In 1979, she broke out of a prison in the United States and was given asylum in Cuba.
In addition to the fact that I was innocent, I knew that I would not receive justice under the discriminatory court system, thus I regarded this as a necessary step.
Assata Shakur, who is she?
Black activist Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, belonged to the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. Tupac Shakur, a legend in hip-hop, has her as his godmother.
She was wrongfully found guilty on May 2, 1973, of killing State Trooper Werner Foester in New Jersey. The Black Liberation Army (BLA) members Assata, Sundiata Acoli, and Zayd Malik Shakur were stopped by NJ state troopers for a broken taillight on that fateful morning, which led to a gunfight.
Assata and Trooper Harper were shot and injured, and afterwards, both Zayd Malik Shakur and Trooper Foerster were dead.
Assata and Sundiata were ultimately apprehended and found guilty of killing a state trooper.
Assata Shakur was found guilty of killing the state trooper by an all-white jury.
Even though there was proof that Assata’s hands were raised in the air, she was given a life sentence plus 33 years in jail, spent two years in solitary confinement, and then managed to break out.
Assata Shakur’s case was cited in a 1978 petition to the UN as one of the worst instances of “a class of victims of FBI misconduct… who have been arbitrarily singled out for provocation, wrongful arrest, entrapment, fabrication of evidence, and false criminal charges because they are political activists.
She escaped to Cuba after making her prison break in 1979, where she continues to get political refuge.
In 1998, the FBI asked the Pope to use his trip to Cuba to order her surrender to the US government in an effort to extradite her back to the US.
She composed her own open letter to the Pope in response to the state’s:
The FBI and the state of New Jersey issued a $2 million reward for her apprehension on May 2, 2013, which was 40 years later.
Sundiata Acoli was eventually given release in May 2022 after spending 49 years in prison after being denied parole since 1993.
Assata Shakur’s Autobiography
Assata Olugbala Shakur is a political activist from the United States who was a part of the Black Liberation Army (BLA). On July 16, 1947, JoAnne Deborah Byron was born. She was convicted in 1977 for the first-degree murder of State Trooper Werner Foerster in a battle on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. She broke out of jail in 1979, and the FBI is presently looking for her. The FBI is offering a $1 million reward for information leading to her capture, and the Attorney General of New Jersey is also offering a $1 million reward.
She was born in Flushing, Queens, but reared in Wilmington, North Carolina, and New York City. When she regularly ran away from home, her aunt, who would later act as one of her attorneys, took her in. She became involved in politics while attending Borough of Manhattan Community College and City College of New York. After graduating, she began going by Assata Shakur and briefly joined the Black Panther Party. She later enlisted in the BLA, a loosely organized branch of the Black Panthers that waged an armed rebellion against the US government using strategies like robbing banks, killing police officers, and trafficking in drugs.
She faced numerous criminal accusations between 1971 and 1973, leading to a multi-state manhunt. After suffering injuries during a battle on the New Jersey Turnpike in May 1973, Assata Shakur was arrested. Werner Foerster and James Harper of the New Jersey State Police and Sundiata Acoli and Zayd Malik Shakur of the BLA were also involved in the gunfight. Zayd Shakur was slain, State Trooper Foerster was killed, and State Trooper Harper suffered injuries. In connection with the gunfight and six further events, Assata Shakur was accused of murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery, and kidnapping between 1973 and 1977. Three of the allegations against her were dismissed, and three were acquitted. In 1977, she was convicted responsible for the death of State Trooper Foerster and seven more crimes related to the 1973 incident. Her defense claimed that since her arm was hurt during the gunfire, medical evidence proved her innocence.
In 1979, while serving a life sentence for murder, Assata Shakur managed to escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, New Jersey, which is now the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, with the help of the BLA and May 19 Communist Organization members. In 1984, she reappeared in Cuba, where she was given political refuge. Assata Shakur has continued to reside in Cuba despite efforts by the US authorities to have her extradited. She was the first woman to be added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, which she has been on since 2013 under the name Joanne Deborah Chesimard.
Childhood and education
On July 16, 1947, Joanne Deborah Byron, now known as Assata Shakur, was born in Flushing, Queens, New York City. She spent three years residing with her mother, retired Lula and Frank Hill, and grandmother Doris E. Johnson, a schoolteacher.
Assata Shakur’s parents separated in 1950, and she relocated to Wilmington, North Carolina, with her grandparents. Shakur attended Parsons Junior High School before returning to Queens to live with her mother and stepfather after finishing elementary school (her mother had remarried). Shakur continued to pay frequent visits to her southern grandparents. Assata Shakur spent little time at home, where her family regularly quarreled and struggled financially.
She frequently fled, staying with strangers and doing temporary employment, until her mother’s sister Evelyn A. Williams, a civil rights activist who resided in Manhattan, took her home. According to Assata Shakur, her aunt was the embodiment of her youth since she was always exposing her to new experiences. She described her aunt as “extremely intelligent and knowledgeable of all kinds. She was perfect for me because I was constantly asking questions of all types. I was curious about everything. Williams frequently accompanied the young woman to theaters, art galleries, and museums.
Assata Shakur attended the all-girls Cathedral High School for six months before transferring to a public high school. Shakur converted to Catholicism as a young child. She participated for a while before leaving. She later obtained a General Educational Development (GED) degree with the aid of her aunt. The number of black kids in her Catholic high school class was frequently low or nonexistent. Assata Shakur later recalled that teachers appeared shocked when she responded to a question in class, as though they had not expected intelligent and interested black people. She claimed that the history she was taught glossed over the oppression that people of color, particularly in the United States, have experienced. “I didn’t know what a fool they had made out of me until I grew up and started to read real history,” she said in her memoirs.
In the middle of the 1960s, Assata Shakur attended Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) before transferring to City College of New York (CCNY), where she got actively involved in politics, civil rights marches, and sit-ins.
She was detained for the first time in 1967 together with 100 other BMCC students on trespassing-related charges. In an effort to draw attention to the lack of a black studies program and the low percentage of black faculty, students chained and barred the door to a college building. She wed Louis Chesimard, a fellow CCNY student activist, in April 1967. They divorced in December 1970, ending their one-year marriage. Assata Shakur dedicated one paragraph to her marriage in her 320-page autobiography, claiming that it failed due to their divergent perspectives on gender roles.
Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party
Assata Shakur relocated to Oakland, California after receiving her degree from CCNY, where she joined the Black Panther Party (BPP). Shakur collaborated with the BPP to plan protests and community education initiatives in Oakland.
Assata Shakur oversaw the BPP chapter in Harlem after moving back to New York City, organizing community outreach, a free breakfast program for kids, and free clinics. She soon left the event though, feeling that the BPP members and leaders lacked education and understanding of American black history in addition to disliking the men’s macho manner. Assata Shakur joined the Black Liberation Army (BLA), a splinter group whose members drew inspiration from the Vietcong and the Battle of Algiers-era Algerian independence fighters. They launched a campaign of guerilla actions against the American government, including strategies like detonating bombs, robbing banks, and killing police officers and drug traffickers.
