Feds' Bogus Threat of Terrorism to Hunt Down Black Liberation Activist
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Assata Shakur, Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were driving near East Brunswick when they were stopped by two New Jersey troopers for having a broken tail light. It is at this point that accounts of the incident diverge. According to the FBI, Assata Shakur murdered trooper Werner Foerster “execution-style,” in “cold-blood.” In the morass of conflicting accounts about the shootout, these facts are known for certain: Zayd Malik Shakur was killed, trooper Foerster was shot twice in the head with his own gun, and Assata Shakur sustained severe wounds in both her arms and one shoulder.
“The allegation that she was a cold-blooded killer is not supported by any of the forensic evidence,” said Shakur’s longtime attorney Lennox Hinds in an interview with Democracy Now! “If we look at the trial, we'll find that she was victimized, she was shot. She was shot in the back. The bullet exited and broke the clavicle in her shoulder. She could not raise a gun. She could not raise her hand to shoot. And she was shot while her hands were in the air.”
Following the shootout, Assata Shakur was tried for murder and more than a dozen different crimes. The NLG recalls “two bank robberies, the kidnapping of a Brooklyn heroin dealer, attempted murder of two police officers in Queens, and eight other felonies related to the turnpike shootout.” These indictments resulted in the following verdicts: “three trials resulted in acquittals, one in a hung jury, one in a mistrial, and one in a conviction. Three indictments were dismissed without trial.”
Despite two mistrials--one in 1973 and one in 1974--and despite the fact that Sundiata Acoli had already been convicted of the murder of Werner Foerster, Assata Shakur was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1977. The trial was full of constitutional violations, including a visit by a New Jersey state assembly member to the sequestered, all-white jury, urging them to convict her. After already serving four years in jail, she was sentenced to life in prison. In 1979, after spending two years in various prisons in New Jersey, members of the Black Liberation Army freed Shakur from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women. She spent the next five years in hiding before fleeing to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum by 1984.
According to attorney Hinds, by renewing the invective against Shakur, the US government “is continuing the unrestrained abuse of power by which it attempted to destroy Assata Shakur and other black individuals and groups by surveillance, rumor, innuendo, eavesdropping, arrest and prosecution, incarceration, and murder throughout the '60s and '70s."
The litany of tactics that Hinds lists belongs to the playbook of COINTELPRO, the counterintelligence program of the FBI. The program was masterminded by J. Edgar Hoover, the Bureau’s pre eminent founder. Origins of the COINTELPRO doctrine can be found in this declassified memo which outlines the scope of the FBI's war on black activists and radicals: “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalists, hatetype organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, members, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder."
Hinds points to the continued persecution of Assata Shakur as the continuation of COINTELPRO. But the FBI cannot continue to use that same playbook because it has been vilified in the public sphere and found to be largely illegal. Instead, it must pivot and switch to the contemporary language of repression. Label Shakur a terrorist. Make her one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.