Feds' Bogus Threat of Terrorism to Hunt Down Black Liberation Activist
Mugshot taken of Assata Shakur.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Just 17 days after the Boston Marathon bombings, the largest spectacle of terrorism on US soil since 9/11, the FBI added the first woman to its list of “ Most Wanted Terrorists” for a crime she is accused of committing more than 40 years ago. This is just the latest attempt by the federal government to rewrite the history of radical activists from the '60s and '70s and cover up the government's illegal actions aimed at stopping them.
Assata Shakur, known in court documents and wanted posters as Joanne Chesimard, was added to the list of Most Wanted Terrorists on May 2. Nearly eight years earlier, she was reclassified from fugitive to domestic terrorist under the Patriot Act in 2005. Shakur is only the second so-called domestic terrorist ever to be placed on the list; she joins Daniel Andreas San Diego, an animal rights activist, who was added in 2009. The state of New Jersey also announced that it would be contributing $1 million to her bounty, bringing the total for Assata Shakur’s capture to $2 million.
Since 1984, Shakur, a fugitive and political prisoner, has been living as a refugee, exiled in Cuba. She was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Today she might be just as famous for being Tupac Shakur’s godmother if she wasn’t being called a “ top priority” by the FBI. But Assata Shakur belonged to one of the most important movements for democracy and racial justice in the 20th century, and for many people who dream of a better world, she is the apogee of hope. For the US government, though, she is the one who got away. Now, at the age of 66, Shakur may still be agitating with her words, but she cannot seriously beconsidered a national security threat.
It is an outrage and a shock to some, but for anyone who has been paying attention, it is par for the course. Since 9/11, the US government has operated with impunity, trampling civil rights, due process, and the legal claims of other sovereign nations. These two new escalations by the FBI and the state of New Jersey, repainting Shakur and other members of the black liberation movement as terrorists, is also nothing new. In fact, it is a logical extension of the repression these groups faced under COINTELPRO when they were active. Only now, it is being translated from the anachronistic language of containment into the present-day language of fear and securitization, in order to merge the narratives of older movements and newer ones, and to justify the repression against both.
Two Narratives of a Traffic Stop
There are two 40-year-old narratives underpinning this case: an official US government narrative that is open-and-shut, and another narrative that recognizes the history of repression faced by black radicals and the oppression of black communities.
Officially, Shakur’s status as a domestic terrorist stems from a shootout with police that took place on May 2, 1973. The shootout resulted in the deaths of a New Jersey state trooper and one of Shakur’s companions, Zayd Malik Shakur.
But according to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Assata Shakur had been pursued by state and federal authorities for several years before the incident in New Jersey because of her political affiliations and because she was a woman. “Prior to the shootout, Ms. Shakur was the subject of a nationwide hunt as part of an FBI campaign to tie her to every suspected Black Liberation Army action involving a woman. After her capture, Ms. Shakur was not charged with any of the crimes that prompted the dragnet,” the NLG states.