Assata Shakur's 1998 open letter is eerily relevant today
When President Obama announced a resumption in relations between America and Cuba for the first time in over 50 years, many of us found ourselves asking, “Will Cuba extradite Assata Shakur to the US?”
The new development between the two countries and the public’s concern for Shakur prompted us to take a second look at an open letter she wrote back in 1998. What’s shocking about the narrative is how poignant and timely her story is given the current racial climate in this country.
Below are some notable excerpts.
Assata on her innocence
I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969, the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists…
I was falsely accused in six different “criminal cases,” and in all six of these cases I was eventually acquitted or the charges were dismissed. The fact that I was acquitted or that the charges were dismissed did not mean that I received justice in the courts, that was certainly not the case. It only meant that the “evidence” presented against me was so flimsy and false that my innocence became evident. This political persecution was part and parcel of the government’s policy of eliminating political opponents by charging them with crimes and arresting them with no regard to the factual basis of such charges.
What really happened on the New Jersey Turnpike?
On May 2, 1973, I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli, were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a “faulty tail light.” Sundiata Acoli got out of the car to determine why we were stopped. Zayd and I remained in the car.
State trooper Harper then came to the car, opened the door and began to question us. Because we were black, and riding in a car with Vermont license plates, he claimed he became “suspicious.” He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told us to put our hands up in the air, in front of us, where he could see them. I complied, and in a split second, there was a sound that came from outside the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once with my arms held up in the air, and then once again from the back. Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, trooper Werner Foerster was killed, and even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot and killed Zayd Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder law, I was charged with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was my closest friend and comrade, and charged in the death of trooper Forester.
Never in my life have I felt such grief. Zayd had vowed to protect me and to help me to get to a safe place, and it was clear that he had lost his life trying to protect both me and Sundiata. Although he was also unarmed, and the gun that killed trooper Foerster was found under Zayd’s leg, Sundiata Acoli, who was captured later, was also charged with both deaths. Neither Sundiata Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial We were both convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison.
In 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison, and knowing that I would never receive any justice, I was liberated from prison, aided by committed comrades who understood the depths of the injustices in my case, and who were also extremely fearful for my life.
A call for action on behalf of the “voiceless”
Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman. I own no TV stations or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth. But I sincerely ask those of you in the Black media, those of you in the progressive media, those of you who believe in truth freedom, to publish this statement and to let people know what is happening. We have no voice, so you must be the voice of the voiceless.
Free all Political Prisoners, I send you Love and Revolutionary Greetings From Cuba, One of the Largest, Most Resistant and Most Courageous Palenques (Maroon Camps) That has ever existed on the Face of this Planet.
Assata Shakur Havana, Cuba
Sixteen years later and yet this could have arguably been written today. Assata Shakur’s letter is a sobering reminder that the unrest and frustration we’ve experienced this year over Ferguson is just one piece of a much bigger issue in this country.
Below is a clip of Assata Sakur speaking for herself.