She rejected Joanne Chesimard as a “slave name” and started going as Assata Olugbala Shakur in 1971. While Assata Shakur’s Arabic name means “thankful one,” Assata is a West African name derived from Aisha, which is thought to signify “she who struggles.” Olugbala is a Yoruba word that means “savior”. It seemed so funny when people called her Joanne, and she felt that her former name no longer fit because she identified as African. In all honesty, it was unrelated to me. I didn’t feel like Joanne, a black person, an American, etc. I had an African-woman feeling.
Manhunt and allegations
Beginning in 1971, Assata Shakur is said to have been involved in a number of assault and robbery cases for which she was charged or listed as a person of interest for questioning, including assaults on local police in New York City and bank robberies.
Assata Shakur was shot in the stomach on April 6, 1971, at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan after a confrontation with a visitor. Police said that Assata Shakur knocked on a guest’s door and inquired, “Is there a party going on here?” before brandishing a handgun and demanding cash. Shakur told a reporter in 1987 that the incident involved drugs, but he would not go into further detail. She was arrested and later freed on bail after being charged with attempted robbery, felonious assault, reckless endangerment, and possession of a lethal weapon. According to reports, Assata Shakur added that after being shot, she was no longer terrified of being shot again.
Following a bank heist on August 23, 1971 in Queens, Assata Shakur was sought after for interrogation. A picture of a lady, eventually identified as Assata Shakur, holding a gun to her head while sporting thick-rimmed black glasses and a high hairstyle was prominently displayed at banks. Full-page ads including information about Shakur were purchased by the New York Clearing House Association. In response to a question concerning police claims that the BLA obtained money through bank robberies and theft in Cuba in 1987, Shakur said, “There were expropriations, there were bank robberies.”
Assata Shakur was one of four suspects in a hand grenade attack that damaged a police cruiser and injured two policemen in Maspeth, Queens, on December 21, 1971, according to the New York City Police Department. Three days after the incident, a 13-state alarm was issued after a witness recognized Shakur and Andrew Jackson in Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) photos. Assata Shakur and Jackson shared a home in Atlanta, Georgia, for many months in the summer of 1971, according to law enforcement officials in the city.
For injuring a police officer on January 26, 1972, as he was trying to issue a traffic summons in Brooklyn, Assata Shakur was wanted for questioning. On March 1, 1972, a Brooklyn bank was robbed for $89,000, prompting the Daily News headline “Was that JoAnne?” Following a bank heist in the Bronx on September 1, 1972, Shakur was listed as a person wanted for interrogation. Assata Shakur was allegedly implicated in an armed robbery of Our Lady of the Presentation Church in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on September 14, 1972, according to allegations made by Monsignor John Powis based on FBI photos.
After the FBI claimed that Assata Shakur was the leader of a Black Liberation Army cell that had committed a “series of cold-blooded murders of New York City police officers” in 1972, Assata Shakur became the target of a national manhunt. According to the FBI, these included the “execution style murders” of Joseph Piagentini, Waverly Jones, Gregory Foster, and Rocco Laurie of the New York City Police Department on May 21, 1971, and on January 28, 1972. Shakur was allegedly directly involved in the murders of Foster and Laurie and tangentially connected in the deaths of Piagentini and Jones.
Following the arrest of BLA co-founder Dhoruba Moore, some reports claim that Assata Shakur is now the de facto leader of the organization. For instance, Shakur was referred to as “the final wanted fugitive, the soul of the gang, the mother hen who kept them together, kept them moving, kept them shooting” by Robert Daley, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Police. Years later, some police officers claimed that the authorities had inflated her significance in the BLA. One of the officers claimed that because Assata Shakur was “educated,” “young, and pretty,” they had invented a “myth” to “demonize” her.
Along with Robert Vickers, Twyman Meyers, Samuel Cooper, and Paul Stewart, Assata Shakur was wanted for questioning on February 17, 1972, in connection with police killings, a bank robbery in Queens, and the grenade attack on police. Assata Shakur was one of four BLA members identified at the time. On January 28, 1973, four policemen were ambushed—two in Jamaica, Queens, and two in Brooklyn—and Shakur was one of six suspects, according to reports.
Assata Shakur allegedly sat in the rear seat of a van involved in a burglary on April 16, 1981. When the automobile was stopped, two individuals got out and started shooting at John Scarangella and Richard Rainey of the NYPD. The two men were accused of killing Officer Scarangella and trying to kill Officer Rainey.
By June 1973, a group that would later become the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) of the FBI was providing briefings on Assata Shakur’s situation and the accusations leveled against her almost every day.
The FBI and local law enforcement “initiated a national search-and-destroy mission for suspected BLA members, cooperating in stakeouts that were the products of intensive political repression and counterintelligence campaigns like NEWKILL,” claim Cleaver and Katsiaficas. They “attempted to tie Assata to every suspected BLA action involving a woman,” according to the report. After Assata escaped from prison, the JTTF would subsequently act as the “coordinating body in the search for Assata and the renewed campaign to smash the BLA.” Assata Shakur was apprehended, although she was never prosecuted with any of the offenses for which she was allegedly wanted.
Assata Shakur and others assert that because of her affiliation with black liberation groups, she was singled out by the FBI’s COINTELPRO. Documentary proof specifically reveals that Assata Shakur was the subject of the CHESROB investigation, which “attempted to hook former New York Panther Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) to virtually every bank robbery or violent crime involving a black woman on the East Coast.” Assata Shakur was the subject of CHESROB, however unlike NEWKILL, which it replaced, Shakur was not the only subject.
Assata Shakur was questioned about the BLA’s alleged role in the deaths of police officers while she was living in Cuba years later. She stated, “In actuality, people have traditionally utilized armed conflict to achieve their own liberation… But the real issue is when people resort to violence. There were others [in the BLA] who really believed that it was time to resist and that if black people didn’t begin to conduct armed resistance and fight back against police brutality, we would all be wiped out.
Battle on the New Jersey Turnpike
State Trooper James Harper, who was accompanied by Trooper Werner Foerster in a second patrol car, pulled Assata Shakur, Zayd Malik Shakur (born James F. Costan), and Sundiata Acoli over for driving with a broken tail light on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick at around 12:45 a.m. on May 2, 1973. The car was “slightly” going faster than the posted limit. At both Acoli and Assata Shakur’s trials, recordings of Trooper Harper dialing the dispatcher were shown.
The stop took place 183 meters (200 yards) south of the Turnpike Authority administrative office at the time. Assata Shakur was in the right front seat of the two-door car being driven by Acoli, while Zayd Shakur was in the right back. When the driver was asked for identification, Trooper Harper discovered a discrepancy, requested him to exit the vehicle, and then questioned him in the back of the automobile.
