May 2 1973, Black Panther activist Assata Shakur (fsn) JoAnne Chesimard, was pulled over by the New Jersey State Police, shot twice and then charged with murder of a police officer. Assata spent six and a half years in prison under brutal circumstances before escaping out of the maximum security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979 and moving to Cuba.
Assata: In her own words
My name is Assata (she who struggles) Olugbala (for the people) Shakur (the thankful one), and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government's policy towards people of color. I am an ex political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984. I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO program. because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it "greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.
Political Prisoner to Exiled
On May 2, 1973 I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a "faulty tail light." Sundiata Acoli got out of the car to determine why we were stopped. Zaydand I remained in the car. State trooper Harper then came to the car, opened the door and began to question us. Because we were black, and riding in a car with Vermont license plates, he claimed he became "suspicious." He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told us to put our hands up in the air, in front of us, where he could see them. I complied and in a split second, there was a sound that came from outside the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once with my arms held up in the air, and then once again from the back. Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, trooper Werner Forester was killed, and even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot and killed Zayd Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder law, I was charged with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was my closest friend and comrade, and charged in the death of trooper Forester. Never in my life have I felt such grief. Zayd had vowed to protect me, and to help me to get to a safe place, and it was clear that he had lost his life, trying to protect both me and Sundiata. Although he was also unarmed, and the gun that killed trooper Forester was found under Zayd’s leg, Sundiata Acoli, who was captured later, was also charged with both deaths. Neither Sundiata Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial. We were both convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted by an all- white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison. In 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison, and knowing that I would never receive any justice, I was liberated from prison, aided by committed comrades who understood the depths of the injustices in my case, and who were also extremely fearful for my life.
New Jersey Police & the Pope
The U.S. Senate's 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the USA, revealed that "The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the publics perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through "friendly" news contacts." This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today. On December 24, 1997, The New Jersey State called a press conference to announce that New Jersey State Police had written a letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to intervene on their behalf and to aid in having me extradited back to New Jersey prisons. The New Jersey State Police refused to make their letter public. Knowing that they had probably totally distort the facts, and attempted to get the Pope to do the devils work in the name of religion, I decided to write the Pope to inform him about the reality of’ "justice" for black people in the State of New Jersey and in the United States.
NBC Television Network Distorts Facts
In January of 1998, during the pope's visit to Cuba, I agreed to do an interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza around my letter to the Pope, about my experiences in New Jersey court system, and about the changes I saw in the United States and it's treatment of Black people in the last 25 years. I agreed to do this interview because I saw this secret letter to the Pope as a vicious, vulgar, publicity maneuver on the part of the New Jersey State Police, and as a cynical attempt to manipulate Pope John Paul II. I have lived in Cuba for many years, and was completely out of touch with the sensationalist, dishonest, nature of the establishment media today. It is worse today than it was 30 years ago. After years of being victimized by the "establishment" media it was naive of me to hope that I might finally get the opportunity to tell "my side of the story." Instead of an interview with me, what took place was a "staged media event" in three parts, full of distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies. NBC purposely misrepresented the facts. Not only did NBC spend thousands of dollars promoting this "exclusive interview series" on NBC, they also spent a great deal of money advertising this "exclusive interview" on black radio stations and also placed notices in local newspapers.
In an NBC interview Gov. Whitman was quoted as saying that "this has nothing to do with race, this had everything to do with crime." Either Gov. Whitman is completely unfamiliar with the facts in my case, or her sensitivity to racism and to the plight of black people and other people of color in the United States is at a sub-zero level. In 1973 the trial in Middlesex County had to be stopped because of the overwhelming racism expressed in the jury room. The court was finally forced to rule that the entire jury panel had been contaminated by racist comments like "If she's black, she's guilty." In an obvious effort to prevent us from being tried by "a jury of our peers the New Jersey courts ordered that a jury be selected from Morris County, New Jersey where only 2.2 percent of the population was black and 97.5 percent of potential jurors were white. In a study done in Morris County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, 92 percent of the registered voters said that they were familiar with the case through the news media, and 72 percent believed we were guilty based on pretrial publicity. During the jury selection process in Morris County, white supremacists from the National Social[ist] White People's Party, wearing Swastikas, demonstrated carrying signs reading "SUPPORT WHITE POLICE." The trial was later moved back to Middlesex County where 70 percent thought I was guilty based on pretrial publicity I was tried by an all white jury, where the presumption of innocence was not the criteria for jury selection. Potential jurors were merely asked if they could "put their prejudices aside, and "render a fair verdict." The basic reality in the United States is that being black is a crime and black people are always "suspects" and an accusation is usually a conviction. Most white people still think that being a "black militant" or a "black revolutionary" is tantamount to being guilty of some kind of crime.
