Assata Shakur has been living in Cuba since 1986, after escaping from prison where she was serving a life sentence imposed in a highly disputed trial. Assata was a Black Panther then a Black Liberation Army (BLA) leader in the early '70s, so she was a target of the FBI's COINTELPRO. Assata was captured in a shoot-out resulting from resistance to yet another "driving while black" police action in 1973 on the New Jersey State Turnpike. This time a State Trooper was killed. Zayd Shakur, traveling in the car with Assata, was also killed.
The third person in the car, Sundiata Acoli, is still serving time over 30 years later and has recently been denied parole for another 20 years. According to one of Sundiata' attorney, Joan P. Gibbs, "Assata, at the time of her arrest, was 'wanted' on federal and state charges in New York, all of which juries subsequently found her not guilty of or were dismissed." As was later proved through medical forensics, Assata was wounded at the time of her capture by a cowardly shot from the rear, while she had her hands up. This fact is frequently the subject of lies by law enforcement as is the fact that she was given a paraffin test, which failed to reveal any gunpowder residue, meaning it would have been hard for her to have fired a gun. While recovering from her wounds, she was tortured at the hands of the State Police Nazis (no hyperbole here, they were WWII Nazis brought to America). She was convicted by an all white jury in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison. Before her daring escape from prison in 1979, Assata Shakur served a total of six years behind bars where she would also give birth to her daughter Kakuya.
The following passage is excerpted from Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur and was originally delivered by Assata Shakur as part of her opening statement while acting as co-counsel in her own defense for charges stemming from the New Jersey Turnpike incident:
|By Kathleen Cleaver
Twenty-eight years ago, in a highly disputed trial, an all-White jury convicted former Black Panther Assata Shakur of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. In 1979, while serving a life sentence, she escaped from prison and eventually resurfaced in Cuba, where she was granted asylum and has lived ever since. But the U.S. government has continued to pursue Shakur, regularly increasing the bounty on her head and classifying her as a “domestic terrorist.” Last May the Justice Department issued an unprecedented $1,000,000 bounty for the return of Assata Shakur, 58, who continues to maintain her innocence. Kathleen Cleaver, a law professor and former communications secretary for the Black Panther Party, talks about why we all need to know about Assata, and why she must live free: I was startled when I heard about the $1,000,000 bounty for the capture of Assata Shakur. What triggered this renewed interest in Assata? Why spend so much time and money to hunt her down when Osama bin Laden, head of an international terrorist enterprise, remains at large?
It turns out that FBI and New Jersey police officials revealed the million-dollar bounty on 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. As the FBI circulated the wanted poster that called for her arrest, all over the New York–New Jersey area her supporters hung posters proclaiming “Assata Shakur is welcome here.” Cuba gave her political asylum several years later on the grounds that she had been subjected to political persecution and had never received a fair trial.
Apparently the million-dollar bounty has already been covertly offered by police to a relative of Assata’s for assistance in kidnapping her from Cuba. 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. [With inflation, that works out to $1,186,732.06 in 2007.]
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 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 named Joanne Chesimard, joined the Black Panthers.
WE had a concrete ten-point program to end racial inequality. The Black Panther Party demanded the power to determine our own destiny. We insisted on decent housing, appropriate education, economic justice, an immediate end to police brutality, and other rights our people had been fighting for since slavery ended. We were not patient, we were not passive, and we were willing to defend our principles with our lives. Since Panthers couldn’t be bought off or scared off, the government made the decision to kill us off.
Back in 1968 we became prime targets for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, particularly after J. Edgar Hoover, then FBI director, labeled us the “greatest threat to the internal security” of the United States. We were young and passionately determined to secure the freedom of our people in our lifetime. Joining the Black Panther Party at the height of this assault, Assata saw our leaders imprisoned and killed. Both Black Panther Party founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale faced the death penalty, and Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, leaders of the Illinois chapter, were murdered in a predawn raid while they slept. Assata reported that she was beaten, tortured and denied medical attention after her arrest, then continually threatened by police and prison guards while in their custody. There was no question that she felt her life was in danger.