The stories of the participants in the altercation start to diverge as Acoli is being questioned. In the ensuing shootout, Trooper Foerster was shot twice in the head with his own gun, dying along with Zayd Shakur, Assata Shakur, and Trooper Harper.
Initial police reports suggest that one or more of the perpetrators started firing semiautomatic handguns at this point, and Trooper Foerster fired four shots before he was fatally injured. Harper testified during Acoli’s trial that the gunfight began “seconds” after Foerster arrived on the scene. Harper said that Foerster approached Harper from behind the car, pulled out a semi-automatic weapon and ammunition magazine, and stated, “Jim, look what I found,” while facing Harper. Harper claimed that Assata Shakur went down to the right of her right leg, pulled out a gun, and shot Zayd Shakur in the shoulder before he withdrew to hide behind his car after the police told them to place their hands on their laps and stop moving. When questioned by the prosecutor C. Judson Hamlin, Harper claimed to have witnessed the shooting of Foerster and Assata Shakur simultaneously. Acoli “executed” Foerster with his own gun, according to Hamlin, who made this claim in his opening statement before the jury. Acoli shot Foerster with a.38 caliber semiautomatic pistol. Investigators from the State Police testified that they found two semi-automatic pistols that were jammed close to Foerster’s body.
In addition to Assata Shakur, who was injured, and Zayd Shakur, who was either dead or dying, Acoli drove the automobile, a white Pontiac LeMans with Vermont license plates, 5 miles (8 km) down the road. The booths down the turnpike were informed as three patrol cars pursued the vehicle. After receiving an officer’s order to stop, Acoli pulled over, got out of the car, and escaped into the woods as the trooper fired his revolver. With her bloodied arms raised in submission, Assata Shakur strode forward the trooper. Following a 36-hour manhunt that involved 400 persons, helicopters from the state police, and bloodhounds, Acoli was apprehended. In a neighboring gully by the road, Zayd Shakur’s body was discovered.
Assata Shakur was “heading ultimately for Washington,” according to a New Jersey Police spokeswoman, and was en route to a “new hideout in Philadelphia.” A list of possible BLA targets was allegedly found in a book in the car. Assata Shakur stated in court that she was traveling to Baltimore to apply for a position as a bartender.
Assata Shakur was transferred to Middlesex General Hospital under “heavy guard” and was said to be in “serious condition” with gunshot wounds to both arms and a shoulder. Trooper Harper suffered a left shoulder injury, was listed in “good” health, and received security at the hospital. Assata Shakur was questioned and put on trial while lying in her hospital bed.
Her legal team claimed that she received “substandard” medical care throughout this time. After her attorneys got a court order from Judge John Bachan, she was transferred from Middlesex General Hospital in New Brunswick to Roosevelt Hospital in Edison, and a few weeks later, she was sent to Middlesex County Workhouse.
Assata Shakur talked about how the police and the medical professionals at Middlesex General Hospital treated her during an interview. The police, according to her, “were doing everything that they could do as soon as the doctors or nurses would go outside” and battered and choked her.
Criminal accusations and outcomes
Assata Shakur was charged with ten distinct crimes between 1973 and 1977 in New York and New Jersey, leading to seven different court trials. In addition to eight other felonies connected to the Turnpike firefight, Assata Shakur was accused of two bank robberies, the kidnapping of a Brooklyn heroin dealer, the attempted murder of two Queens police officers as a result of a failed ambush on January 23, 1973, and two more bank robberies. Three of these trials ended with acquittals, one with a deadlocked jury, one with a venue change, one with a mistrial because of pregnancy, and one with a conviction. Three charges were dropped without a trial. Place of the Turnpike shooting alteration
In 1973, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Leon Gerofsky ordered a change of venue for the charges relating to the New Jersey Turnpike shootout from Middlesex to Morris County, New Jersey, stating that “it was almost impossible to obtain a jury here comprising people willing to accept the responsibility of impartiality so that defendants will be protected from transitory passion and prejudice.” According to surveys of Middlesex County locals, where Acoli had been sentenced less than three years prior, 83% of respondents knew who Assata Shakur was and 70% thought she was guilty.
Mistrial in the Bronx bank robbery
Assata Shakur and co-defendant Kamau Sadiki (real name Fred Hilton) were both on trial in December 1973 for robbing the Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust Company in the Bronx on September 29, 1972, for $3,700. Assata Shakur is currently being charged with murder in a New Jersey state court, thus her attorneys asked that the trial be adjourned for a period of six months to allow for additional planning. The Second Circuit rejected Assata Shakur’s plea for mandamus, and Judge Lee P. Gagliardi refused to grant a postponement. The attorneys remained silent in protest, and Shakur and Sadiki handled their own defense. District Attorney Eugene Gold indicted seven additional BLA members in connection with the string of robberies and shootings that occurred on the same day. According to Gold, these individuals comprised the “top echelon” of the BLA as determined by a year-long investigation.
The evidence of two guys who had previously admitted to taking part in the holdup served as the foundation of the prosecution’s case. Avon White and John Rivers, who had both already entered guilty pleas to the robbery, as well as the bank manager and teller, were all called as witnesses by the prosecution. White and Rivers were told that the charges would be withdrawn in exchange for their testimony, even though they had already pled guilty to the crime but had not yet received a sentence. Assata Shakur had used a.357 magnum revolver to protect one of the doors, according to White and Rivers, while Sadiki had acted as a lookout and driven the getaway vehicle. Since the defense attorney declined to take the stand during the trial, neither White nor Rivers were subjected to cross-examination. Evelyn Williams, Shakur’s aunt and attorney, received a contempt citation after leaving the courtroom when numerous of her motions were rejected. Shakur was given a pleurisy diagnosis, which caused the experiment to be postponed for a few days.
The defendants shouted objections and epithets at Judge Gagliardi multiple times during the trial before being led to a “holding pen” outside the courthouse. They heard the events over the loudspeakers from within the holding pen. Both defendants received many contempt of court citations before being eventually excluded from the courtroom, where the trial went on without them. Williams was chastised by a recent New York Times editorial for failing to uphold courtroom “decorum,” which it compared to William Kunstler’s recent conviction for contempt for his behavior during the “Chicago Seven” trial.
Due to further “revelations” about White, a previous co-defendant who was suddenly working for the prosecution, Robert Bloom, the attorney for Sadiki sought to have the trial dismissed and then continued. Bloom had been tasked with representing Sadiki/Hilton throughout the summer, but White’s status as a government witness wasn’t made public until just before the trial. The BLA affiliations of either Assata Shakur or Sadiki were to be avoided, according to Judge Gagliardi, who stated that they were “not relevant.” Gagliardi refused the jury’s requests to ask questions of the witnesses directly or via him and said it was “none of their concern” when they asked for information about how much time the defense had been given to prepare. When the jury informed Gagliardi that they were hopelessly deadlocked for the fourth time, the trial ended in a hung jury and a mistrial.
