There are a lot of words to describe Assata Shakur. These words include strong, intelligent, beautiful, determined, compassionate, and giving. She is a Sister who loves her family and escaped tyranny in order for her to be liberated from oppression. The beauty of her hair, her gorgeous smile, and her wonderful personality has inspired people throughout the Earth. Assata Shakur is a strong black woman who gives wisdom for this generation and for future generations too. She is a freedom fighter who once was involved in the revolutionary, pro-socialist Black Panther Party. She accepted many socialist philosophies, but she is not dogmatic as we have the right to analyze and question the diverse philosophies of the world. Therefore, it is important to know about her real story not the lies that the FBI and others say about her. She's a wonderful, phenomenal woman. I love her wisdom and I respect her strength. Also, we are in a struggle for liberation ourselves. Black people and all oppressed people deserve freedom, justice, and equality without exception. Assata Shakur's legacy is a glorious one and we will continue to fight for justice.
Sister Assata Shakur’s story begins in July 16, 1947. That was the year of her birth. She was named Joanne Deborah Bryon originally. She was born in Jamaica, Queen New York City. She lived there for three years with her parents and grandparents, Lula and Frank hill. Her parents were divorced in 1950. Later, Shakur spent most of her childhood in Wilmington, North Carolina with her grandmother. In Wilmington, there was massive Jim Crow apartheid there. She lives where her grandfather grew up in. There were “Colored Only” and “White Only” signs there. Yet, her grandparents taught her about personal dignity and strength. They wanted her to stand up against racism and oppression. Her family then relocated to Queens when she was a teenager. For a time, she ran away from home. She lives with strangers until she was taken in by her aunt named Evelyn Williams. Evelyn later became her lawyer. Assata Shakur dropped out of high school, but she later earned her GED or General Educational Development via her aunt’s help. Then, Shakur attended BMCC or the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Then, she attended the City College of New York or the CCNY in the mid 1960’s. During this stage of her life, she was involved in many political activities like protests and sit-ins. Assata Shakur was arrested for the first time in 1967 with 100 other BMCC students, on charges of trespassing. The students had chained and locked the entrance to a college building to protest a curriculum deficient in black studies and a lack of black faculty.
In April of 1967, she married Louis Chesimard, who was a fellow student activist at CCNY. They were divorced in December of 1970. Shakur wrote one paragraph in her autobiography to her marriage. She wrote that the termination of the marriage came about because of disagreements related to gender roles as sexism was very common, even in the black freedom struggle. She graduated from CCNY at 23. She later joined the Black Panther Party and she was a leading member of the Harlem branch. Before joining the BPP, Assata Shakur met many of its members on a 1970 trip to Oakland, California. One of Shakur's main activities with the BPP was coordinating a school breakfast program. However, she soon left the Party, charging macho behavior of males in these organizations. Other female Panthers like Regina Jennings left the organization over sexual harassment. Shakur’s main critique of the BPP was that she felt that it didn’t focus enough on black history. She changed her name to Assata Shakur. She joined the BLA or the Black Liberation Army. The BLA wanted to fight for the independence and self-determination of African people in America. In 1971, she joined the Republic of New Afrika, which was an organization that wanted to create an independent black-majority nation composed of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.
A Turning Point
The turning point would involve the New Jersey Turnpike shootout. This happened on May 2, 1973. Assata Shakur, Zayd Malik Shakur, and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick by the State Trooper Harper. Harper was backed up by Trooper Werner Forester in second patrol vehicle or Car 820. They stopped them since the cops said that they were driving with a broken tail light. According to Col. David B. Kelly, the vehicle was also "slightly" exceeding the speed limit. Recordings of Trooper Harper calling the dispatcher were played at the trials of both Acoli and Assata Shakur. After reporting his plans to stop the vehicle he had been following, Harper can later be heard to say: "Hold on—two black males, one female." The stop occurred 200 yards (183 m) south of what was then the Turnpike Authority administration building at exit 9, the headquarters of Troop D. Zayd Shakur was driving the two door vehicle. Assata Shakur was seated in the right front seta and Acoli was in the right rear seat. Trooper Harper asked the driver for identification, noticed a discrepancy, asked him to get out of the car, and questioned him at the rear of the vehicle. It is at this point, with the questioning of Zayd Shakur, that the accounts of the confrontation begin to differ. What is true is that there is the shootout and Trooper Forester was shot twice in the head with his own gun and killed. Zayd Shakur was killed. Assata Shakur and Trooper Harper were wounded.