The current situation in New Jersey's prisons, underlines the racism that dominates the politics of the state of New Jersey, in particular and in the U.S. as a whole. Although the population of New Jersey is approximately 78 percent white, more than 75 percent of New Jersey's prison population is made up of blacks and Latinos. 80 percent of the women in Jersey prisons are people of color. That may not seem like racism to Gov. Whitman, but it reeks of racism to us.
The NBC story implied that Governor Christie Whitman raised the reward for my capture based on my interview with NBC. The fact of the matter is that she has been campaigning since she was elected into office to double the reward for my capture. In 1994, she appointed Col. Carl Williams who immediately vowed to make my capture a priority. In 1995, Gov. Whitman sought to "match a $25,000 departmental appropriation sponsored by an "unidentified legislator." I watched a tape of Gov. Whitman's "testimony" in her interview with NBC. She gave a very dramatic, exaggerated version of what happened, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support her claim that Trooper Forester had "four bullets in him at least, and then they got up and with his own gun, fired two bullets into his head." She claimed that she was writing Janet Reno for federal assistance in my capture, based on what she saw in the NBC interview. If this is the kind of "information" that is being passed on to Janet Reno and the Pope, it is clear that the facts have been totally distorted. Whitman also claimed that my return to prison should be a condition for "normalizing relations with Cuba". How did I get so important that my life can determine the foreign relations between two governments? Anybody who knows anything about New Jersey politics can be certain that her motives are purely political. She, like Torrecelli and several other opportunistic politicians in New Jersey came to power, as part time lobbyists for the Batista faction - soliciting votes from right wing Cubans. They want to use my case as a barrier for normalizing relations with Cuba, and as a pretext for maintaining the immoral blockade against the Cuban people.
In what can only be called deliberate deception and slander NBC aired a photograph of a woman with a gun in her hand implying that the woman in the photograph was me. I was not, in fact, the woman in the photograph. The photograph was taken from a highly publicized case where I was accused of bank robbery. Not only did I voluntarily insist on participating in a lineup, during which witnesses selected another woman, but during the trial, several witnesses, including the manager of the bank, testified that the woman in that photograph was not me. I was acquitted of that bank robbery. NBC aired that photograph on at least 5 different occasions, representing the woman in the photograph as me. How is it possible, that the New Jersey State Police, who claim to have a detective working full time on my case, Governor of New Jersey Christine Whitman, who claimed she reviewed all the "evidence," or NBC, which has an extensive research department, did not know that the photograph was false? It was a vile, fraudulent attempt to make me look guilty. NBC deliberately misrepresented the truth. Even after many people had called in, and there was massive fax, and e-mail campaign protesting NBC's mutilation of the facts, Ralph Penza and NBC continued to broadcast that photograph, representing it as me. Not once have the New Jersey State Police, Governor Christine Whitman, or NBC come forth and stated that I was not the woman in the photograph, or that I had been acquitted of that charge.
The Hands Off Assata Campaign
We know that Assata Shakur is a bona fide political exile living in the island nation of Cuba. She was persecuted for her political beliefs and tortured while in prison. We support the international human rights and Geneva conventions, which enabled her to seek and secure political asylum in Cuba, and we support the right of the Cuban people to grant it to her. We are shocked by the actions of new jersey and the department of justice, who has issued a $1 million dollar bounty on head of Assata Shakur.
Doing such a thing is tantamount to a call to "soldiers of fortune" to kidnap and kill Ms. Shakur and for them to engage in international espionage against the sovereign nation of Cuba.
We are shocked by the activities of the United States House of Representatives, which in September 1998 passed House Resolution 254, calling on the Cuban Government to extradite Assata Shakur. Given that there is no binding extradition treaty between Cuba and the United States, such a request is outside the context of international law. In addition, we call on the Congress of the United States to hold public hearings on the past and current impact of FBI's Counter Intelligence Program known as COINTELPRO.