Bank robbery trial in the Bronx
To give the defendants additional time to prepare, the retrial was postponed for one day. Due to differences with Assata Shakur and Hilton’s attorney, Williams made attempts to have her duties removed during the new jury selection. While rejecting the application, Judge Arnold Bauman ordered Howard Jacobs to represent Assata Shakur while Williams remained the official legal representative. After a disagreement with Williams, Shakur was asked to leave, and Hilton followed while jury selection went on. Following the selection of the twelve jurors (60 were excused), Williams was permitted to leave the court, and Shakur took over as the official defendant with the aid of attorney Florynce Kennedy. White testified in the retrial that the six suspected robbers had collected their hair clippings to make masks, and she recognized Shakur’s partially disguised head and shoulder in a photograph shot by a security camera. Kennedy disagreed with this identification because the prosecutor, assistant US attorney Peter Truebner, had volunteered to stipulate that Shakur was not shown in any of the images. The individual identified as Shakur in the photos was wearing a jacket, despite the fact that both White and Rivers testified that Shakur was wearing overalls during the robbery. at an effort to discredit White, the defense pointed out that he had spent eight months at Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane in 1968. White responded by claiming to be Allah in front of three psychiatrists in order to fake insanity and get out of prison.
White was forced to reveal that he had previously been in love with her after Assata Shakur personally cross-examined the witnesses; on the same day, one jury (who had been constantly dozing off during the trial) was substituted with an alternate. The defendants were ejected from the courtroom or departed numerous times during the retrial. Six jurors who were questioned after the trial said they did not believe the two key prosecution witnesses, which resulted in the acquittal of both convicts. Following the trial, Assata Shakur was sent back to Morristown, New Jersey under close protection. The other two suspected thieves, Paul Stewart and Louis Chesimard (Shakur’s ex-husband), had both been found not guilty in June.
Turnpike shooting case dismissed
Judge John E. Bachman continued the Turnpike Shootout proceedings in Middlesex County. Middlesex, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Leon Gerofsky ordered a change of venue to Morris County, New Jersey in 1973, stating that “it was almost impossible to obtain a jury here comprising people willing to accept the responsibility of impartiality so that defendants will be protected from transitory passion and prejudice.” In comparison to Middlesex County, Morris County had a much lower black population. On the basis of this, Assata Shakur tried unsuccessfully to have the trial moved to federal court.
Assata Shakur’s pregnancy was discovered before jury selection was finished. The prosecution successfully obtained a mistrial for Shakur because to the potential for pregnancy; Acoli’s trial went on.
Murder attempt dismissed
On December 31, 1973, Assata Shakur and four other people (including Fred Hilton, Avon White, and Andrew Jackson) were charged with trying to kill two policemen—Michael O’Reilly and Roy Polliana, who had been wounded but had since returned to duty—in an ambush in St. Albans, Queens, on January 28, 1973. Two new suspects (Jeannette Jefferson and Robert Hayes) were added to an indictment with the identical allegations on March 5, 1974. With regard to the alleged ambush, Shakur was charged with two counts of attempted murder, attempted assault, and possession of dangerous weapons on April 26, while she was still pregnant. Assata Shakur refused to waive her right to an extradition hearing and requested a full hearing before Middlesex County Court Judge John E. Bachman.
Justice Albert S. McGrover of the State Supreme Court remanded Assata Shakur to custody until a pretrial hearing on July 2 after he was extradited to New York City on May 6, arraigned on May 11 (plead not guilty), and sent to jail on May 11. Insufficient evidence led to the attempted murder indictment being dismissed by New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter Farrell in November 1974. He made the following statement: “The court can only note with disapproval that virtually a year has passed before counsel made an application for the most basic relief permitted by law, namely an attack on the sufficiency of the evidence submitted by the grand jury.”
Trial for kidnapping
On May 30, 1974, Assata Shakur was charged with robbing a Brooklyn tavern and holding bartender James E. Freeman captive for ransom. Shakur and co-defendant Ronald Myers were charged with entering the pub brandishing handguns and shotguns, stealing $50 from the cash register, abducting the bartender, leaving a note pleading for the bar owner’s $20,000 ransom, and escaping in a hired truck. Later, Freeman was rumored to have made it out unscathed. The opening statement that Assata Shakur made during the trial is repeated in her memoirs. Shakur and co-defendant Ronald Myers’ three-month trial before Judge William Thompson came to a close on December 19, 1975, following seven hours of jury deliberation.
Trial for Queens bank robbery
Assata Shakur entered a not guilty plea in federal court in Brooklyn in July 1973 after being charged by a grand jury with robbing the Bankers Trust Company bank in Queens on August 31, 1971, for $7,700. The date of the potential trial was established for November 5 that year by Judge Jacob Mishlerset. Assata Shakur was represented by Stanley Cohen and Evelyn Williams during the 1976 postponement in the trial. Assata Shakur served as her own co-counsel in this case, and in her opening statement to the jury, she stated:
Not because I have any illusions about my legal prowess but rather because I have things to say to you, I have chosen to serve as co-counsel and give this opening statement. I have pondered this trial and this indignation for many days and nights while I have been imprisoned. And in my opinion, the only person who can adequately express what I have to say is someone who has experienced this craziness as closely as I have.
Three bank employees, including two tellers, testified that they were unsure while one bank employee said that Assata Shakur was one of the bank robbers. Four of the six suspected thieves were depicted in surveillance images, and the prosecution claimed that one of them was Shakur wearing a wig. Assata Shakur refused to cooperate, fearing that the FBI would manipulate the photos; a subsequent judge found that the methods used to obtain the photos violated Shakur’s rights and ruled the new photos were inadmissible. Shakur was forcibly subdued and photographed by the FBI on the judge’s order. Shakur describes in her memoirs how five marshals pummeled, choked, and kicked her on the courthouse floor while Williams described the incident so that it would be recorded in the court file. The jury requested to see all the picture evidence culled from the CCTV footage shortly after the jury deliberations had underway. The jury found that Shakur was not in the widely publicized FBI photograph that purportedly showed her taking part in the heist.
On January 16, 1976, the jury found Assata Shakur not guilty after seven hours of deliberation, and he was then sent back to New Jersey to await the Turnpike trial. On January 29, the actual transfer took place. Of the six robbery suspects, she was the only one to go to trial. Indicted for the same heist along with Andrew Jackson were two other people. One of them was shot and killed in a gunfight in Florida on December 31, 1971, and the other two were still at large at the time of Assata Shakur’s acquittal. Jackson was sentenced to five years in prison and five years on probation.
Retrial for the Turnpike shooting
Acoli had already been found guilty of shooting and killing Foerster by the time she was retried in 1977. The defense asserted that the now-deceased Zayd had fired the bullets, contrary to the prosecution’s claim that Assata had done so. According to New Jersey law, Assata Shakur might still be found guilty of Foerster’s murder even if she did not fire the shots that killed him if her presence at the scene was seen to be “aiding and abetting” the crime.
