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Political Prisoners: America's Most Wanted

By Eric Ture Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jun 25, 2013 - 10:08:40 AM

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Targeting Assata Shakur, the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list and the secret shame of political prisoners inside the United States of America

ATLANTA (FinalCall.com) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation says Black liberation icon Assata Shakur is a terrorist. She was added to the FBI “Most Wanted Terrorist” list for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper. The announcement came on the 40th anniversary of the trooper’s death along with a $2 million bounty for her capture.

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But what is America’s intent? Why her? Why now? And, while the U.S. blasts others for squelching political dissent and accuses countries of human rights abuses, longtime activists charge the U.S. has its own history of political repression and victims languishing in prison today.

“It isn’t a designation,” said former leader of the Black Panther Party Elaine Brown, when asked by The Final Call, why she believes such a designation of Ms. Shakur occurred. “We have to recognize that this is an affirmative act by the United States government as led by President Barack Obama and Eric Holder as the head of the FBI. Let’s not get it twisted.”

In an exclusive interview, Ms. Brown said the targeting of Ms. Shakur “tells me this government is the same government that it has always been. 

“The only difference between Eric Holder and J. Edgar Hoover as representatives of the COINTELPRO, anti-Black, anti-human rights actions led by this government is that J. Edgar Hoover is dead,” she said. However, Ms. Brown declared, COINTELPRO is not.

Ms. Brown was referring to the FBI Counter Intelligence Program designed to neutralize, decimate and destroy Black organizations and leaders to preempt “the rise of a Black Messiah” alongside “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.”

This initiative and others of the 1960s and 1970s, enacted by founding FBI Director Hoover targeted the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), civil rights groups and others. The FBI also targeted American Indian, Chicano and Latino rights groups, progressive Whites, and Communists—essentially anyone who challenged injustice and demanded change.

The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam; Malcolm X; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Kwame Ture, formerly Stokely Carmichael and Imam Jamil Al-Amin formerly H. Rap Brown of the Panther Party and SNCC  and others were targeted. Domestic dissidents like Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement and Panther Party members are aging, suffering and on lockdown, said activists.

Targeting in the 21st century

Former Panther Jamal and others were cited as examples of how the U.S. government and corporate America schemes to stifle dissent and to push Blacks and Latinos into the prison industrial complex by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan June 22. “Look at how many millions now are bound in the prisons of America and look at the schemes now to put more and more of us behind bars to work us for corporate America, to train us to work for them not outside of the prison where they would have to give us a living wage; but at 23 cents an hour, train us to do all kinds of technical things,” the Minister said during the webcast of the 24th installment of his weekly series, The Time and What Must Be Done at www.noi.org/thetime

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(L-R) Sundiata Acoli, Leonard Peltier, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin Photo: AP/Wide World photos, Mumia Abu Jamal

Others cited by the Minister as targets of the U.S. government Mr. Peltier, Imam Al-Amin, and street organization leaders Larry Hoover, a founder of the Gangster Disciples, and Chief Malik Ka’bah of the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago. Also known as the Black P. Stones, the group eventually became the El Rukn, under an Islamic conversion. Chief Malik, formerly known as Jeff Fort, was a founder of the Blackstone Rangers.

When Mr. Hoover changed the name of the G.D.’s to Growth and Development, he was targeted behind bars, Min. Farrakhan noted. Mr. Hoover “started pushing the members of the Gangster Disciples into school now to get a high school education and go on to do constructive things, he was more dangerous doing that than selling drugs,” the Minister said.

Chief Malik and Larry Hoover could do great work to help change young Black men, he continued. In the early 1990s, a burgeoning political movement among Black youth, inspired by Mr. Hoover, developed in Chicago as 21st Century Vote. The effort attracted thousands of youth but was condemned and defeated by authorities and fearful political leaders. 

The Minister condemned the terrorist designation given to Assata Shakur. “I am really disappointed that our president and our Justice Department, under Mr. Holder, would allow our sister to be named a ‘domestic terrorist.’ but you know there are many political prisoners that I am saying, in the name of Allah and his messiah,’ they have to be set free,” said Min. Farrakhan.

“The placing of Assata Shakur on the Most Wanted terrorist list and the increase of the bounty on her head demonstrates the continuation of J. Edgar Hoover’s Cointelpro policy and hostility towards Black liberation,” said Akinyele Umoja, associate professor and chair of African-American Studies at Georgia State University. He wrote the book “We Will Shoot Back.”

