Target Assata: How the FBI and Cuba Bashers Are Going After a Black Liberation Activist
Mugshot taken of Assata Shakur.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Seemingly out of nowhere the FBI announced that fugitive Black activist Assata Shakur was now declared a “terrorist” on their Most Wanted list. In addition, a bounty for her capture was raised from $1 million to $2 million. There are several questions that immediately arise but the most important is perhaps this: why now?
Assata Shakur, known earlier as Joanne Chesimard, was a leading member of the Black Panther Party. Following the split in the Panthers in 1971 she became involved with the Black Liberation Army, an organization that saw itself as the military wing of the Black Freedom Movement. In 1973 Assata Shakur was in a car that was stopped by the police on the New Jersey Turnpike. A shootout took place during which she was wounded, a comrade of hers was killed along with a police officer. After several very controversial trials covering various allegations against her, Assata was ultimately convicted of murder and assault in connection with the Turnpike shootout, despite evidence of her innocence. In 1979 she escaped prison and fled to Cuba where she was granted political asylum. She has lived there ever since.
Assata Shakur has lived in relative silence, only periodically offering interviews. The Black Liberation Army was crushed, and in either case never engaged in military attacks on civilians. The Cuban government saw in Assata’s case that of an individual who was politically persecuted by the United States government and, therefore, concluded that she had a legitimate right to remain in Cuba and not be forced to return to prison.
Independent of any organization in the USA and living in a country that has been victimized by terrorist acts by US-supported Cuban exile groups, Assata Shakur has been the ‘poster child’ for segments of the political Right in the USA, including but not limited to those in the Cuban exile community. Elements of the law enforcement community as well as those who wish to freeze any discussion of normalized relations between the USA and Cuba have periodically seized upon the image of Assata Shakur in order to suggest that not only is she a terrorist but that the Cuban government is aiding and abetting terrorism. This begs at least one question: has there ever been a connection between Assata Shakur and terrorism?
The simple answer is “no,” but that answer necessitates further explanation. Assata Shakur, like many other activists in the 1960s—including but not limited to African Americans—witnessed the active infiltration and repression of liberal, progressive and radical movements by the US government. Through programs such as the notorious COINTELPRO (the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program), an active effort was undertaken by various branches of the US government to disrupt and suppress a wide variety of social justice movements and organizations. This disruption and suppression included the use of murder, such as the infamous drugging and killing of Chicago Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the Chicago Police.
It was in this environment of severe repression that certain elements within the Black Freedom Movement concluded that a military organization needed to be built to both defend against attacks from the government (and from non-governmental right-wing organizations) as well as prepare for what many people thought was a pending revolution. Assata Shakur was part of that section of the movement.
Assata Shakur has never denied having been a member of the Black Liberation Army. She has also never denied being a revolutionary. She has a very well developed critique of US capitalism, imperialism and racism. In no case has anything ever associated with terrorism been alleged against her. Just to be clear, the armed actions that were taken never conformed to any approximation of the notion of “terrorism,” i.e., the use of military/violent actions against civilians in order to advance a political agenda.