In total, 289 stories about the numerous offenses Assata Shakur had been charged with had appeared in the local newspaper. Shakur tried to have the case transferred to a federal court once more. Assata Shakur’s request for an injunction prohibiting trial procedures from taking place on Fridays was similarly refused by the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s en banc court upheld the decision.
The nine-week trial received extensive media coverage, including a story from the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS). Each day during the trial, a large group of civil rights activists protested in front of the Middlesex County courthouse.
William Kunstler, the head of Assata Shakur’s defense team, moved for a mistrial after Edward J. Barone’s 13-minute opening statement on behalf of the state. He described the eight-count grand jury indictment as a “adversary proceeding solely and exclusively under the control of the prosecutor” and accused him of making “improper prejudicial remarks.” Judge Theodore Appleby agreed, noting the frequent defense motions for mistrial.
On February 23, Shakur’s legal representatives filed documents requesting that Judge Appleby summon FBI Director Clarence Kelley, Senator Frank Church, and other federal and New York City law enforcement officials to testify about the Counter Intelligence Program, which they claimed was created to harass and disrupt black activist organizations. In the past, Kunstler had been successful in getting Kelley and Church called as witnesses in the cases of American Indian Movement (AIM) members accused of killing FBI officers. The court rejected the motion, which also requested that memoranda, tapes, papers, and images of alleged COINTELPRO involvement from 1970 to 1973 be produced.
On March 15, Shakur was the first witness called by the defense. She denied shooting either Harper or Foerster and also denied having a weapon in her possession at the time of the incident. Stuart Ball, her own attorney, grilled her for less than 40 minutes before Barone cross-examined her for less than two hours. Ball’s interrogation finished with the following conversation:
Did you shoot, execute, put to death, or otherwise participate in the death of Trooper Werner Foerster on that fateful May 2nd night?
Do you remember shooting or hitting Trooper James Harper?
During cross-examination, Shakur was unable to explain how three ammunition magazines and 16 live shells ended up in her shoulder bag. She also acknowledged knowing that Zayd Shakur occasionally carried a gun, and in particular, that she had seen a gun sticking out of Acoli’s pocket while having dinner at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant just before the shooting.Shakur acknowledged having an ID card bearing the name “Justine Henderson” in her billfold the night of the gunfight, but she denied having used any of the several aliases Barone went on to recite.
William Kunstler, who served as the chief of Shakur’s legal team, Stuart Ball, Robert Bloom, Raymond A. Brown, Stanley Cohen (who passed away suddenly during the Turnpike trial), Florynce Kennedy, Louis Myers, Laurence Stern, and Evelyn Williams, Shakur’s aunt, served as the defendant’s defense attorneys. For the turnpike trial, only Kunstler, Ball, Cohen, Myers, Stern, and Williams made an appearance in court. When Williams contacted Kunstler about Shakur’s trials in 1975, Kunstler agreed to help, and he and Stern commuted daily from New York City to New Brunswick.
The National Conference of Black Lawyers used the frequent contempt charges against her attorneys, particularly Lennox Hinds, as an illustration of systemic prejudice in the legal system. Additionally, allegations against Hinds for equating Shakur’s murder trial with a “legalized lynching” carried out by a “kangaroo court” were looked into by the New Jersey Legal Ethics Committee. In Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Assn. (1982), Hinds’ disciplinary case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court. According to Kunstler’s autobiography, Col. Clinton Pagano, the commander of the substantial group of New Jersey State Troopers manning the courthouse, gave them strict orders to absolutely avoid Shakur’s defense lawyers.
Additionally, after giving a speech at the neighboring Rutgers University on October 21, 1976, that included a discussion of the future trial, Judge Appleby threatened to dismiss Kunstler and find him in contempt of court. However, the judge ultimately decided that Kunstler could represent Shakur. Before each visit with Shakur, who was restrained to a bed by both ankles, Kunstler was had to strip naked and submit to a body search. This continued until she was granted a court order. Judge Appleby also declined to look into a break-in at the office of her defense attorney, which led to the loss of trial records totaling half of the legal records associated with her case. Additionally, her attorneys asserted that their offices were tapped.
The only remaining witnesses were Sundiata Acoli, Assata Shakur, Trooper Harper, and a New Jersey Turnpike driver who witnessed a portion of the incident. Acoli did not testify, make any pre-trial remarks, or speak to the police. He also did not testify during his own trial. The turnpike’s northbound driver testified that when he was driving between a white automobile and a State Trooper car, with its rotating lights illuminating the area, he saw a State Trooper battling with a Black guy.
Shakur claimed that after she raised her arms to comply with Trooper Harper’s command, he shot her. She claimed that as she turned to dodge the second shot, it struck her in the back. She continued to lay on the road for the remainder of the gunfight before climbing back into the Pontiac, which Acoli had driven 8 kilometers (5 miles) down the road and parked. She claimed that she stayed there until she was hauled onto the road by State Troopers.
According to Trooper Harper’s official reports, after stopping the Pontiac, he told Acoli to get in the back so that Trooper Foerster, who had just arrived, could check his license. The papers then indicate that once Acoli cooperated, Trooper Foerster yelled and held up an ammo magazine as Shakur simultaneously grabbed into her red pocketbook, took out a 9mm handgun, and fired at him. At the same time, Harper was looking inside the car to check the registration. immediately, according to Trooper Harper’s reports, Shakur got out of the car and started firing from a crouching position next to it. Harper immediately went to the back of his car and opened fire.
The voir dire, which ended on February 14, involved 408 prospective jurors in all. The 15 jurors were all white, with ten women and five men, and the majority of them were under thirty.One girlfriend, two nephews, and two friends—the five jurors—had relationships with State Troopers personally. Before the trial began, a sixteenth female juror was dismissed after it was discovered that Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph DeMarino had previously worked as a private investigator for a lawyer who had represented the juror’s husband. Judge Appleby repeatedly rejected Kunstler’s requests that DeMarino be relieved of his duties for the length of the trial “because he did not divulge his association with the juror”.
Target Blue, a book by former New York City deputy police commander Robert Daley that dealt in part with Shakur and was left in the jury assembly room, led to the dismissal of one prospective juror for doing so. Judge Appleby instructed Shakur’s attorneys to remove a copy of Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley from a location on the defense counsel table that was plainly accessible to the jury before the jury entered the courtroom. Many white viewers of the Roots TV miniseries, which was adapted from the book and aired just before the trial, were said to have felt “guilt and sympathy” for the characters.
On the grounds that John McGovern, one of the jury members, had disobeyed the court’s order for sequester, Shakur’s attorneys asked for a fresh trial. Kunstler’s argument that the jury had disobeyed the order was denied by Judge Appleby. McGovern later filed a defamation lawsuit against Kunstler, who later issued a public apology and gave McGovern a minor compensation. Furthermore, Kunstler claimed in his autobiography that he later discovered from a law enforcement officer that a New Jersey State Assemblyman had spoken to the jury at the hotel where they were sequestered, pleading with them to convict Shakur.