Under international law and Cuban law, Shakur is entitled to the protection and freedom of asylum. There are no legal grounds for her return to the United States because no treaty of extradition exists between the United States and Cuba, which has been subjected to a U.S. blockade and trade embargo for more than 40 years.
Despite this, the U.S. government and the state of New Jersey have repeatedly called for her capture. The meaning of this new million-dollar bounty is to encourage and finance what amounts to a kidnapping, one that could end with Assata’s death. Our memories are haunted by stories of fiercely independent Blacks whose dignity and pursuit of freedom won the hatred of enraged White men who sometimes murdered them, riding publicly in lynch mobs that no law restrained.
The government has elevated this barbaric conduct to the diplomatic level as a way to reimprison one Black woman who dared fight for our freedom. The FBI and the state of New Jersey must be forced to obey the law. We cannot allow them to engage in lynch-mob diplomacy.
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW
For more information about Assata Shakur’s case and what you can do to support her, please visit handsoffassata.net or call the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement at (718) 254-8800
widely and come support!!!
The Hands off Assata Campaign and the Office of Councilman Charles Barron call for support
Wednesday, May 25 at 1:30pm
City Hall, New York City
COUNCILMAN CHARLES BARRON CALLS FOR CLEMENCY FOR ASSATA SHAKUR
On Wednesday, May 25th at 1:30pm, Councilman Charles Barron will be joined by community members and community leaders on the steps of City Hall to condemn the federal government's recent actions concerning former Black Panther Assata Shakur. On May 2nd, the government increased the bounty on Shakur's head from $150,000 to an unprecedented $1,000,000. The action was taken on the 32nd anniversary of the fatal shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973 in which one officer, Trooper Werner Forester, and a companion of Shakur's, Zayd Shakur died. Sundiata Acoli and Assata Shakur were tried and convicted of both murders, although ample evidence exists that demonstrates otherwise. On November 2nd, 1979, Shakur escaped. She surfaced in Cuba in 1984, and was granted political asylum.
FREE 'EM ALL.
Twenty six years of freedom! Hands Off Assata!
|New York Daily News
BY DAVID J. KRAJICEK
Sunday, November 21st, 2004
A nondescript Pontiac sedan with Vermont tags tooled south along the New Jersey Turnpike just after midnight on May 2, 1973.
The car stood out in a single detail: a bum taillight.
Trooper James Harper noticed the defect in East Brunswick, not far from the Turnpike Administration Building. He could not let the safety infraction pass.
He flipped on chase lights and directed the Pontiac to the side of the highway.
This would not be a routine pullover.
Harper had no way of knowing, but the occupants of the car - Clark Squire, James Costan and Joanne Chesimard - were at war with the United States.
They were soldiers in the Black Liberation Army, an East Coast group that had fractured away from the Oakland-based Black Panthers. Their stated goal was "liberation and self-determination" for American blacks.
They chose to use robbery, violence and terrorism in a quixotic, 15-year trip toward achieving those goals. Their trophy targets were "pigs" - law enforcement officers.
Harper sensed trouble and radioed for backup. Squire, the driver, got out of the Buick and walked back to speak with the trooper.
When Trooper Werner Foerster arrived, Harper left Squire with him and went to the car to seek identification from Chesimard, riding shotgun, and Costan, in the backseat.
Foerster found a gun clip while frisking Squire. As the trooper shouted a warning to his colleague, Chesimard pulled a gun and began shooting, hitting Harper in the left shoulder.
Amid the bedlam, Harper ran for cover behind his radio car. He said he saw Squire and Trooper Foerster wrestling on the ground as both Chesimard and Costan fired handguns. Harper shot both passengers, then ran for help to the police office in the Turnpike Building, one-tenth of a mile away.
The radicals scrambled into the Pontiac and fled south.
Authorities rushed back to the shooting scene. Trooper Foerster, 34, a husband, father and Vietnam veteran from Old Bridge, was found shot dead. Evidence would reveal he took four bullets, including two in the head from his own gun.
Meanwhile, Squire bailed out of the Buick 8 miles south of the shooting, leaving his gravely wounded comrades behind. He fled into woods at the edge of the turnpike and was captured the next day after a manhunt.
Troopers found Chesimard and Costan in the escape car. She was bleeding from gunshot wounds to the right arm and shoulder, and he was dead. Foerster's pistol was found in the car.