Given that Assata Shakur was not the only one politically persecuted for her political beliefs, we demand that a full airing take place on that program. And finally are calling on the United States end its hostility towards the tiny nation of Cuba by normalizing relations with the Island and ending the US economic blockade
Assata Shakur: Sister, Woman, Exile, Mother, Grand mother
ASSATA SHAKUR is an African woman. She is a social justice activist, a poet, a mother and a grandmother. She has lived in Cuba since the early 1980s. During the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s, she found herself a victim of both racial profiling and political targeting. After being spotted on the New Jersey turnpike on May 2, 1973, (DWB) driving while Black, it was discovered that she and her two companions were known members of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X, Leonard Peltier and many members of the Civil Rights and American Indian Movements, Assata and her companions had been watched, their phones tapped, their families monitored, their organizations infiltrated, and widespread disinformation campaigns waged against them. They were like many activists of the day targets of the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). In fact, Assata was wanted, not for anything she had actually done, but for a variety of crimes that government and state officials were trying to pin on her. This was common in the 1970s: discredit the voice of activists by painting them as criminals, trumping up indictments, tying them up in courts and if possible jailing them. In the mid 1970s, The Church Committee of the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations and the Domestic Intelligence Subcommittee, headed by Senator Walter Mondale, provided incontrovertible documentation of a government sponsored conspiracy against the civil and human rights of all sorts of political activists.
THUS ON THAT DAY IN MAY, Assata was a marked woman. And after police stopped them, a shoot out occurred. When the smoke cleared one police officer, and one of Assata's companions, Zayd Shakur lay dead. Assata, shot in the back and dragged from the car, lay wounded. Only belatedly taken to the hospital, Assata was then chained to her bed, tortured and questioned while injured. In fact, she never received adequate medical attention even though she had a broken clavicle and a paralyzed arm. Nonetheless, she was quickly jailed, prosecuted and incarcerated over the next few years for the series of trumped up cases. Interestingly, in five separate trials, and with majority white juries, charges were dismissed because of lack of evidence or she was acquitted of all charges ranging from bank robbery to murder. As the manager of one bank said at trial - she is just not the one who robbed my bank. Only in the final trial in 1977, where she was charged with the Turnpike killings, was she found guilty. This even though forensic evidence taken that day showed that she had not fired a weapon. She was sentenced to life + 33 years in prison. In 1979, and after nearly six years behind bars, she escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey and some time later emerged in Cuba where she applied for and received political asylum. Since being in Cuba, she has continued her college education, published an autobiography, and writes on global issues facing women, youth, and people of color.
DURING THE 1990S, rightist politicians and police bodies - this time in conjunction with conservative members of the Cuban-American community - reinvigorated their attempts to pursue Assata Shakur. They did this even though Assata has not tried to re-enter the United States and is, according to international law, a political exile who should be left alone. Linking "fear of crime" rhetoric with anti-Cuban sentiment, New Jersey governor Christine Todd-Whitman issued a bounty which was $100,000, on the head of Assata Shakur. She even went as far as to announce her bounty on Radio Marti, the US government radio station which beams anti-Castro propaganda into the Caribbean. To do such a thing put Assata in danger because it is tantamount to encouraging any opportunists to kidnap and/or kill her for pay. In addition, in 1998, Congressmen Franks and Menendez from New Jersey and Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart of Florida introduced and got passed - House Resolution 254 - which calls for the Cuban government to extradite Assata Shakur as a condition to normalizing US-Cuba relations. Interestingly, while Assata and Cuba are portrayed as "criminal", a terrorist bombing campaign - thought to be sponsored by ultra-rightist forces in the United States - has been launched against Cuba, killing and injuring Cuban citizens and foreign tourists alike.
What can you do?
Add your organization's name to our list of endorsers/Take petitions.
Contact your Congressperson. Demand that he/she rescind House Resolution #254 and ask them to support congressional hearings on COINTELPRO. You can use a Congressional email service to look up your rep's email: http://www.house.gov/writerep
Download and print the "Hands Off Assata Shakur" Flyer
Plan a showing of the film Eyes of the Rainbow (1997). This film portrays the life and current struggles of Assata Shakur. Download and View: Eyes Of The Rainbow
Keep visiting www.assatashakur.org for current HOA-Campaign Info.
Organize a The Hands Off Assata Shakur Campaign Rally and Teach In in your respective cities and towns
Send contributions: The Talking Drum Collective, P.O. Box 1921, Stone Mountain, Ga. 30086
Any questions, contact us at www.assatashakur.org using the contact us form.
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