Acoli then drove the car (a white Pontiac LeMans with Vermont license plates)—which contained Assata Shakur, who was wounded, and Zayd Shakur, who was dead or dying—5 miles (8 km) down the road at milepost 78 across from Service Area 8-N (the Joyce Kilmer Service Area), where Assata Shakur was apprehended. The vehicle was chased by three patrol cars and the booths down the turnpike were alerted. Acoli then exited the car and—after being ordered to halt by Trooper Robert Palentchar (Car 817), the first on the scene fled into the woods as Palentchar emptied his gun. According to Palentchar, Assata Shakur then walked towards him from 50 feet (15 m) away with her bloody arms raised in surrender. Acoli was captured after a 36-hour manhunt—involving 400 people, state police helicopters, and bloodhounds from the Ocean County Sheriff's Department—the following day. Zayd Shakur's body was found in a nearby gully along the road. Assata Shakur was wounded. She was moved to Middlesex General Hospital and was under “heavy guard.” She was in serious condition, but she survived. Trooper Harper was wounded in the left shoulder and left the hospital. Assata Shakur was interrogated an arraigned from her hospital bed. She was transferred from Middlesex General Hospital in New Brunswick to Roosevelt Hospital in Edison after her lawyers obtained a court order from Judge John Bachman, and then transferred to Middlesex County Workhouse a few weeks late. Assata Shakur was charged with many charges. She experienced seven trials. She was acquitted in three trials, one was in a hung jury and one in a change of venue, one had a mistrial du to pregnancy, one in a conviction, and including three other indictments were dismissed without trial.
There are many facts about this case that should be known:
1. Dr. David Spain, a pathologist from Brookdale Community College, testified that her bullet scars as well as X-rays supported her claim that her arms were raised, and that there was "no conceivable way" the first bullet could have hit Shakur's clavicle if her arm was down.
2. Neutron activation analysis administered after the shootout showed no gunpowder residue on Shakur's fingers; her fingerprints were not found on any weapon at the scene, according to forensic analysis performed at the Trenton, New Jersey crime lab and the FBI crime labs in Washington, D.C. According to tape recordings and police reports made several hours after the shoot-out, when Harper returned on foot to the administration building 200 yards (183 m) away, he did not report Foerster's presence at the scene; no one at headquarters knew of Foerster's involvement in the shoot-out until his body was discovered beside his patrol car, more than an hour later.
3. Her fingerprints were not found on any weapon at the scene, according to forensic analysis performed at the Trenton, New Jersey crime lab and the FBI crime labs in Washington, D.C.
4. Trooper Harper retracted his previous statements and said that he had never seen Shakur with a gun and that she did not shoot him.
Assata Shakur was imprisoned in the New Jersey State Reception and Correction center after the Turnpike shootings. The center is located Yardville, Burlington County (in New Jersey). She was later move to Rikers Island Correctional Institution for Women in New York City where she was kept in solitary confinement for 21 months. Solitary confinement takes a toll on people emotionally and physically. She survived it. Her only daughter is Kakuya Shakur. Kakuya was conceived during her trial. She was born in September 11, 1974 in Elmhurst General Hospital in Queens. Assata Shakur stayed there for a few days before she returned to Rikers Island. Assata Shakur said that she was beaten and restrained by several large female officers after refusing a medical exam from a prison doctor shortly after giving birth. There are tons of people in the prison industrial complex who are assaulted and beaten back then and today. Shakur filed a 1983 suit while she was imprisoned in Rikers Island. She was suing because of the conditions of her confinement. She was unsuccessful in persuading the federal courts to order that the legal aid paralegals assisting in her claim be granted attorney like visitation rights. After a bomb threat was made against Judge Appleby, Sheriff Joseph DeMarino lied to the press about the exact date of her transfer to Clinton Correctional Facility for Women for security reasons. She was later transferred from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women to a special area staffed by women guards at the Yardville Youth Correction and Reception Center in New Jersey. She was the only female inmate in the location, because of “security reasons.” On May 6, 1977, Judge Clarkson, of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, denied Shakur's request for an injunction requiring her transfer from the all-male facility to Clinton Correctional Facility for Women; the Third Circuit affirmed.