Squire, a former NASA engineer, and Chesimard, born in Brooklyn and attracted to radical politics at Manhattan Community College, were charged with murder. At separate trials, they made the case they were victims of conspiratorial government harassment orchestrated by the FBI.
They said they were set up in the traffic stop. Both denied shooting Trooper Foerster.
Prosecutors made a much simpler case: They were cop-killers. The jury agreed.
Each was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, with add-ons designed to keep them locked away forever.
Squire, now 67 and known as Sundiata Acoli, is still in prison, 31 years after the shooting. He was denied parole in 1993, when he declared he was a prisoner of war and an advocate of revolution.
He softened his rhetoric this year in a new parole gambit. He announced regret and accepted responsibility for the death of Foerster, although he continued to deny that he shot the trooper.
The state parole board turned down his application.
In a sense, Acoli is serving time for two.
In 1979, Joanne Chesimard was housed at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, N.J. The prison had medium security, but Chesimard and seven other women were housed in a separate, secure cell block for offenders considered high risks for violence or escape.
Chesimard was undeterred.
"I was like Houdini," she would later tell Essence magazine. "I plotted day and night. There was no way I was going to spend the rest of [my] life in prison for something I didn't do."
That October, three men used fake IDs to request visits with Chesimard on the same day, Nov. 2. The prison had four weeks to verify the identities of the prospective visitors but failed to do so.
When the date arrived, the three men were registered as visitors and driven by van to the visiting room at Chesimard's secure cellblock. Although prison policy called for body searches of visitors, the men were allowed into the heart of the prison without so much as a cursory pat-down.
The men pulled pistols and took guards hostages. Using hostages as shields, they hustled Chesimard outside to the van, then raced across a field to the nearby Hunterdon State School, where two women were waiting at the wheels of getaway cars.
The embarrassing escape made Chesimard the FBI's No. 1 female fugitive - and a radical icon.
She disappeared into the underground, which further burnished her reputation as the woman who managed to make a mockery of American criminal justice.
As a final insult, she turned up in Cuba in 1986 as a special resident guest of Fidel Castro.
And there she sits 18 years later, a piece of unfinished business from a troubling era that most Americans would rather forget.
But Trooper Foerster's colleagues have not forgotten. A furious letter-writing campaign led by New Jersey State Police helped keep Squire in prison during the parole-hearing process earlier this year.
And the state police keep Chesimard at the top of their most-wanted list, with a $100,000 reward.
"This will never be a closed case as long as Joanne Chesimard is not incarcerated," a New Jersey State Police spokesman said recently.
Chesimard, now 57 and known as Assata Shakur, wrote a biography and works occasionally as a translator, although she told Essence she has "tried as much as possible to avoid the standard 9-to-5 thing."
Until recently, Chesimard freely gave interviews to visiting American journalists. She was easy to find: Her name and number were in the Havana phone book.
New Jersey cops gnash their teeth at her pronouncements and euphemisms. She describes herself as a political exile and escaped prisoner of war.
In one recent canard, she said, "How dare they call us terrorists when we were being terrorized? Terror was a constant part of my life....We lived under police terror."
She says she was persecuted in the United States for being a "political person." Cops point out that she was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison because she caused the death of another human being.
Politics, they say, had nothing to do with it.
Chesimard's profile has been much lower in Cuba for the past year. Some believe Castro was miffed after she gave too many interviews in which she groused about living conditions in Havana.
Like some 70 other fugitives from American justice, Chesimard lives in Cuba at the whim of Castro, who has faced modest pressure from the United States to turn her over.
Before she clammed up, Chesimard told a reporter that a regime change in Cuba "will be devastating for people worldwide who believe in justice."
And, she added, "I'll be up a creek without a paddle."
Final Call interviews Assata, 6/11/02
exile with love - Former Black Panther Assata Shakur speaks to America from Cuba 6/11/02 Final
Call: "Final Call Staff Writer Nisa Islam Muhammad traveled to Cuba
with a group of 15 journalists under the guidance of DeWayne Wickham and the
Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies. They are documenting the African
influence in the Americas. While there, she was granted an exclusive interview
with exiled former Black Panther Assata Shakur."