“The evidence of her innocence is clear,” Mr. Umoja said. “In fact the case of Assata Shakur is evidence of the violation of human rights by the state of New Jersey and the U.S. government. Assata was shot, paralyzed, beaten, convicted, and held captive in prison facilities for males as a part of a low intensity war by the U.S. government against the Black liberation movement. Assata Shakur was part of the resistance to the war on the Black community and our freedom movement. “The continued pursuit of her proves that the state of New Jersey and the United States government does not wish reconciliation and healing from that period, but to continue a low intensity war against those committed to Black liberation.”

“Does her designation warrant justification for drone strikes on Cuba? Are others of us who advocate liberation, freedom, and human rights subject to be labeled as terrorists? We must be vigilant in opposing this injustice no matter who is president,” argued Mr. Umoja.

In an interview on Democracy Now, former Black Panther Angela Davis, now a professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz, commented, “It seems to me that this act incorporates or reflects the very logic of terrorism. I can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today. Forty years ago seems like it was a long time ago.

“In the beginning of the 21st century, we’re still fighting around the very same issues—police violence, healthcare, education, people in prison,” she noted. “The insidious part of this latest act of hostility is that it happens under the administration of an African-American head of state and attorney general under the veil of ‘post-racialism.’ ”

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A billboard about the Cuban Five in Santa Clara, Cuba. From left to right: Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, René González Schwerert, Fernando González Llort and Ramón Labañino Salazar.
A Black FBI agent was spokesperson at the press conference naming Ms. Shakur to the Most Wanted terrorist list.

What is a terrorist?

Aaron T. Ford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Newark Division, announced May 2 the placement of Ms. Shakur (formerly known as Joanne Chesimard) on the terrorist list created as a result of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York. 

Ms. Shakur, now 65, was charged and convicted in the 1973 death of N.J. trooper Werner Foerster.

Ms. Shakur, a member of the Black Liberation Army, was unarmed and wounded in a shootout that claimed the life of Black Panther Party leader Zayd Shakur and wounded Black Liberation Army member Sundiata Acoli.

Trooper Foerster was fatally shot with his own weapon.

No physical evidence tied the then 24-year-old woman to the firing of any weapons that fateful evening. Medical evidence showed the unarmed Ms. Shakur was unable to hold or shoot a gun because of injuries sustained after bullets fired by officers ripped through her flesh while her hands were in the air.

Analysts say whether the acts of 1973 hold up against Ms. Shakur or not, they are criminal at worst. The alleged crimes do not warrant placement on a terror list, they added.

Ms. Brown said the terms terrorism and terrorist are new code words for assassination—character or otherwise. “We know that the word terror or terrorism does not have a pure definition. It is a political statement. These are words that America puts out when you oppose the government. It’s a question of who commits what act, not what acts are committed,” she said. “The word Muslim is now identified with the word. If you are Black and in America and your name is Jamil Al-Amin, for example, you will be targeted by this government. But if you go and put on a uniform of the United States Air Force or Army and murder a bunch of women and children in Afghanistan, you will be given a medal.”

In 1977, Ms. Shakur was convicted of the first-degree murder of Mr. Foerster and seven additional felonies related to the shootout. Facing life in prison, she was sent to the all-male maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility. She escaped in 1979. The heroine resurfaced in Cuba and has been living there since 1984 under political asylum.

“The FBI adding Assata Shakur to this list is the official precursor to labeling any of us who say that ‘we love our people’ or we are ‘freedom fighters’ as terrorists,” commented Feed the People Movement founder Kalongi Changa of Atlanta. This can be used to justify military force be it invasion or drone strikes, Mr. Changa said.

“I think it is far from a coincidence that Barack Obama’s cut buddy and swag supporter Jay-Z decided, or was sent, to visit Cuba just weeks before this quandary was presented to the American public.”

In April, the rapper and entertainer wife Beyonce celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana.

It is widely known, said Mr. Changa, that Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the Cuban government granted Ms. Shakur full asylum. With Ms. Shakur on this list it “opens the floodgates to bum rush Cuba, under the guise of searching for the new Bin Laden and at the same time garnering the support of naïve American citizens in ‘the war on terror.’ ”

“I am totally disappointed in this. Because if they are able to forcibly drag this woman back into this country—because that is the way it would have to be; if they are able to get into Cuba and bring her back, I’d have to assume it would be with the cooperation of the Cuban government,” added Ms. Brown.

“And the reality may be that the Obama government wants to use her as a ploy (and) force the Cuban government to give her up as a token of good faith and get them back into the world, becoming another satellite of the U.S. empire.”

“What fascinates me is Cuba’s failure to respond,” she continued. Does this mean, asked Ms. Brown, “by some miracle they are not cooperating or she is able to find some refuge elsewhere? Maybe they’ve figured a way to get her to a greater area of safety, rather than cooperating with the FBI?”

