By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“I am a Black revolutionary woman, and because of this i have been charged with and accused of every alleged crime in which a woman was believed to have participated. The alleged crimes in which only men were supposedly involved; i have been accused of planning. They have plastered pictures alleged to be me in post offices, airports, hotels, police cars, subways, banks, television, and newspapers. They have offered over fifty thousand dollars in rewards for my capture and they have issued orders to shoot on sight and shoot to kill. I was sentenced to life plus 30 years by an all-White jury. What I saw in prison was wall-to-wall Black flesh in chains. Women caged in cells. But we’re the terrorists. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Excerpt from “Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Olugbala Shakur published 1987.
On May 2, 2013 Assata Olugbala Shakur became the first woman named as a terrorist by America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list.
The U.S. government, through the FBI, is offering $2,000,000 for the capture of Shakur who has lived in Cuba as a political refugee since 1984. Shakur was born on July 16, 1947 in New York City but spent most of her childhood in the White supremacist segregated South (Wilmington, North Carolina) living with her grandparents. As a teenager she moved back to New York where she eventually attended City College of New York (CCNY). In the late 1960s, Shakur became actively involved in the struggle for Black Liberation, first as a member of the Black Panther Party and later the Black Liberation Army (BLA). On May 2, 1973, police (New Jersey State troopers) stopped a car in which Shakur was a passenger on the New Jersey State Turnpike traveling with two companions, Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli. During the violent confrontation with police that ensued after the supposed traffic stop, a New Jersey trooper, Werner Forester and Zayd Shakur were killed. Assata Shakur was shot twice by police during that confrontation and arrested, charged with the murder of Forrester even though she did not fire a gun. On March 25, 1977 she was convicted by an all-White jury of killing Forrester and sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years. In 1979 she escaped from jail and fled the United States where she was granted asylum in Cuba – sometime between fleeing jail in the U.S. and 1984 when her presence in Cuba was noted by the U.S. government.
In 1998, Shakur wrote an open letter to Pope John Paul II (http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2013/5/2/ex_black_panther_assata_shakur_added_to_fbis_most_wanted_terrorist_list) during his trip to Cuba. She wrote the letter after the New Jersey state troopers sent the Pope a letter asking him to call for her extradition from Cuba. Shakur’s letter said in part: “I was captured in New Jersey in 1973, after being shot with both arms held in the air, and then shot again from the back. I was left on the ground to die and when I did not, I was taken to a local hospital where I was threatened, beaten and tortured. In 1977, I was convicted in a trial that can only be described as a legal lynching.”
During the trial in 1977 three neurologists testified that the first gunshot shattered Shakur’s clavicle and the second shattered the median nerve in her right hand. That testimony proved that she was sitting with her hands raised when she was shot by police. Further testimony proved that no gun residue was found on either of her hands, nor were her fingerprints found on any of the weapons located at the scene. Yet Shakur was convicted by an all-White jury and sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years.
On May 2, 2005, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was offering a $1,000,000 bounty for Shakur’s capture. Dr. Kathleen Cleaver, a former Black Panther member who is a professor at Yale University, wrote at that time: “This bounty evokes the memory of those vicious slave catchers who were paid to capture and torment our runaway slave ancestors and return them dead or alive. This extraordinary bounty on the head of a Black woman inevitably brings to mind Harriet Tubman, that Underground Railroad “conductor” whose ability to organize escapes earned a $12,000 price on her head from the state of Maryland. Outraged slave owners added $40,000.”
Professor Cleaver, in that May 2005 article, also gave context to the persecution of Shakur and other African-American freedom fighters of that time (1960s – 1970s) when Shakur was arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced:
“May 2 of this year, the thirty-second anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike shootout in which State Trooper Werner Foerster and Black Panther Zayd Shakur were killed. Sundiata Acoli and Assata Shakur were arrested for the murders. Assata was severely wounded, shot while her hands were up. She has always insisted—and expert defense testimony from the trial bears it out—that she did not kill anyone. But in separate trials, Sundiata and Assata were convicted of murdering Werner Foerster. In 1979, while incarcerated for life in the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, Assata escaped. Many freedom fighters I knew and loved, including Eldridge Cleaver, to whom I was married, were arrested and imprisoned because of our membership in the Black Panther Party. Our organization (was) started in response to the gruesome war in Vietnam and the racism and injustice here that drenched our lives in violence. Demonstrations, riots, rampant police brutality and political assassinations marked those years when I witnessed thousands upon thousands of people arrested and hundreds killed. Many turned into fugitives to save their own lives, including my husband, whom I joined in Algeria in May 1969. That was around the same time that Assata, then a bright New York City college student, joined the Black Panthers.” Shakur herself has said: “When I was in the Black Panther Party, they (United States) called us terrorists. How dare they call us terrorists when we were being terrorized? Terror was a constant part of my life. I was living under apartheid in North Carolina. We lived under police terror.”
It is interesting to note that the U.S. government harbours some of the most notorious terrorists including Santiago Alvarez and Luis Posada Carriles. Santiago Alvarez is the founder of Alpha 66, a Miami-based anti-Castro domestic terror group that operates a terror training camp in the Florida Everglades. Alpha 66 has been linked to a series of bombings and assassinations in the Miami area during the 1970s and Alvarez is responsible for a 1971 motorboat strafing attack on a Cuban fishing village that killed two men and wounded four people, including two small children. Luis Posada Carriles, who lives in Miami, Florida is the notorious terrorist who is responsible for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 in which 78 people including 11 Guyana scholars were killed on October 6, 1976. Many of the people killed during that terrorist attack which was masterminded by Carriles Posada were teenagers. The young Guyanese were between 17 and 19 years old on their way to Cuba on scholarships to study to become medical doctors. The 24 young Cubans were members of the 1975 national Cuban under 15 fencing team who were returning home after having won gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championships competition. The flight left Guyana for Cuba, stopped in Trinidad where the terrorists boarded the flight. They left when the plane landed in Barbados after planting the bomb. When the plane lifted off from Barbados the bomb exploded.
Although Posada Carilles is implicated in several acts of terrorism, the bombing of the Cubana Flight 455 was the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas until the plane that brought down the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
It seems that the American government has signed Assata Shakur’s death warrant with a $2,000,000 bounty on her head while they harbour known terrorists. What a shame!