May 3, 2013
The New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG-NYC) denounces the renewed attacks on Assata Shakur (s/n Joanne Chesimard) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement authorities in the State of New Jersey. The FBI has designated the 65-year old former Black Panther Party member a “terrorist” and increased the bounty for her capture to $2 million.
Assata Shakur is a former member of the Black Panther Party in New York City. That organization, which advocated community control and self-determination in the Black community, was the chief target of the FBI’s infamous counterintelligence program known as “COINTELPRO”. According to documents released in the 1970’s, COINTELPRO’s stated goal was to “expose, misdirect, destroy and neutralize” Black political organizations and their leadership. The illegal and unconstitutional program resulted in the police murder of scores of BPP members, including Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago, and the frame-ups and wrongful convictions of many others, such as Geronimo Pratt and Dhoruba Bin Wahad, both of whom spent two decades in prison before their frame-ups were exposed. Many former Panthers remain in prison today.
Labelled by law enforcement as a leader of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), by 1973 Assata was listed as a suspect in virtually dozens of acts where a Black woman was thought to have been involved. After her May 2, 1973 arrest, she was tried repeatedly for armed robberies and assaults, and each time was either acquitted or the charges were dismissed.
Her May 2, 1973 arrest and conviction were the product of a New Jersey State Police “stop” for an alleged traffic infraction. Police opened fire, killing Panther leader Zayd Malik Shakur. As trial evidence showed, Assata raised her hands but was shot once in the front and again in the back. She was left to die on the road. Another Panther in the car, Sundiata Acoli, was wounded, was able to escape, but was captured a few days later. Assata was charged with felony murder on Trooper Forrester, who also died in the shootout. She was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life. She escaped custody in 1979 and thereafter went to Cuba. In the 1980’s that government, after concluding that Assata faced political persecution in the United States, granted her full asylum in accordance with international law.
The determining factor in labeling Assata Shakur a “terrorist” was the FBI’s assertion that she continues to espouse radical, revolutionary and “anti-U.S.” ideology. This candid observation by the FBI is in accordance with its continuing COINTELPRO operation. According to a 1969 FBI document, one of COINTELPRO’s goals was to insure that “the Negro youth and moderate must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.” The FBI’s action is an attack on Assata Shakur. But it is also an attack on all those who believe in and advocate for fundamental change in the social order in the United States. Advocating for freedom, human rights and self-determination and against racist police attacks is not terrorism. It is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment and international law.
We call on the U.S. government and State of New Jersey to rescind its bounty on Assata Shakur. We further demand that all efforts to secure her extradition cease and that her political asylum be respected. We further urge that Sundiata Acoli (s/n Clark Squire), who is over 70 years old and who has been incarcerated for over 40 years, be released to parole supervision.
The National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state.