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Assata: The stakes are raised
By Nisa Islam Muhammad
Staff Writer
Updated May 16, 2005 - 9:55:00 AM

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Assata Shakur

?Living in exile is hard. I miss my family and friends. I miss the culture, the music, how people talk and their creativity. I miss the look of recognition Black women give each other, the understanding we express without saying a word.?
(FinalCall.com) - The 32nd anniversary of the death of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster was commemorated by the state placing a $1 million bounty on Assata Shakur, who was convicted of his murder, but later escaped from a New Jersey jail. She now lives in exile in Cuba.

State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes told reporters at a May 2 press conference that he hopes the sweetened reward will encourage someone to come forward with information leading to the capture of Ms. Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, according to Newsday.

“We have pretty long institutional memories,” Col. Fuentes said. “This is a debt that she owes to the residents of the state of New Jersey for the crimes she committed.

On the same day, the Justice Department added her name to the FBI’s domestic terrorists list.

“Anyone of the mindset that would execute a police officer once they were on the ground is dangerous enough to be considered a domestic terrorism threat,” Col. Fuentes said.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, according to Newsday, personally approved the money from the Justice Department. It will be paid for information leading to her safe capture, but not if she is killed in the process.

“The goal is to bring a fully functional, no-assembly-required fugitive back home to New Jersey, so she can finish out her term of imprisonment,” Col. Fuentes said.

Would Ms. Shakur be concerned that her name is now on the U.S. terrorists list? This writer doubts it. Here is what she said in 2002 in an exclusive interview with The Final Call newspaper:

“When I was in the Black Panther Party, they (United States) called us terrorists. How dare they call us terrorists when we were being terrorized? Terror was a constant part of my life. I was living under apartheid in North Carolina. We lived under police terror.”

Racial profiling circa 1973
The time is 1973 and an incident of what would now be called “racial profiling” takes place on the New Jersey Turnpike. Ms. Shakur, actively involved in the Black Liberation Army (BLA), is traveling with Malik Zayad Shakur (no relation) and Sundiata Acoli.

State troopers stop them, reportedly because of a broken headlight. A trooper also explains they were “suspicious” because they had Vermont license plates. The three are made to exit the car with their hands up. All of a sudden, shots were fired.

That much everybody seems to agree on. When the smoke cleared, state trooper Werner Foerster and Malik Shakur were dead. Ms. Shakur and Mr. Acoli were charged with the death of state trooper Foerster.

The trial found them both guilty. The verdict was no surprise, but many questioned the racial injustice by the all-White jury and admitted perjury by the trial’s star witness.

“I was shot with my arms in the air,” Ms. Shakur told The Final Call. “My wounds could not have happened unless my arms were in the air. The bullet went in under my arm and traveled past my clavicle. It is medically impossible for that to happen if my arms were down.”

Ms. Shakur has long maintained her innocence in the death of state trooper Foerster.

“What happened afterward (the shooting) was typical in the era of COINTELPRO—the FBI’s crooked, covert operation intended to destabilize Black movements and their leaders—and out-and-out racism,” wrote columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee on blackamericaweb.com.

“They found her guilty in spite of the fact that forensics experts testified that she was shot when she was in a position of surrender and that no evidence existed to show that she had fired a weapon.”

She added, “I doubt that Shakur killed Foerster. The forensics testimony, as well as the context of the times, is what makes me dubious.”

The height of hypocrisy
The offer of $1 million for the capture of Ms. Shakur has already interested bounty hunter Louis Faccone. He told Newsday, “I’m going to jump on it.”

Mr. Faccone explained that he could have a two-man team launched toward Cuba from the Florida Keys within hours of getting reliable information about Ms. Shakur’s whereabouts.

“Some bounty hunter in Florida said he plans to try and capture Shakur,” wrote Ms. Weathersbee. “I hope he fails. I hope he fails, not only because I believe that Shakur was wrongly convicted, but because I believe it is the height of hypocrisy for the Bush administration to put her on the same terrorist watchlist as Osama bin Laden.”

“It is also hypocritical because, right here in the United States, we are harboring a number of fugitives and murderers from other countries. And it’s sheer political lunacy to compare Shakur to bin Laden; she hasn’t killed 3,000 people, nor does she have the capability of carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States.”

After Ms. Shakur’s conviction, she was sentenced to life plus 30 years. She spent six-and-a-half years in prison, two of those in solitary confinement. During that time, she gave birth to her daughter Kakuya.

In 1979, she was liberated by comrades in a daring escape that continues to infuriate the New Jersey State Troopers. There was a nationwide search for her. In 1984, she went to Cuba and was united with her daughter.

What is it like to live in exile? What is it like to be away from family and friends?

“Living in exile is hard. I miss my family and friends. I miss the culture, the music, how people talk and their creativity. I miss the look of recognition Black women give each other, the understanding we express without saying a word,” she shared.

“I adjusted by learning to understand what was going on in the world. The Cubans helped me to adjust. I learned joys in life by learning other cultures. It was a privilege to come here to a rich culture.”

Photo: Courtesy, AfroCubaWeb.com


 


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