Common's new CD, "Like Water for Chocolate," features a track, "A song for Assata," which talks about Assata's life history (see lyrics below). Another track on this album was nominated for a Grammy.
Release Date: March 28, 2000
Number of Discs: 1
Uni/Mca; ASIN: B00004S51H
Like Water for Chocolate (2000)
A Song For Assata
In the Spirit of God.
In the Spirit of the Ancestors.
In the Spirit of the Black Panthers.
In the Spirit of Assata Shakur.
We make this movement towards freedom
for all those who have been oppressed, and all those in the struggle.
Yeah. yo, check it-
There were lights and sirens, gunshots firin
Cover your eyes as I describe a scene so violent
Seemed like a bad dream, she laid in a blood puddle
Blood bubbled in her chest, cold air brushed against open flesh
No room to rest, pain consumed each breath
Shot twice wit her hands up
Police questioned but shot before she answered
One Panther lost his life, the other ran for his
Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her
Comprehension she was beyond, tryna hold on
to life. She thought she'd live with no arm
that's what it felt like, got to the hospital, eyes held tight
They moved her room to room-she could tell by the light
Handcuffed tight to the bed, through her skin it bit
Put guns to her head, every word she got hit
'Who shot the trooper?' they asked her
Put mace in her eyes, threatened to blast her
Her mind raced till things got still
Opened her eyes, realized she's next to her best friend who got killed
She got chills, they told her: that's where she would be next
Hurt mixed wit anger-survival was a reflex
They lied and denied visits from her lawyer
But she was buildin as they tried to destroy her
If it wasn't for this german nurse they woulda served her worse
I read this sister's story, knew that it deserved a verse
I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All this shit so we could be free, so dig it, y'all.
I'm thinkin' of Assata, yes.
Listen to my Love, Assata, yes.
Your Power and Pride is beautiful.
May God bless your Soul.
It seemed like the middle of the night when the law awakened her
Walkie-talkies cracklin, I see 'em when they takin her
Though she kinda knew,
What made the ride peaceful was the trees and the sky was blue
Arrived to Middlesex Prison about six inna morning
Uneasy as they pushed her to the second floor in
a cell, one cot, no window, facing hell.
Put in the basement of a prison wit all males
And the smell of misery, seatless toilets and centipedes
She'd exercise, (paint?,) and begin to read
Two years inna hole. Her soul grew weak
Away from people so long she forgot how to speak
She discovered freedom is a unspoken sound
And a wall is a wall and can be broken down
Found peace in the Panthers she went on trial with
One of the brothers she had a child with
The foulness they would feed her, hopin she's lose her seed
Held tight, knowing the fight would live through this seed
In need of a doctor, from her stomach she's bleed
Out of this situation a girl was conceived
Separated from her, left to mother the Revolution
And lactated to attack hate
Cause federal and state was built for a Black fate
Her emptiness was filled with beatings and court dates
They fabricated cases, hoping one would stick
And said she robbed places that didn't exist
In the midst of threats on her life and being caged with Aryan whites
Through dark halls of hate she carried the light
I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All of this shit so we could be free.
Yeah, I often wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All of this shit so we could be free, so dig it, people-
I'm thinkin' of Assata, yeah.
Listen to my Love, Assata, yeah.
Your Power and Pride, so Beautiful...
May God bless your Soul.
From North Carolina her grandmother would bring
news that she had had a dream
Her dreams always meant what they needed them to mean
What made them real was the action in between
She dreamt that Assata was free in they old house in Queens
The fact that they always came true was the thing
Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldna done
Medical evidence shown she couldna shot the gun
It's time for her to see the sun from the other side
Time for her daughter to be by her mother's side
Time for this Beautiful Woman to become soft again
Time for her to breathe, and not be told how or when
She untangled the chains and escaped the pain
How she broke out of prison I could never explain
And even to this day they try to get to her
but she's free with political asylum in Cuba.
I'm thinkin' of Assata, yeah.
Listen to my Love, Assata, yeah.
We're molded from the same mud, Assata.
We share the same Blood, Assata, yeah.
Your Power and Pride, so Beautiful...
