40-year fugitive is first woman on FBI’s ‘Most Wanted Terrorists’ list
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Posted by Herbert Dyer, Jr
I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color.
— Assata Shakur
It was exactly 40 years ago today when a 25-year-old Assata Shakur (née Joanne Chesimard) allegedly shot and killed New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. She was later convicted by an all-white New Jersey jury, but escaped from prison in 1979. She was granted political asylum in Cuba with the blessings of Fidel Castro himself. She has remained there ever since.
The FBI also placed the now 65-year-old Shakur on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list. She thus becomes the first and only woman ever to appear on that list. And she is only the second so-called “domestic terrorist” to make the most-wanted list.
“This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago,” said Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant in the New Jersey State Police, in a press release.
In 1973, Shakur was a member of the Black Liberation Army, an off-shoot of the Black Panther Party. Of course, law enforcement describes both entities as examples of a “radical left-wing terror group that felt justified killing law enforcement officers,” Rinaldi said. “[T]his group conducted assaults on police stations and murdered police officers.”
The $2 million reward for Shakur’s capture will be covered equally by the FBI and the state of New Jersey.
Shakur’s escape from prison in New Jersey was dramatic, indeed. According to Rinaldi, “[a]rmed domestic terrorists gained entry into the facility, neutralized the guards, broke her free, and turned her over to a nearby getaway team.”
Cuba does not have an extradition treaty with the US government. Therefore, it is unlikely that Shakur will ever be forcibly returned to the US.
However, a report in the New Jersey Star-Ledger quoted Cuban exiles in this country as saying that they will urge and materially aid friends and families still in Cuba to attempt to catch and return this woman to the US.
The reward for her capture was raised from $150,000 to $1 million in 2005 on the 32nd anniversary of Foerster’s death.
In a 2005 speech, according to The Associated Press, Fidel Castro had this to say of Shakur’s situation and this nation-state’s system of “justice”: “They wanted to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie.” Castro stepped down as president of Cuba and handed power over to his brother, Raúl, in 2011.
Again, a Cuban government spokesperson told The Independent in 1998 that because no extradition treaty existed between Cuba and this nation-state, Cuba is under no obligation to return Shakur.
From Day 1, Assata Shakur has denied killing Foerster.
As to her life in Cuba over the last 40 years, Shakur was once listed in Havana’s phone book, reported The New York Times in 2007. She has lived relatively quietly in and about Havana, for the most part.
However, according to New Jersey State Police Col. Rick Fuentes, Shakur has lived openly, brazenly, in Cuba and “flaunts her freedom.”
“To this day from her safe haven in Cuba Chesimard has been given a pulpit to preach and profess, stirring supporters and groups to mobilize against the United States by any means necessary,” Fuentes said, according to the Huffington Post.
She has a website and many thousands of followers throughout the world.
As to the crime of which she stands convicted, according to a state police report, as per Fox News, “Foerster was severely wounded in his right arm and abdomen and then executed with his own service weapon on the roadside. Chesimard’s jammed handgun was found at Foerster’s side.”
Note that Shakur’s fingerprints were not found on that weapon.
Again, after conviction in 1977, she escaped from the prison where she was under a life sentence. She moved between a series of safe houses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and finally fled to Cuba in 1984.
New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa has weighed in with this: “We want her to come back here and face justice and serve out her sentence.”
The FBI continues to contend that she is still a “supreme terror” to this nation-state. Supporters, however, argue that Shakur was a target of a national law enforcement campaign against the Black Panther Party movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Shakur has addressed this point directly:
“I was convicted by—I don’t even want to call it a trial, it was lynching, by an all-white jury,” Shakur told BET in 2001. “I had nothing but contempt for the system of justice under which I was tried.”
Assata Shakur is also the godmother of slain rapper Tupac Shakur.
Judging from her website, autobiography, and the video attached to this report, Assata Shakur has lived a “revolutionary” lifestyle in Cuba.
That is, she has never wavered in her opposition to the rampant racism/white supremacy which she confronted as a young black girl and woman. That condition has defined this nation-state since even before its formal foundation.
I remember well when this woman’s “situation” first erupted. I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, returning from my fourth trip ferrying 2,500 Marines to and from the jungles of Vietnam and back again – to “the world.” Her case dominated national headlines for months, and she was immediately and always compared to then recently acquitted of similar charges, Professor Angela Davis.
Black people throughout this nation-state applauded both women’s efforts to free themselves – and us – from what still remains an intractable and fundamentally race-based society.
The question now for Assata is with Fidel Castro now well into his eighties and in ill-health, will she still be protected once he dies?
Another and more more global question is once Castro does die, will part of the price of “normalizing” relations with Cuba be her return (along with several other American fugitives living in Cuba)?
My guess is that if she loses Cuba’s protection, for whatever reason, this nation-state will continue to demand her return.
You see, she is the “one that got a way,” and that rankles to no end all those who believe in the ultimate and invincible power and world dominating hegemony of these United States of America.