Free all political prisoners

Mr. Changa, also author of How to Build a People’s Army, said it is “time for Black Leadership who sing, dance and camera chase when it comes to safe issues to come forth and speak out against this madness or be recognized as the new Black Hollywood shufflers here to line their own pockets and serve their own self interests. Ancestral treason can no longer be tolerated. Hands off Assata Shakur and free all political prisoners!”

“We need a revolutionary liberation movement in America that can assess our situation, because it is not just political prisoners,” said Ms. Brown. “Unless we decide collectively or some young person decides that there are going to be some changes and we’re going to create a movement—this will continue to be one incident after another. … Today it is Assata Shakur. Clearly, she does not individually pose any threat to the United States government. But, what did the Negro FBI spokesperson say when he announced this? He said, ‘Assata Shakur is a danger to the American government.’ Never was the Mafia called that or the Aryan Brotherhood. These kinds of allegations against Black leaders, icons and organizations are not new to us,” said Ms. Brown. “But what is new to us is that there is no protest. There is no outcry against Obama. We didn’t even protest the murder of (Muammar) Gadhafi. ”

Though the United States refuses to recognize its political prisoners, others internationally acknowledge their plight.

A few internationally recognized political prisoners are Jamil Al-Amin, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli and Dr. Mutula Shakur.

Mr. Peltier is an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American and leader of the American Indian Movement. He has been jailed for more than 35 years, convicted of murdering two FBI agents during a confrontation with AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota June 26, 1975. Sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, Mr. Peltier admits being present during the firefight. He denies shooting the agents at point blank range as alleged at his trial. All of his legal appeals have been exhausted.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have criticized the Peltier trial and conviction, expressing concerns about fairness.

Mr. Abu-Jamal, an award-winning journalist and former Panther, has nearly 30 years on death row for allegedly killing a Philadelphia police officer. A decades-long worldwide movement won his release from death row in December 2011. He was moved into general prison population to serve life without parole. His supporters say, “Life in prison for an innocent man is also a death sentence.”

In 1971, Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, then H. Rap Brown, was arrested at the scene of a shootout with police in a New York bar. Sent to prison for five years, he became a Muslim. He became a leading Muslim in Atlanta upon his release and respected nationally as well. By 1980, he was the spiritual leader of more than 30 Islamic centers with an estimated membership of 10,000 people, according to published reports.

After a couple decades of Islamic and community activism, which included stopping drugs and prostitution, in 2000, two sheriff deputies attempted to serve a warrant on the imam for failure to appear in court. It was 10 p.m., the charge was not a major one, and supporters say the imam was not present. But, somehow  a shootout erupted leaving one sheriff dead and another wounded. The surviving officer identified Imam Al-Amin as the shooter.

After a five-day police manhunt the imam was captured, arrested, tried and found guilty of murder. He is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Colorado. Supporters say during the trial another man confessed to the shootings but his confession was deemed inadmissible.

Sundiata Acoli, 75, is the longest held prisoner in New Jersey’s history of politically related convictions. He was on the scene of the shootout with Ms. Shakur. Then known as Clark Edward Squire,  he was driving the vehicle pulled over by police. He was also shot, caught and eventually convicted for the murder of Trooper Foerster.

Always maintaining innocence, Mr. Acoli has an outstanding record in prison with few disciplinary reports over 30 years—none in more than 16 years, say supporters. He also has mentored prisoners, pursued education and been a positive influence, they add.

Now a grandfather, Mr. Acoli, has long satisfied all parole requirements but remains behind bars.

In March 1982, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, a highly decorated acupuncturist and mathematician, and 10 others were indicted by a federal grand jury under U.S. conspiracy laws ostensibly developed to prosecute organized crime.

Dr. Shakur was charged with conspiracy and participation in a clandestine paramilitary unit that allegedly robbed several banks. After five years underground, Dr. Shakur was arrested February 12, 1986.

“Another example of the continued hostility against the Black liberation movement in the pursuit of Assata is the continued incarceration of Kamau Sadiki,” said Mr. Umoja. “Sadiki is a former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member, who is also the father of Assata’s daughter Kakuya. Sadiki was approached by the FBI in the late 1990s and made an offer of money to provide information or participate in a scheme leading to the capture of Assata.

“When he refused, the FBI convinced Fulton County prosecutors and Atlanta police to re-open a closed case of fatal shooting of a police officer in 1973. The case was closed after Atlanta police believed the main suspects were both killed. Nearly 30 years later Sadiki, who suffers from sarcoidosis and high blood pressure, was threatened to be charged with the murder of the officer if he didn’t cooperate with FBI plans to re-capture Assata. He was charged when he refused.

“The FBI then pressured former BLA members to testify against him, even though none of them were present during the shooting. Sadiki was convicted in 2003 and given a life sentence,” he said.

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