May God bless your Soul.
Your Power and Pride, so Beautiful...
May God bless your Soul.
Freedom! You askin me about freedom. Askin me about freedom?
I'll be honest with you. I know a whole 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-- is the right to grow, is the right to
Freedom is -is the right to be yourself, to be who you are,
to be who you wanna be, to do what you wanna do. (fade out)
Check this out at http://www.blacklightonline.com/cubashakur.html Evelyn White interviews Assata in Havana.
AfroCuban film maker Gloria Rolando made this film in 1997. In it we visit with Assata
and hear her discuss her life in Cuba and her history. It also shows her AfroCuban
context, including the Yoruba Orisha Oya, goddess of the ancestors, of war, of the
cemetery and of the rainbow. For a more detailed description, see Eyes of the Rainbow. The film has yet to be released
commercially and Gloria Rolando is on tour in the US in Fall
'99 to show it along with cuts from her new film on the 1912 massacre of Cuba's
Independents of Color.
Return to Assata Index
|New Jersey - December 27, 1997. According to reliable radio
sources, the New Jersey State Police wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to
help them get escaped life prisoner Assata Shakur back to the U.S. when he tours Cuba the
week of January 21. State police spokesman John Haggerty wouldn't elaborate on the
request, but confirmed the State Police hope the Pope will convince Cuban President Fidel
Castro to extradite Shakur.
The Pope rarely intervenes in cases like New Jersey's request. It appears unlikely that the Pope would use his influence with Castro to have Assata shipped back to the United States, where she would have to resume serving her life sentence. She would also face charges in connection with her armed breakout with three accomplices.
In a 1987 interview with a New York Newsday reporter, Assata Shakur, who was considered by police to be the soul of the militant Black Liberation Army, denied that she killed the state trooper. She said that she fled to Cuba for fear that she would be killed in prison: "After I escaped, the New Jersey police agencies didn't make any mistakes about letting people know I was wanted dead or alive."
Assata's 23-year old daughter, Kakuya, who was conceived while her mother was in jail for robbing a bank, moved for a while to Cuba in 1985 after living with her grandmother in New York. Both Assata and her daughter's father, Fred Hilton, were acquitted in the robbery. In her autobiography, titled "Assata," she maintains her innocence,and paints a picture of extreme brutality at the hands of police and prison officials. There are in fact photographs of Assata showing her brutalized physical condition due to State Police torture right after her capture, in which, according to forensic evidence, she was shot in the back while her hands were up.
reads this letter via Pacifica
Thursday January 22, 1998
I hope this letter finds you in good health, in good disposition and enveloped in the spirit of goodness. I must confess that it had never occurred to me before to write to you and I find myself overwhelmed and moved to have this opportunity.
Although circumstances have compelled me to reach out to you, I am glad to have his occasion to try and cross the boundaries that would otherwise tend to separate us.
I understand that the New Jersey State Police have written to you and asked you to intervene and to help facilitate my extradition back to the United States. I believe that their request is unprecedented in history. Since they have refused to make their letter to you public, although they have not hesitated to publicize their request, I am completely uninformed as to the accusations they are making against me. Why, I wonder, do I warrant such attention? What do I represent, that is such a threat?
Please let me take a moment to tell you about myself. My name is Assata Shakur and I was born and raised in the United States. I am a descendant of Africans who were kidnapped and brought to the Americas as slaves. I spent my early childhood in the racist segregated South. I later moved to the northern part of the country where I realized that Black people were equally victimized by racism and oppression.
I grew up and became a political activist, participating in students' struggles, the anti-war movement, and, most of all, in the movement for the liberation of African Americans in the United States. I later joined the Black Panther Party, an organization that was targeted by COINTELPRO, a program that was set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to eliminate all political opposition to the U.S. government's policies, to destroy the Black Liberation Movement in the U.S., to discredit activists and to eliminate potential leaders.
Under the COINTELPRO program, many political activists were harassed, imprisoned, murdered or otherwise neutralized. As a result of being targeted by COINTELPRO, I, like many other young people, was faced with the threat of prison, underground, exile or death.