Medical testimony that was intended to show that Shakur was shot with her hands up and that as a result she would have been unable to discharge a weapon was a crucial part of her defense. Shakur was unable to pull the trigger because the second bullet damaged the median nerve in her right arm, according to testimony from a neurologist. According to neurosurgeon Dr. Arthur Turner Davidson, Associate Professor of Surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the injuries to the woman’s upper arms, armpit, and chest, as well as the severed median nerve that instantly paralyzed her right arm, could only have happened if both arms were raised; otherwise, it “would be anatomically impossible” for her to have sustained such wounds while crouching and firing a weapon, as described in Trooper Harper’s testimony.
On Shakur’s examination on August 4, 1976, and on X-rays taken at Middlesex General Hospital right after the gunfight, Davidson based his evidence. Prosecutor Barone questioned whether Davidson was competent to render such a decision 39 months after the incident. Barone then suggested—as a female Sheriff’s attendant acted out his suggestion—that Shakur was shot in the right arm and collar bone, “then spun around by the impact of the bullet so an immediate second shot entered the fleshy part of her upper left arm,” to which Davidson responded, “Impossible.”
There was “no conceivable way” the first bullet could have struck Shakur’s collarbone if her arm was down, according to Dr. David Spain, a pathologist from Brookdale Community College, who testified that her bullet scars and X-rays confirmed her account that she was holding her arms up.
Eventually, Judge Appleby halted funding for any additional expert defense testimony. Williams and Shakur both assert that it was challenging to find expert witnesses for the trial due to the high cost and the fact that many forensic and ballistic specialists declined on the grounds of a conflict of interest when contacted because they frequently carried out such work for law enforcement officials.
According to Angela Davis, a post-shootout neutron activation analysis revealed no gunpowder residue on Shakur’s fingers, and forensic examinations at the crime labs in Trenton, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., by the FBI, revealed no evidence of Shakur’s fingerprints on any of the weapons used in the incident. Foerster’s presence at the scene was not reported by Harper when he returned on foot to the administrative building 200 yards (183 m) away, according to tape recordings and police reports made several hours after the shootout. No one at headquarters was aware of Foerster’s involvement in the shootout until his body was found next to his patrol car, more than an hour later.
Verdict and punishment
The State Police chemist’s testimony detailing the blood found at the site, on the LeMans, and Shakur’s clothing was read aloud to the jury on March 24 for 45 minutes. Thirty minutes before adjourning for the evening on the second night of jury deliberations, the jury requested Judge Appleby to reiterate his instructions regarding the four assault charges. This prompted rumors that the jury had found Shakur not guilty of the other charges, particularly the two counts of murder. The four assault charges—atrocious assault and battery, assault on a police officer acting in the line of duty, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault with intent to kill—each carrying a maximum sentence of 33 years in prison—must be taken into account separately by the jury, according to Appleby. Additionally, Foerster was accused of first- and second-degree murder, illegal possession of a firearm, and armed robbery via his service revolver. Additionally, the jury requested that Appleby recite what “intent” and “reasonable doubt” mean.
Shakur was found guilty on all eight counts, including two of murder and six of assault. In a barely heard voice, Shakur remarked, “I am ashamed that I have even participated in this trial,” and that the jury had “convicted a woman with her hands up.” Shakur herself responded when Judge Appleby ordered the court personnel to “remove the prisoner”: “The prisoner will walk away on her own feet.” Kunstler requested that the jury be dismissed when Joseph W. Lewis, the jury foreman, announced the judgment before stating that one juror had disobeyed the sequester order.
Kunstler claimed racism for the decision at the post-trial press conference, saying that “the white element was there to destroy her.” When a reporter questioned Kunstler about why it took the jury 24 hours to decide whether that were the case, Kunstler responded, “That was just a pretense.” A short while later, the prosecutor Barone disagreed with Kunstler’s analysis and claimed that the verdict in the case was “completely on the facts.”
At Shakur’s sentencing hearing on April 25, Appleby gave her a sentence of 26 to 33 years in state prison, to be served concurrently with her mandatory life sentence (10 to 12 years for the four counts of assault, 12 to 15 years for robbery, 2 to 3 years for armed robbery, plus 2 to 3 years for aiding and abetting the murder of Foerster). However, because the New Jersey Supreme Court had just limited the scope of the law’s applicability, Appleby rejected the second-degree murder charge against Zayd Shakur. As a result of Shakur’s refusal to stand when the judge entered the courtroom, Appleby ultimately sentenced him to 30 days in the Middlesex County Workhouse concurrent with the other terms for contempt of court. Shakur would have needed to serve a minimum of 25 years, which would have included her four years in detention during the trials, before she was qualified for parole.
Nelson dismissal for murder
In October 1977, New York State Superior Court Justice John Starkey dropped Shakur’s murder and robbery charges in connection with the death of Richard Nelson on December 28, 1972, which occurred during a hold-up at a Brooklyn nightclub. Starkey reasoned that the state had waited too long to bring Shakur to trial. People have constitutional rights, and you can’t fudge them, according to Judge Starkey. Due to an agreement between the governors of New York and New Jersey over the importance of the different charges against Shakur, the case’s trial date was postponed. In relation to the same theft, three other offenders were charged: Melvin Kearney, who perished in 1976 after falling eight stories while attempting to escape the Brooklyn House of Detention, Twymon Myers, who was shot and killed by police while on the run, and Andrew Jackson, whose charges were dropped after two prosecution witnesses failed to recognize him in a lineup.
Dismissal for attempted robbery
On November 22, 1977, Shakur entered a not guilty plea to an attempted armed robbery charge resulting from the Statler Hilton Hotel incident in 1971. Shakur was charged with making an attempt to rob a Michigan resident staying at the motel of $250 in cash and other valuables. C. Richard Gibbons was the accuser’s attorney. The accusations were dropped without a hearing.
Shakur was initially detained following the Turnpike shootings at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville, Burlington County, New Jersey. She was then transferred to the Rikers Island Correctional Institution for Women in New York City, where she spent the next 21 months in solitary confinement. Kakuya Shakur was born on September 11, 1974, in the “fortified psychiatric ward” at Elmhurst General Hospital in Queens, where Shakur spent a few days before being sent back to Rikers Island. Shakur’s sole child was conceived while she was through her trial. Shakur alleges in her memoirs that several hefty female police beat and restrained her after she rejected a prison doctor’s medical examination immediately after giving birth. Sheriff Joseph DeMarino misled to the media regarding the precise date of Judge Appleby’s transfer to Clinton Correctional Facility for Women after she received a bomb threat. He later stated that the bomb threat was the reason for his deception. Additionally, she was sent from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women to the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, where she was the sole female prisoner, to a special area supervised by female guards, for “security reasons”. Shakur’s basement cell was described as “adequate” by Kunstler when he first started on her case (before meeting her), almost getting him fired as her lawyer. Shakur requested an injunction forcing her transfer from the all-male facility to Clinton Correctional Facility for Women on May 6, 1977, but Judge Clarkson Fisher of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed her motion; the Third Circuit affirmed.
