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05.17.05 12:06 AM

Standing with Assata

Statement from the Hands off Assata Coalition
Contact: dream hampton, MXG, dreamhampton[at]aol.com


On May 3, 2005, the United States Justice Department announced it was raising its bounty of $100,000 for the capture of Sister Assata Shakur to $1,000,000. For over two decades, Sister Assata has been living as a political exile in the Republic of Cuba. This is part of a long campaign to capture or kill Sister Assata since her escape in 1979, and part of the historical assault against the Black Liberation Movement.

Who is Assata Shakur?
Assata Shakur, born Joanne Deborah Byron in July 16, 1947, in Wilmington, North Carolina, grew up in the segregated South. When she was a college student in New York she decided to participate in the freedom movement of people of African descent against racism and white supremacy. Her thirst to do something for her people led her to the Black Panther Party (BPP) in New York City. She participated in a program teaching Black youth their culture and history and other service programs of the BPP. In 1969, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled the BPP “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Through its counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO, the FBI and other police agencies waged a low-intensity war on the BPP and other Black freedom organizations. Activists were assassinated, incarcerated and forced into exile. When New York Panthers came under attack Assata went into hiding and joined the underground movement called the Black Liberation Army (BLA). She became one of the major targets of the United States government.

Her Capture, Conviction and Escape
On May 3, 1971, Assata and two other Panthers forced underground, Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped by New Jersey Highway patrolmen on the New Jersey Turnpike. The patrolman stated the young Blacks were “suspicious” since their vehicle had Vermont license plates. The subsequent chain of events is not clear, but a shoot out ensued and Zayd Shakur and one of the highway patrolmen, Werner Foerster, were killed. Assata, after complying with police orders, was immediately shot and paralyzed with wounds from .357 magnum gun fire from the Highway patrolman James Harper. Sundiata was captured the next day in the New Jersey swamplands. Tests on Assata demonstrated she had not fired a weapon. In spite of that fact she had not fired a weapon and was paralyzed through the entire gun battle, she was convicted by an all-white jury in Middlesex County, New Jersey and sentenced to life plus sixty-five years for the death of Zayd Shakur and the highway patrolman. Sundiata was also convicted and given a sentence of life plus sixty-five years. After years of being incarcerated in male facilities or prison units with dangerous criminals and hate groups, like members of the Manson family and white supremacist gangs, on November 2, 1979, Assata with the aid of the BLA and white friends of the Black Liberation Movement. In 1984, she was given political asylum in Cuba.

Since her Escape
The recent bounty placed on her head is only a continuation of a pursuit to re-capture her for over two decades. Assata Shakur is one of the most sought after fugitives in United States history. Since her escape, twenty-six years ago, the FBI has committed an agent to her re-capture. Two Black activists Mutulu Shakur (the step-father of Tupac Shakur) and Sekou Odinga, white activist Marilyn Buck and Italian national Silvia Baraldini were all convicted for freeing Assata from prison. In 1997, New Jersey police made a request to Pope John Paul II to ask Fidel Castro to return Assata to incarceration in the United States In 1998, the United States House of Representatives called for the government of Cuba to return Assata to the custody of the state of New Jersey. Several people have been offered financial pay offs or coerced with threats of criminal charges to cooperate with government plans to re-capture Assata. In 2003, the father of Assata’s daughter Kikuya, Kamau Sadiki was convicted in Atlanta for the killing of a police officer in 1971. Approached by the FBI in 2000, Mr. Sadiki was offered money to inform and possibly participate in the re-capture of Assata. When he refused, he was told if he didn’t cooperate he would die in prison since he has Hepatitis C, Cirrhosis of the Liver and Sarcoidosis.

Particularly after the publication of her autobiography Assata: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary, Assata Shakur has been an inspiration for Black activists, the Hip Hop generation, and human rights supporters worldwide. She has become a symbol of resistance. Similar to Malcolm X, her story represents the triumph and power of the human spirit. Her image has been invoked in Hip Hop lyrics. From exile, she has continued to support the freedom of Black people and struggles against racism and the human rights abuses. Enemies of the Black freedom movement want to crush and contain this inspirational figure.

The placing of Assata on the domestic terrorist list only confirms the fears of the Black liberation movement and human rights activist concerning George Bush’s “war on terrorism.” “The war on terrorism” is a means for the right-wing in the United States to eliminate its political enemies. Through vehicles like the Patriot Act, the “war on terrorism” gives justification for abuses of a modern day COINTELPRO.

COINTELPRO and the War on the Black Freedom movement
In the 1950s, during the Cold war, the FBI started COINTEPRO. As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum Black Activists, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Williams, Ella Baker, and Bayard Rustin became the primary targets of COINTELPRO. When the federal government did not respond to the demands of the nonviolent movement and also did not protect activists and Black communities from the violence of segregationist many activists moved toward Black Power and armed resistance to get human rights and freedom. Fearful of the assertive Black Power movement, the United States government used programs like COINTELPRO to destroy the Black movement.

Assata Shakur was forced underground, incarcerated, and forced into exile due to the repression of the United States government. In 1971, due to activists expropriating documents from an FBI office and leaking theses documents to the press, COINTELPRO was revealed to the American public and the world. Due to the abuses of the FBI, a congressional committee was developed under the leadership of United States Senator Frank Church of Idaho. While the Church committee did put monitoring and accountability measures on the FBI (which have been now eliminated under the Patriot Act after the events of September 11, 2001), no remedies were offered to individuals, organizations and communities who were targeted and whose human rights were violated by COINTELPRO.

Instead of seeking reconciliation of political conflict, the attempt to re-capture Assata only accelerates political and racial conflict in the United States and internationally. In other countries around the world, including South Africa, Turkey, Morocco, Ukraine, Peru, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Ghana, Belgium, governments have established a review the abuses of their police agencies on opposition movements in their countries as a gesture towards reconciliation. The United States has never sought reconciliation with the targets of COINTELPRO. The pursuit of Assata promotes more conflict in that rather than choosing an alternative dispute mechanism it chooses to continue the criminalization of the Black Liberation movement. Moreover, it encourages the mercenary invasion of a sovereign nation, the Republic of Cuba, and encourages global conflict. We oppose the sending of mercenaries and bounty hunters to apprehend Sister Assata Shakur. The United States government must acknowledge its abuses and grant amnesty to political prisoners and exiles.

As supporters of Human rights, we call for:

1) the end of the pursuit of Assata Shakur by immediately removing her name from the domestic terrorist list and repealing the bounty placed on her head.
2) the rejection of mercenary attacks on the sovereign nation of Cuba
3) the de-criminalization of the Black Liberation movement, particularly given the political nature of the conflict of the 1960s and 70s, and the abuses of COINTELPRO.
4) Congress to impanel an independent Truth Commission as a alternative dispute mechanism, to finish the mission of the Church Committee and of the cases of political prisoners and exiles, including Assata Shakur, Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Sekou Odinga, Kamau Sadiki and Marilyn Buck.
5) That the United States Congress implement remedies and restitution for the communities, organizations and individuals who were targeted and whose human rights were violated due to COINTELPRO.
6) The repeal of the Patriot Act.

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