At this point, I think that it is important to make one thing very clear. I have advocated and I still advocate revolutionary changes in the structure and in the principles that govern the U.S. I advocate an end to capitalist exploitation, the abolition of racist policies, the eradication of sexism and the elimination of political repression. If that is a crime, then I am totally guilty.
To make a long story short, I was captured in New Jersey in 1973, after being shot with both arms held up 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.
In 1979 I was able to escape with the aid of some of my fellow comrades. I saw this as a necessary step, not only because I was innocent of the charges against me, but because I knew that in the racist legal system in the United States I would receive no justice. I was also afraid that I would be murdered in prison. I later arrived in Cuba where I am currently living in exile as a political refugee.
Let me emphasize that justice for me is not the issue I am here; it is justice for my people that is at stake. When my people receive justice, I am sure that I will receive it, too. I know that your holiness will reach your own conclusions, but I feel compelled to present the circumstances surrounding the application of "justice" in New Jersey. I am not the first nor the last person to be victimized by the New Jersey system of "justice." The New Jersey State police are infamous for their racism and brutality. Many legal actions have been filed against them and just recently, in a class action legal proceeding the New Jersey State Police were found guilty of having an "officially sanctioned, de-facto policy of targeting minorities for investigation and arrest."
Although New Jersey's population is more than 78 percent white, more than 75 percent of the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos. Eighty percent of women in New Jersey prisons are women of color. There are 15 people on death row in the state and seven of them are Black. A 1987 study found that New Jersey prosecutors sought the death penalty in 50 percent of cases involving a Black defendant and a white victim, but in only 28 percent of cases involving a Black defendant and a Black victim.
Unfortunately, the situation in New Jersey is not unique, but reflects the racism that permeates the entire country. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. There are more than 1.7 million people in U.S. prisons. This number does not include the more than 500,000 people in city and county jails, nor does it include the alarming number of children in juvenile institutions. The vast majority of those behind bars are people of color and virtually all of those behind bars are poor. The result of this reality is devastating. One third of Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are either in prison or under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.
Prisons are big business in the Untied States and the building, running and supplying of prisons has become the fastest growing industry in the country. Factories are being moved into the prisons and prisoners are being forced to work for slave wages. This super-exploitation of human beings has meant the institutionalization of a new form of slavery. Those who cannot find work on the streets are forced to work in prison.
Not only are prisons being used as instruments of economic exploitation, they also serve as instruments of political repression. There are more than 100 political prisoners in the U.S. They are African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Native Americans, Asians and progressive white people who oppose the policies of the United States government. Many of those targeted by the COINTELPRO program have been in prison since the early 1970s.
Although the situation in the prisons is an indication of human rights violations inside the United States, there are other, more deadly indicators. There are currently 3,365 people now on death row and more than 50 percent of those awaiting death are people of color. Black people make up only 13 percent of the population, but we make up 41.01 percent of persons who have received the death penalty. The number of state assassinations has increased drastically. In 1997 alone 71 people were executed.
A special reporter assigned by the United Nations Organization found serious human rights violations in the U.S., especially those related to the death penalty. According to these findings, people who were mentally ill were sentenced to death, people with severe mental and learning disabilities, as well as minors under age 18. Serious racial bias was found on the part of judges and prosecutors. Specifically mentioned in the report was the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the only political prisoner on death row, who was sentenced to death because of his political beliefs and because of his work as a journalist, exposing police brutality in the city of Philadelphia.
Police brutality is a daily occurrence in our communities. The police have a virtual license to kill and they do kill children, grandmothers, anyone they perceive to be the enemy. They shoot first and ask questions later. Inside the jails and prisons there is at least as much brutality as there was on slave plantations. An ever-increasing number of prisoners are found hanging in their cells.
The United States is becoming more a land more hostile to Black people and other people of color. Racism is running rampant and xenophobia is on the rise. This has been especially true in the sphere of domestic policy. Politicians are attempting to blame social problems on Black people and other people of color. There have been attacks on essentially all affirmative action programs designed to help correct the accumulated results of hundred of years of slavery and discrimination. In addition, the government seems determined to eliminate all social programs that provide assistance to the poor, resulting in a situation where millions of people do not have access to basic health care, decent housing or quality education.