Shakur was relocated to the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia, on April 8, 1978. There, she met the liberation theologian Mary Alice and the Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebrón. Shakur was imprisoned in Alderson in the Maximum Security Unit, together with three Aryan Sisterhood members, Sandra Good, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, two Charles Manson devotees.
After the Alderson Maximum Security Unit was shut down on February 20, 1979, Shakur was moved to the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey. Shakur “understates the awfulness of the condition in which she was incarcerated,” which included vaginal and anal searches, according to her lawyer Lennox Hinds. According to Hinds, “no woman pretrial detainee or prisoner has ever been treated as she was, continuously confined in a men’s prison, under 24-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.”
As early as October 8, 1973, Angela Davis and the Easter Coalition for Human Rights both described Assata Shakur as a political prisoner in a New York Times advertisement from April 3, 1977. When Hinds invited a group of seven foreign jurists to visit several American prisons, the group came to the conclusion that Hinds’ solitary confinement circumstances were “totally unbefitting of any prisoner” in a report it submitted to the UN Commission on Human Rights. Shakur was identified as “one of the worst cases” of alleged human rights violations in their investigation into alleged abuses of political prisoners, and they included her among “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, evidence fabrication, and spurious criminal prosecutions.” Shakur, however, was not regarded as a former political prisoner by Amnesty International.
A group of BLA members known as “the Family” started preparing for Shakur’s prison break in the early months of 1979. They paid for it by robbing a Bamberger’s store in Paramus, New Jersey, of $105,000.
Assata Shakur managed to escape the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey on November 2, 1979, when three BLA members who were visiting her pulled concealed weapons.Two correction officers were taken hostage, along with two 45-caliber pistols, a stick of dynamite, and a van, before the assailants managed to escape with the aid of others from the May 19 Communist Organization. The officers taken captive and dumped in a parking area were the only people who were not hurt during the prison break. Assata Shakur stayed in Pittsburgh up until August 1980, when she took a flight to the Bahamas, according to later court testimony. Those accused of aiding in her escape include Mutulu Shakur, Silvia Baraldini, Sekou Odinga, and Marilyn Buck. Ronald Boyd Hill was also detained on allegations connected to the escape. Mutulu was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list on July 23, 1982, in part because of his involvement in the incident. He remained on the list for the following four years, until he was apprehended in 1986. In November 1979, state corrections authorities admitted that they had not performed identity checks on Shakur’s visitors and that the three men and one lady who helped her escape had used fraudulent identities to enter the prison’s visitation area without being examined. In 1988, Mutulu Shakur and Marilyn Buck were found guilty of many robberies and the prison break.
Kunstler had just begun to prepare her appeal when the escape happened. Assata Shakur spent several years hiding out after she got away. Assata Shakur’s supporters erected “Assata Shakur is Welcome Here” posters in reaction to the FBI distributing wanted posters around the New York-New Jersey region. Three days after her escape, the National Black Human Rights Coalition gathered more than 5,000 protesters in New York to carry placards with the same message. A declaration from Assata Shakur that criticized U.S. jail conditions and demanded a free “New Afrikan” state was distributed at the event.
Investigators tracked Assata Shakur’s acquaintances and family members for years following her escape in an effort to learn where she was. This included her kid, who was walking to school in upper Manhattan, and their movements, activities, and phone calls. The search for Assata Shakur was reportedly hampered in July 1980 by residents’ refusal to cooperate, according to FBI director William H. Webster. A New York Times editorial argued that the department’s commitment to “enforce the law with vigor—but also with sensitivity for civil rights and civil liberties” had been “clouded” by a “apparently crude sweep” through a Harlem building in search of Shakur. occupants specifically viewed one dawn raid on 92 Morningside Avenue on April 20, 1980, as having “racist overtones” when FBI officers using shotguns and machine guns knocked down doors and searched the building for many hours while barring occupants from leaving. In October 1980, the New Jersey and New York City Police rejected rumors that they had refrained from conducting a search warrant at a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn building where Assata Shakur was allegedly hiding out because of concern for inciting racial conflict. Assata Shakur has been accused of fleeing unlawfully in order to avoid being imprisoned since her escape.
Cuban political asylum
By 1984, Assata Shakur had moved to Cuba, where she had been granted political refuge. The Cuban government provided her with about $13 per day to cover her living costs. Kakuya, who had been reared by Assata Shakur’s mother in New York, moved in with her in 1985. When she consented to speak with Newsday in 1987, her presence in Cuba became well-known.
Assata Shakur referred to Cuba as “One of the Largest, Most Resistant and Most Courageous Palenques (Maroon Camps) that has Ever Existed on the Face of this Planet” in an open letter. She has referred to herself as a “20th century escaped slave” and praised Fidel Castro as a “hero of the oppressed”. SAssata hakur is also reported to have worked as an editor for Radio Havana Cuba in the English language.
She released Assata: An Autobiography in 1987; it was written there. Her autobiography has been mentioned in connection with critical racial theory and critical legal studies. The book just mentions that the jury “convicted a woman with her hands up!” and does not go into detail about her involvement in the BLA or the incidents on the New Jersey Turnpike. It provides a biography of her life starting with her formative years in the South and New York. Assata Shakur disrupts conventional literary autobiography forms and provides a perspective on her life that is not widely known. Due to “Son of Sam” restrictions, which limit who can collect royalties from a book, Zed Books Ltd. of London holds the copyright despite Lawrence Hill & Company having published the book in the US and Canada. Assata Shakur’s aunt and lawyer Evelyn Williams made many trips to Cuba in the six months before the book’s publication and acted as a middleman with Hill. Her autobiography was released in Britain in 2014, and in July 2017, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a dramatized version of it.
She co-authored the 1993 publication Still Black, Still Strong with Mumia Abu-Jamal and Dhoruba bin Wahad.
Assata Shakur’s Women in Prison: How We Are 1978 was included in The New Abolitionists (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings, which was published by SUNY Press in 2005. Joy James edited the book and wrote an introduction to it.
In a letter to Pope John Paul II from 1997, Carl Williams, the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, urged him to bring up the subject of Assata Shakur’s extradition when speaking with President Fidel Castro. In 1998, when the pope paid a visit to Cuba, Shakur consented to an interview with NBC reporter Ralph Penza. Assata Shakur later wrote a lengthy critique of the NBC piece, which combined footage of Trooper Foerster’s distraught widow with an FBI image associated with a bank heist for which Assata Shakur had already been found not guilty. On March 10, 1998, Christine Todd Whitman, the governor of New Jersey, requested that Attorney General Janet Reno take whatever steps were necessary to bring Shakur back from Cuba. Later in 1998, the United States State Department allegedly promised to ease the Cuban embargo in exchange for the return of 90 American fugitives, including Assata Shakur. This assertion was widely covered by American media.
