I have lived enough life to realize that people in possession of some semblance of politico-economic power often convey their true intentions within a palatable message individually crafted to rally an unthinking horde. Trust me when I say that this is standard fare for the politically powerful in this nation. In many ways, the above tactic allows them to generate support via the use of strong keywords that never fail to raise an always-existing blood lust among the unrighteous to a boil.
The moment that I heard that Donald Trump was planning to reverse Obama’s efforts to re-establish relations with Cuba, I knew that the name Assata Shakur, a sixty-nine-year-old grandmother, would be hurled by this nation’s leader. In many ways, Assata Shakur’s Cuban exile reminds one of a ‘Cold War’ period that has recently been ratcheted up by the repeated allegations of Russian interference in the most recent Presidential election.
Unbeknownst to the vast majority of African-Americans and 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. 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 habitually propagated to the American public about the Cuban “dictator”, during his life, Castro offered refuge to African-Americans who were unjustly persecuted by the American judicial system. From American politicians and law enforcement officials perspective, the Cuban leader’s granting of a haven for African-American activists served as an inexcusable blemish on not only his but also his nation’s record.
Make no mistake about it; the pursuit of Assata Shakur undoubtedly displays the indomitable will of American law enforcement officials and agencies at Federal, State, and local levels to correct what they perceive to be an inexcusable wrong. Indicative of this thirst for vengeance, the United States Government placed Assata Shakur on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Many have wondered why America has pursued Assata Shakur with such desperation.
The answer to the above question revolves around 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 and therefore unchanging. 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 wanted by law enforcement agencies for her determination to secure the liberation and salvation of her people, a dedication that led to her assuming a prominent role in the Black Power movement. Law enforcement agencies alleged that Assata was “the mother hen who kept them all shooting.” Evidence gathered from not only the scene but also 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 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.
Further aggravating American law enforcement agencies is not only the swell of support Assata Shakur received while she stood trial for the incident mentioned above 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.
Assata’s escape is akin to consistent irritant to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies that have been rubbed raw. The greatest indicator that American law enforcement agencies, as well as this nation’s elected officials, are still riled by Assata Shakur has been their repeated attempts to recapture her. 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.’
Since she escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, New Jersey, Assata Shakur has morphed into a never-ending irritant to powerful whites and evidence that white power is not immutable. There is no doubt that it is Assata’s defiance that has heightened white political leaders’ maniacal pursuit of her for the past thirty-plus years. Put simply; in the minds of white politicians and law enforcement authorities, Assata is a rebellious slave whose escape inspires others currently ensnared by the chains of mental slavery and economic exploitation.
It is through this prism that I view both Donald Trump’s call for Assata’s return and the commentary of current U.S. Senator (New Jersey-D) and Cuban-American Bob Menendez. According to Menendez, Trump’s “announcement is a step in the right direction to reverse an ill-advised and misguided Cuba policy that has failed to deliver on its promises, left the Cuban people worse off, and allowed American fugitives, like wanted terrorist and cop-killer Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakru), to escape justice.”
I most certainly would love to state that figures like Trump, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Menendez or those that occupied similar political positions before them are not serious about their decades long pursuit of Assata, however, I have witnessed the actions of unwise men for far too long to believe that their dedication to such a task does not match that of a “radical Islamist” that they are quick to denounce. Assata Shakur’s existence holds the potential to inspire droves of politically conscious black people who agree with her fight against the Capitalist principles and white world supremacy that this nation has come to represent more forcefully than any that ever existed before its creation. Predictably, the alluded to inspiration that Assata provides to black freedom fighters is just as strongly felt by opponents such as Trump, Christie, and Menendez. From such individuals perspective, Assata and her kind (Mutulu Shakur, Fred Hampton, Bunchy Carter, Geronimo Pratt, Karl Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Tupac Amaru Shakur, William Lee Brent, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Rush, George and Jonathan Jackson, and the list goes on and one) are analogous to the free blacks that white slave-holders wished to repatriate to Liberia and Sierra Leone as their non-bonded status gave their enslaved brothers and sisters radical ideas and desires for freedom. Hence it should be expected that a figure such as Donald Trump would publicly call for the head of our beloved sister Assata Olugbala Shakur.
At this moment, it is imperative that Black America’s response to these demonic actions not only be a vociferous “No! No! No!” but also be prepared to extend our anger further than mere rhetoric or casting a vote within the very system that oppresses us. We must be willing to follow Assata’s revolutionary example by every means imaginable.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017
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Author, Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
Author, ‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian
Author, O’Bruni: An African-American Odyssey Home?