It was with great happiness that I read the Christmas message that your holiness delivered. I applaud you for taking up the cause of the poor, the homeless, the unemployed. The fact that you are addressing the issues of today unemployment, homelessness, child abuse and the drug problem is important to people all over the world. One third of Black people in the United states live in poverty and our communities are inundated with drugs. We have every reason to believe that the CIA and other government agencies are involved in drug trafficking. Although we live in one of the richest, most technically-advanced countries in the world, our reality is similar to an undeveloped, Third World country. We are a people who are truly seeking freedom and harmony.
All my life I have been a spiritual person. I first learned of the struggle and the sacrifice of Jesus in the segregated churches of the South. I converted to Catholicism as a young girl. In my adult life I have become a student of religion and have studied Christianity, Islam, Asian religions and the African religions of my ancestors. I have come to believe that God is universal in nature, although called different names and with different faces. I believe that some people spell God with one 'o' while others spell it with two. What we call God is unimportant, as long as we do God's work.
There are those who want to see God's wrath fall on the oppressed and not on the oppressors. I believe that the time has ended when slavery, colonialism and oppression can be carried out in the name of religion. It was in the dungeons of prison that I felt the presence of God up close, and it has been my belief in God, and in the goodness of human beings that has helped me to survive. I am not ashamed of having been in prison, and I am certainly not ashamed of having been a political prisoner. I believe that Jesus was a political prisoner who was executed because he fought against the evils of the Roman Empire, because he fought the greed of the money changers in the temple, because he fought against the sins and injustices of his time. As a true child of God, Jesus spoke up for the poor, the meek, the sick and the oppressed. The early Christians were thrown into lions' dens. I will try and follow the example of so many who have stood up in the face of overwhelming oppression.
I am not writing to ask you to intercede on my behalf. I ask nothing for myself. I only ask you to examine the social reality of the United States and to speak out against the human rights violations that are taking place.
On this day, the birthday of Martin Luther King, I am reminded of all those who gave their lives for freedom. Most of the people who live on this planet are still not free. I ask only that you continue to work and pray to end oppression and political repression. It is my heartfelt belief that all the people on this earth deserve justice social justice, political justice and economic justice. I believe it is the only way that we will ever achieve peace and prosperity on earth.
I hope that you enjoy your visit to Cuba. This is not a country that is rich in material wealth, but it is a country that is rich in human wealth, spiritual wealth and moral wealth.
Respectfully yours, Assata Shakur Havana, Cuba
We need everyone to fax, call, e-mail or write NBC-NY TV News, Ralph Penza reporter and tell them we are outraged at the treatment of Assata Shakur on his two segments that ran Thursday and Friday Feb 5/6th.
The "Interview" had been heavily publicized for a week. Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with "Convicted Cop Killer Joan Chesimard now calling herself Assata Shakur and living in Cuba. The interview consisted of:
A total of 3.5 minutes for both nights given to the following breakdown.
Assata was told the interview was in regards to her open letter to the Pope and the subjects she raised concerning the corrupt justice system in the USA and especially in New Jersey. Her concerns for the families and victims of police brutality and Cointelpro. None of this was shown. What was portrayed was Assata living the life in Havana and then lies and deceit by the State Police, a very angry and pained widow (no time for the victims of the police and members of the families of slain citizens kill by police or tortured by police) and Ralph Penza monitoring the edits always talking about the crime and the criminal Assata.
They shot about an hour of interview. Demand that they show the whole hour.
Call NBC NY NEWS 212-664-4444 Fax 212-664-2994
|Assata, an Autobiography
by Assata Shakur
|In the UK:
Zed Books Ltd.
57 Caledonian Rd
London N1 9BU, UK
|In the US: Lawrence Hill Books
Chicago Review Press, Inc.
814 North Franklin St
Chicago IL 60610
Click for pricing & to buy ==> at $11.16
|Still Black Still Strong
by Dhoruba Bin Wah, Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur
|Our Price: $8.00 + $1.35 special surcharge|
PRISONER IN PARADISE - In 1979 Black Panther Assata Shakur, in prison for a crime she
says she didn't commit, masterminded a daring escape and now lives in Cuba. In this
exclusive interview, Shakur talks about her life in exile 20 years after her conviction.
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