Enemy of the state. Fugitive. Cop Killer. One of the FBI’s Most Wanted. Domestic Terrorist. These are all monikers that have been linked to Assata Shakur, aka Joanne Deborah Chesimard, seemingly Public Enemy Number 1. But why is this soon to be 70-year-old woman so incredibly notorious?
The 1960s were packed with freedom fighters. Individuals and organizations seeking to gain equality and civil rights for African-Americans. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent out the message of creating peace and unity through non-violence. Malcolm X said that Blacks should rise up and do what they had to do by any means necessary. Both heroic men were assassinated. Out of this time and into the 1970s, militant groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army (BLA) formed and made their presence known. Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panthers and the BLA. Law enforcement liked to call her “the Soul of the movement.” While these groups were known to take matters into their own hands, use force or violence if they saw fit, that was not their mission. Their goal was to help provide free lunch programs to impoverished school children and other anti-poverty initiatives. Assata Shakur was one of the revolutionaries down for the cause.
On May 2, 1973, Assata Shakur and two accomplices were stopped for a traffic violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. A gun battle between the police officers and Shakur’s party occurred. During the confrontation, State Trooper Werner Foerster and a BLA member were killed. Shakur who was also shot during the incident was said to have fled the scene but was later captured and arrested. She was charged with first degree murder, robbery as well as other crimes and sentenced to life in prison in 1977. With the aid of her “comrades” as she calls them, Assata escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in 1979. She lived underground until she resurfaced in Cuba, where she still resides today.
While Assata Shakur maintains that she is innocent, the United States Government views her as guilty. Just last month, President Trump demanded that Cuba return her back to the United States. This request came on the same day as the release of her Godson’s, slain Hip Hop legend Tupac Shakur’s biopic, All Eyez on Me.
“To the Cuban government, I say put an end to the abuse of distance,” Trump said. “Release the political prisoners. Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms. Return the fugitives from American justice including the return of the cop killer Joanne Chesimard.”
Assata Shakur’s name, a strong symbol of Black Power to some, but assassin to others, still resounds throughout our minds and a part of the complexities of U.S. race relations and the fight against social injustice. Do your research and discover more about this bold, fearless, woman of color.
Written By: Tawana C. Coleman