On April 8, 1978, Assata Shakur was transferred to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia. She met there Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebron. She also met Mary Alice, who was a Catholic nun who introduced Shakur to the concept of liberation theology. Assata Shakur was placed in the Maximum Security Unit in Alderson. On March 31, 1978, after the Maximum Security Unit at Alderson was closed, Shakur was transferred to the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey. Her attorney, Lennox Hinds said that Assata Shakur experienced bad conditions in the Facility along with invasive searches. Hinds argues that "in the history of New Jersey, no woman pretrial detainee or prisoner has ever been treated as she was, continuously confined in a men's prison, under twenty-four hour surveillance of her most intimate functions, without intellectual sustenance, adequate medical attention, and exercise, and without the company of other women for all the years she was in custody." It is obvious that the prison administrators wanted Assata to suffer in a sick way. Assata Shakur was a political agenda. She was supported by Angela Davis and other people internationally. An international panel of seven jurists representing the United Nations Commission on Human Rights concluded in 1979 that her treatment was "totally unbefitting any prisoner." Their investigation, which focused on alleged human rights abuses of political prisoners, cited Shakur as "one of the worst cases" of such abuses and including her in "a class of victims of FBI misconduct through the COINTELPRO strategy and other forms of illegal government conduct who as political activists have been selectively targeted for provocation, false arrests, entrapment, fabrication of evidence, and spurious criminal prosecutions."
Escape and Exile
Assata Shakur escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey. The events happened as followed. Three members of the Black Liberation Army visited her. The members of the BLA drew concealed .45 caliber pistols, seized two guards as hostages and commandeered a prison van. The van escaped through an unfenced section of the prison into the parking lot of a state school for the handicapped. This was about 1.5 miles away. There was a blue and white Lincoln and a blue Mercury Comet waiting. No one was injured during the prison break. The guards held as hostages were left in the parking lot. Her brother Mutulu Shakur, Silvia Baraldini, former Panther Sekou Odinga, and Marilyn Buck were charged with assisting in her escape. Ronald Boyd Hill was also held on charged related to the escape. Mutulu was named on July 23, 1982 as the 380th addition to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. He remained on the list or the next four years until his capture in 1986. State correction officials disclosed in November 1979 that they had not run identity checks on Shakur's visitors and that the three men and one woman who assisted in her escape had presented false identification to enter the prison's visitor room, before which they were not searched. Mutulu Shakur and Marilyn Buck were convicted in 1988 of several robberies as well as the prison escape. At the time of the escape, Kunstler had just started to prepare her appeal. Assata Shakur soon was called a fugitive by the FBI. The FBI circulated wanted posters all over New York, New Jersey, etc. Her supporters hung “Assata Shakur is Welcome Here” posters in response. In New York, three days after her escape, more than 5,000 demonstrators organized by the National Black Human Rights Coalition carried signs with the same slogan. The image of Shakur on the wanted posters featured a wig and blurred black and white features.
For years after Shakur’s escape, the movements, activities, and phone calls of her friends and relatives (even her daughter walking to school in upper Manhattan) were monitored by investigators in an attempt to ascertain her whereabouts. In July 1980, FBI Director William Webster said that the search for Shakur had been frustrated by residents’ refusal to cooperate. A New York Times editorial opined that the department acted in a crude sweep which was lacking in sensitivity to civil rights and civil liberties. There was one pre-dawn raid in April 20, 1980 on 92 Morningside Avenue. The FBI agents were armed with shotguns and machine guns. They broke down doors and searches through the building for many hours. They prevented residents from leaving. Residents thought that these actions had racist overtones. In October 1980, New Jersey and New York City Police denied published reports that they had declined to raid a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn building where Shakur was suspected to be hiding for fear of provoking a racial incident.
Life in Cuba
Assata Shakur fled to Cuba in 1984. In that year, she was granted political asylum by Cuba. The Cuban government paid about $13 a day towards her living expenses. In 1985, she was reunited with her daughter, Kakuya, who had been raised by Shakur’s mother in New York. Shakur made an open letter. In it, she wrote that Cuba was: “One of the Largest, Most Resistant and Most Courageous Palenques (Maroon Camps) that has existed on the Face of this Planet.” Shakur also worked as an English language editor for Radio Havana Cuba.
