The Hunting of Assata Shakur

From Revolutionary Icon to Most Wanted Terrorist in 40 years.

Suddenly hearing the name of Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur in the wake of her dubious distinction being named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List jerked me back to the Seventies when I was young man.   I was never a true Black militant like Shakur, but I knew who she was, identified with her fight against a racist, oppressive U.S. government and saw her as a strong sister who had escaped the reach of the system by leaving the country only to turn up as an honored guest in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

The feds are serious about branding Shakur as an enemy of the state.  The FBI placed a $1 million dollar reward (or bounty) for her arrest which along with the money New Jersey has kicked in puts a $2 million price tag on her head.

What did Shakur do to make her the only woman on a list of primarily Arab terrorists including Ayman Al-Zawahiri,  the replacement for Osama bin Laden as the leader of Al Qaeda?   The details why are found on Shakur’s wanted poster with the FBI’s version of events.

Joanne Chesimard is wanted for escaping from prison in Clinton, New Jersey, while serving a life sentence for murder. On May 2, 1973, Chesimard, who was part of a revolutionary extremist organization known as the Black Liberation Army, and two accomplices were stopped for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike by two troopers with the New Jersey State Police. At the time, Chesimard was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery. Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range. Chesimard fled the scene, but was subsequently apprehended. One of her accomplices was killed in the shoot-out and the other was also apprehended and remains in jail.

In 1977, Chesimard was found guilty of first degree murder, assault and battery of a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery. She was sentenced to life in prison. On November 2, 1979, Chesimard escaped from prison and lived underground before being located in Cuba in 1984. She is thought to currently still be living in Cuba.

Shakur was prosecuted, but is she now being persecuted?

A few of the details missing from the FBI’s version of events is Chesimard/Shakur was shot while seated with her arms raised, her fingerprints were not found on any guns nor was any gunpowder residue detected on her hands.   Despite the curious lack of evidence against her, in 1977 Shakur was convicted and sentenced to 33 years plus life

“No person, no matter what his or her political or moral convictions are, is above the law. Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution style,” said FBI Special Agent Aaron Ford at a press conference announcing Shakur’s addition to the Most Wanted Terrorists list.

In an interview with Democracy Now,  Shakur’s attorney Lennox Hinds and Angela Davis,  another target of the government’s wrath, J. Edgar Hoover’s racism hatred, COINTELPRO and other initiatives declaring open season on Black revolutionaries denounced the renewed  hunt for Shakur.

“…It was a major shock to hear that Assata Shakur has become the first woman to be added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list and then to learn that they’re adding another million dollars to the reward, the bounty. Really, it seems to me that this act incorporates or reflects the very logic of terrorism. I can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today. Forty years ago seems as if it were a long time ago, four decades; however, in the 21st century, at the beginning of the 21st century, we’re still fighting around the very same issues—police violence, healthcare, education, people in prison, and so forth. So I see this as an attack not so much on Assata herself, although of course she deserves to be brought home. She deserves to be able to live out her life, and with justice and peace. It was wonderful that you allowed people, through this program, to hear Assata’s words, because, 40 years later, people really don’t know the details of the case and are not aware of the extent to which she was targeted by the FBI by the COINTEL Program, as Lennox pointed out. And it’s amazing that in 2013, where she is living in Cuba as a political refugee, having given—having been given political asylum by Cuba, she is still pursued. And actually, this is an invitation for anyone to travel to Cuba illegally and to kidnap her and bring her back to the United States, if not shoot her dead. This is—as I said, was an extremely shocking revelation.”

Angela Davis knows something about being a political prisoner.

I cannot fathom what Attorney General Eric Holder thinks going after a 65-year-old fugitive is going to accomplish.   Cuba won’t extradite Shakur and she certainly isn’t about to return to stand trial.  Sending the Navy SEALS in after her might work in the movies, but odds are it wouldn’t work as well as Zero Dark Thirty.

Perhaps what’s driving this renewed effort to get Shakur now is in the wake of the Boston bombings the Obama Administration is in search of another head to mount on the wall.   Shakur has successfully evaded the grasp of her pursuers for decades and they’re still ticked off about it.   Break out of prison, evade your captors, escape to Cuba and you’re not going to be forgotten by your enemies.   They will remember your name.

What does it gain the Obama Administration to pursue a vendetta against Shakur?   Is this Holder and Obama trying to look tough?   Is this their “Sistah Souljah” moment where they show how they won’t play favorites even when the terrorist (that’s a laugh) is a Black woman?

If Shakur was a threat to the United States before, she certainly isn’t now.   She isn’t mailing any letters contaminated with ricin or bombing any marathons.   The timing of branding her a terrorist is as curious as it is misguided.   Shakur has gone from a young revolutionary to a political prisoner to a old woman who will likely as not live out her last years in exile 90 miles away from her homeland.

Shakur should be left alone.   The good guys don’t always win and in this case, it’s not clear who the good guys are.