In September 1998, the US Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 254, a non-binding resolution, by unanimous assent in the Senate and a 371-0 vote in the House, requesting Cuba to extradite Assata Shakur and 90 other fugitives it believed to be in Cuba. Governor Whitman and New Jersey Representative Bob Franks’ lobbying efforts played a significant role in the Resolution’s passage. In his remarks made prior to the Resolution’s passing, Franks said: “This escaped murderer now lives a comfortable life in Cuba and has launched a public relations campaign in which she attempts to portray herself as an innocent victim rather than a cold-blooded murderer.”
Representative Maxine Waters of California, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, later explained in an open letter to Castro that many Caucus members, including herself, opposed Assata Shakur’s extradition but had inadvertently voted for the bill, which was put on the accelerated suspension calendar, typically used for non-controversial legislation. Waters described COINTELPRO as “illegal, clandestine political persecution” in the letter she wrote expressing her opposition to it.
The FBI designated her as a domestic terrorist on May 2, 2005, the 32nd anniversary of the Turnpike shootings, and increased the reward for information leading to her capture to $1 million, making it the biggest prize ever given to a single person in New Jersey history. Rick Fuentes, the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, remarked, “She is now 120 pounds of money.” After having previously lived rather openly (including having her home phone number publicized in her local phone book), Assata Shakur reportedly “dropped out of sight” after the bounty announcement.
Former Black Panther and current New York City Councilman Charles Barron has demanded that the bounty be lifted. Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Jersey State Police still have agents formally assigned to her case. Following the transfer of Fidel Castro’s presidential responsibilities, there were more requests for Assata Shakur’s extradition. In a May 2005 television speech, Castro had described Assata Shakur as a victim of racial discrimination, saying that “they wanted to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie.” Shakur was the first woman to be listed as one of the FBI’s “most wanted terrorists” when the announcement was made in 2013. Her capture and return came with a $2 million reward, which was doubled.
President Donald Trump “cancelled” the policies of his predecessor Barack Obama’s Cuban thaw in a speech he delivered in June 2017. The release of political prisoners and the return of wanted criminals is a requirement of any new agreement between the United States and Cuba. Trump demanded the return of “the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard” in particular.
Gloria Rolando, a Cuban filmmaker, wrote and directed the Assata Shakur documentary, Eyes of the Rainbow, which debuted in 1997. The primary cultural venue of the Cuban government, Casa de las Américas, staged the film’s formal premiere in Havana in 2004. The 2008 biographical movie Assata aka Joanne Chesimard was helmed by Fred Baker. Assata Shakur gave the picture its world debut at the San Diego Black picture Festival. The “Hands Off Assata” campaign is run by Dream Hampton, and it is supported by Assata Shakur, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, Mos Def, and other celebrities.
Many musicians have written and released songs about her or in her honor, including:
Common visited Havana to speak with Assata Shakur before recording “A Song for Assata” for his album Like Water for Chocolate in 2000.
As one of the significant black individuals who influenced his album Untitled, Nas included her name in the album’s booklet.
“Rebel Without A Pause” from the 1988 film It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy
“Words of Wisdom” by 2Pac from the 1991 film 2Pacalypse Now
(“Heartbeat Props” in Sons of the P, 1991) Digital Underground
The Roots (Illadelph Halflife, 1996; “The Adventures in Wonderland”)
If It Weren’t for Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains for Us All, 1999, by Piebald, “If Marcus Garvey Dies, Then Marcus Garvey Lives”
“Committed to Life” in Community Music by Asian Dub Foundation, 2000
“Black Stacey” appeared in Saul Williams in 2004.
“Which Side Are You On?” appears in Otro Guerrillero Mixtape Vol. 2, 2008, by Rebel Diaz.
Low-key (from Soundtrack to the Struggle, 2011’s “Something Wonderful”)
Dead Prez, who sang “I Have A Dream, Too” in the 2004 film RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta
Murs (The Final Adventure, 2012; “Tale of Two Cities”)
Jay Z (2013’s “Open Letter Part II”)
X-Clan, Digable Planets, and The Underachievers have all contributed songs about Shakur. Assata Shakur has been referred to as a “minor cause celebre” and a “rap music legend”.
On December 12, 2006, City College President Gregory H. Williams received a directive from City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to change the “unauthorized and inappropriate” name of the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Community and Student Center, which was given by students in 1989. Following a campus closure due to anticipated tuition increases, a student organization was granted permission to utilize the lounge. After removing the plaque, CUNY was sued by student and alumni organizations. The presiding court has concluded as of April 7, 2010, that the concerns regarding students’ free speech and administrators’ immunity from lawsuits “deserve a trial.”
In 1995, the Borough of Manhattan Community College changed the name of a scholarship that had been given in Assata Shakur’s honor due to criticism. Assata Shakur was mentioned in a seminar on “African-American heroes” at Bucknell University in 2008, with people including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, John Henry, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis. The only Black Power movement activists who have written book-length autobiographies are Elaine Brown and Angela Davis, whose autobiographies are studied alongside hers. Assata Shakur is referred to be a “revolutionary fighter against imperialism” by Rutgers University professor H. Bruce Franklin, who used parts from her work in a course on “Crime and Punishment in American Literature.”
Anthony Reed, a black NJ State Trooper who has since left the force, filed a lawsuit against the police department after discovering that posters of Assata Shakur had been altered to display Reed’s badge number in a Newark barracks, among other things. Because she had killed an officer and was “racist in nature,” he believed it was meant as an insult to him. According to Dylan Rodriguez, Tupac Shakur is a “venerated (if occasionally fetishized) signification of liberatory desire and possibility” to many “U.S. radicals and revolutionaries”.
Black Radical Congress members in the Chicago region are in charge of organizing the “Hands Off Assata!” campaign, which is primarily conducted online.
Due to concerns from the police, New Jersey’s Kean University pulled hip-hop singer Common as the commencement speaker in 2015. Anger over Common’s “A Song For Assata” was expressed by members of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey.
In 2015, Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, penned the following statement: “I always start by sharing where Assata’s powerful demand comes from, discussing Assata’s significance to the Black Liberation Movement, what its political purpose and message is, and why it’s important in our context,” says the activist.
She is remembered by the name Assata’s Daughters, a group of Black activists in Chicago. The foundation of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gave the organization $25,000 in April 2017.
The Women’s March’s official Twitter account criticized by several right-wing media sites for celebrating Assata Shakur’s birthday in July 2017.
A North Carolina court mandated in April 2018 that, as part of a land deal, $15,000 be paid to Assata Shakur’s agent, her sister Beverly Goins.