AMERICA’S MOST WANTED
As we sit in the midst of yet another ‘Women’s History Month’, it occurs to me that we are once again trotting out the same personalities and personas that we have always done in our community. Now tell me if these names sound familiar: Rosa Parks, Barbara Jordan, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and the newest edition, Michelle Obama. Considering that African-American News & Issues considers itself ‘the People’s paper’, we have decided to divert from the usual, and largely ineffectual, ‘Women’s History Month’ story and provide something that will hopefully lift the minds of our people and reveal an all too often ignored aspect of our history by presenting a portrait of Assata Olugbala Shakur.
It is not difficult to understand that for the vast majority of people, being Black in America causes a bit of paranoia. Put simply, paranoia is one of the many problems that African-Americans deal with as a result of dealing with American racism for the past four-centuries.
Such prolonged exposure to racism causes many African-Americans, and the members of any other politically marginalized population, to meticulously examine each and every statement and decision that American elected officials’ and business leaders make. What are we hoping to discover in our never-ending searches? We are quite often attempting to gauge the impact that the alluded to legislation or business dealings will have upon Black America.
I admit to possessing quite a large dose of paranoia when it comes to racial matters, hence, it was only natural for my paranoia to ‘flare up’ when U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama announced that he was pursuing a re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. I instantly wondered what such a move would mean for Assata Shakur; Black America’s most precious resource that has been exiled to Cuba for several decades.
Unbeknownst to the vast majority of African-Americans and to the chagrin of American law enforcement agencies, Cuban President Fidel Castro granted former Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and Black Liberation Army leader Assata Shakur political asylum over thirty-years ago, she has been in Cuba ever since. To Castro’s credit, he has offered similar protection to many African-American political activists such as: Robert F. Williams, Huey P. Newton, William Lee Brent and Eldridge Cleaver.
Despite the derisive statements that have been habitually propagated to the American public about the Cuban “dictator”, he has been steadfastly committed to offering refuge to African-Americans who were being unjustly persecuted by the American judicial system. From American politicians and law enforcement officials perspective, the Cuban leader’s granting of a safe haven for African-American activists being persecuted for no other reason than their resistance to white world supremacy serves as a permanent and seemingly inexcusable blemish on his, and his nation’s, record.
If nothing else, the pursuit of Assata Shakur undoubtedly displays the indomitable will of American law enforcement officials and agencies at Federal, State, and local levels. There is no other way to view the U.S. pursuit of Assata than to call it relentless and unceasing. This alluded to will to capture and re-incarcerate Shakur has led the U.S. Government to place the now nearly seventy-year-old African-American grandmother on its vaunted FBI’s Most Wanted List.
One has to wonder why such a focus was placed upon Assata Shakur?
The answer to the above question is not only complex, but also found in the mid-1960s Black Power Era. Assata Shakur’s problems reached their height when she was present during a shootout between members of the Black Liberation Army and the New Jersey State Highway Patrol on May 2, 1973. Although there are conflicting stories regarding what occurred during the altercation, there are several things that are factual.
Facts state that a New Jersey State Trooper stopped a vehicle carrying three members of the Black Liberation Army, Assata Shakur was a passenger in this vehicle and already wanted by law enforcement agencies for her activities surrounding the liberation and salvation of her people, a dedication that led to her assuming a prominent role in the Black Liberation Army.
Law enforcement agencies alleged that Assata was “the mother hen who kept them all shooting.” Evidence gathered from not only the scene, but also later at the hospital that Shakur was taken to after being shot by a New Jersey State Trooper, definitively prove several things: (a) she had not fired a weapon that night, (b) she had been shot while sitting in the vehicle that she was traveling in, (c) she was shot with her hands up, and (d) she was partially paralyzed along one side of her body as a result of nerve damage caused by the trooper’s bullets. However, little of that mattered as the State of New Jersey decided that Assata Shakur must pay for the of a New Jersey state trooper who died during the altercation.
Further aggravating American law enforcement agencies and government officials is not only the swell of support Assata Shakur received while she stood trial for the aforementioned incident, but also her subsequent escape from a maximum security facility after a murder conviction. Making matters worse for law enforcement officials was the reality that they were never able to re-capture Assata during the five years between her harrowing prison escape and her unceremonious arrival in Cuba.
This failure has served as a consistent irritant to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies. The greatest indicator that American law enforcement agencies, as well as this nation’s elected officials, are still riled by Assata Shakur’s escape has been their repeated attempts to recapture Shakur. For example,
In 1998, the United States House of Representatives passed Concurrent Resolution 254 that requested that the Cuban Castro-led Government expeditiously return Assata Shakur to America. The measure passed with a 371 (yea) – 0 (Nay) vote.
In the same year, the United States Senate passed the same piece of legislation, Concurrent Resolution 254, by a unanimous vote.
In 2005, the United States Department of Justice entered the fray in a major way when they increased an already hefty award for Assata Shakurs capture to $1,000,000.00
In 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that was headed by the tyrannical J. Edgar Hoover and his Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) when the pursuit of Shakur began, not only placed Assata on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, but also raised the bounty on her head to $2,000,000.00. The FBI now characterizes Shakur as a ‘domestic terrorist.’
I must relate that I was not surprised at Governor Chris Christie’s most recent attempt to not only set a political tone and tenor that he hopes would lead to the capture of Assata Shakur, but also the immoral manner in which he attempts to hold the future of American/Cuban relations hostage. Governor Christie recently sent a letter to President Obama demanding that Assata Shakurs return by the Cuban government must be a pre-requisite to any diplomatic relations. Put simply, if the Cuban government does not surrender a 67 year old Assata Shakur, it will continue in its current status as a rogue nation being greatly affected by U.S. economic embargoes.
Christie writes to President Obama, “I do not share your view that restoring diplomatic relations without a clear commitment from the Cuban government of the steps they will take to reverse decades of human rights violations will result in a better and more just Cuba for its people…there is an opportunity for Cuba and its government to show the American people it is serious about change…I urge you to demand the immediate return of Chesimard (Assata Shakur) before any further consideration of restoration of diplomatic relations with the Cuban government.”
Put simply, Governor Christie, and those that he represents are publicly pledging their continued commitment to capturing Assata Shakur ‘by any means necessary.’ Unfortunately for Christie, he fails to realize that the capture and incarceration of Assata Shakur will be resisted by politicized African-Americans for reasons that are too numerous to be listed here.
However, the irony of the self-righteous manner that white elected officials and law enforcement officers will go to exact revenge upon those they feel have done them wrong is most certainly not accessible to all American protesters. One only needs to examine the voluminous intolerance that peaceful protesters experienced as they attempted to secure some form of redress for the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown for verification of the inconsistent application of theoretical principles such as freedom of speech that this nation hangs its hat upon. Unfortunately for American law enforcement agencies, their credibility has been compromised to the point that even law abiding citizens have begun to view their actions as little more than political ploys designed to curb dissent from whence it may come.
It is such matters that make the recent attempt by Governor Christie to make the Cuban people’s decision regarding Assata Shakur akin to a litmus test that will display their worthiness, or the lack thereof, to live a vibrant economic embargo free life all the more despicable. And it is for this reason and a host of others that I will never agree with the United States Governments decision to pursue Assata Shakur to the ends of the earth; and I pray that the Cuban government and the people it governs refuses to make any deal that would compromise Assata Shakur’s freedom. I hope that this is a moment that allows the Cuban people to teach American whites that there are simply some matters, such as the surrender of Assata Shakur, that not even their very real threats of continued economic exploitation and sanction are capable of achieving.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III