In 1987, she published the book, “Assata: An Autobiography.” Her book was written in Cuba. Her autobiography has been cited in relation to critical legal studies and critical race theory. The book gives some information on the events in New Jersey Turnpike. The book was published by Lawrence Hill & Company in the United States and Canada but the copyright is held by Zed Books Ltd. of London due to "Son of Sam" laws, which restrict who can receive profits from a book. In the six months prior to the publications of the book, Evelyn Williams, Shakur's aunt and attorney, made several trips to Cuba and served as a go-between with Hill. In 1993, she published a second book, Still Black, Still Strong, with Dhoruba bin Wahad and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Since the 1980’s, the U.S. government have tried to extradite Sister Assata Shakur. They have failed. Carl Williams was the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police and he wanted that extradition in 1998, Assata Shakur had an interview with NBC Jouranlist Ralph Penza. This was when Pope John Paul II came into Cuba. On March 10, 1998 New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman asked Attorney General Janet Reno to do whatever it takes to return Shakur from Cuba. On May 2, 2005, the 32nd anniversary of the Turnpike shootings, the FBI classified her as a domestic terrorist, increasing the reward for assistance in her capture to $1 million, the largest reward placed on an individual in the history of New Jersey. The FBI has recently raised the bounty or Assata to $2 million in 2013. Today, we have the easing of the tensions between Cuba and America. The FBI has used terrorism and illegal policies like COINTELPRO, etc. for decades ironically want to get Assata, yet she is still living her life in Cuba.
A Queen and a Warrior
Assata Shakur is a strong black woman. Her courage is incredible and she has done great political work in Cuba. Also, she has done art, communicated with African Americans in Cuba, and she has spoken up for black liberation and liberation for all oppressed people for decades. No one of any color should experience oppression, brutality, and injustice. The handwriting is on the wall. We witness a world filled with imperialism and oppression. We witness the epidemic of the extrajudicial murder of our Brothers and Sisters in America. We see the viciousness of police brutality and racial profiling. Also, we know that women have been discriminated against, abused, raped, and murdered. These evils must end and we will continue to stand up for the truth and follow real consciousness. It is the content of one's soul and one's conscious behavior that relates to consciousness. Loving our Blackness is a prerequisite for us to have justice. Assata Shakur is very intelligent and she loved her people. Today, in this year alone, we see a white racist killed nine innocent black people in church in Charleston, South Carolina, the murder of innocent black people, and the continuation of the economic inequality. Overseas, we see exploitation of the poor and the crimes of imperialism in many nations. So, we are in a fight for our liberation. The good news is that people among many backgrounds are waking up. We will not be silent. We will resist evil and we will continue to defend Sister Assata Shakur. She is a Queen.
The Struggle Continues
Black people have suffered centuries of oppression. We still rise and fought for freedom. For that period of time, there are structural economic problems that have grown economic inequality. We see how the neoliberal policies decades ago (including Reaganomics, the growth of wars, bad trade deals, etc.) contributing to poverty, health care issues, gender inequalities, and ecological problems. Solutions don’t just deal with economics, because we are humans. We must have handle socioeconomic problems in order to address biases and injustices. Over 30 years have passed when we see the redistribution of the nation’s wealth from the poor and the middle class into the super wealthy. We know that capitalism is neither perfect nor divine. I am not a free market fundamentalist as regulations are necessity to prevent monopolies and other evils that are readily found in our current economic system. There has been profits made based on discrimination from pay day loans to other corrupt policies done by some banks in other arenas. That is why we need a radical redistribution of political and economic power since true justice is about the fair usage of power in order of the masses of the people to benefit. So, we are in a struggle for our liberation. We deal with a technological age and I have no problem with the development of technology to benefit humankind. Likewise, we need to address the digital divide among the rich and the poor. We have to use technology to not only help the poor, but to empower the power in order for them to achieve their own destinies throughout their lives. Also, we must always oppose stereotypes. Many black people, people of color, women, immigrants, etc. experience false and cruel stereotypes that must be exposed. Assata Shakur is a heroic woman. She is an inspiration for us all.
Bless Sister Assata Shakur.