Tuesday, July 20, 2010

People You Should Know: Assata Shakur

[Quick word: no relation to Tupac] Assata Shakur was born JoAnn Deborah Bryon on July 16,1947. JoAnn became "aware" in school when she began meeting people who thoughts about Blacks were more positive than she was used to. She began joining many political and social organizations including the Black Liberation Movement, the student rights movement and a movement to end the Vietnam War. She believed being an activist was not only meaningful to her community but also for her it was fun. Joann then changed her name to Assata Shakur [Assata= "she who struggles" Shakur= "The Thankful One"]. Her abilities as an activist brought her some meaningful titles one of which was being the leader of the BLA [Black Liberation Army] and also a high-ranking even perhaps leader of the BPP. But with the titles came targets and in 1973 Assata and 2 of her friends where pulled over by 2 New Jersey state troopers for a "motor vehicle violation". Apparently according to the FBI Assata had warrants in New York for various felonies one of which was bank robbery. At this point the story becomes a "he say she say" tale. The story of the FBI and the NJ troopers is that Assata and her friends opened fire. A shootout began leaving one of Assata's friends killed and a New Jersey trooper was also killed. Assata herself was shot twice, a trooper wounded and her other friend was arrested. The FBI state that the dead trooper was killed "execution-style" and that Assata fled the scene of the crime shortly after the shooting. Assata was soon apprehended were she says she was tortured before standing trial for the death of the trooper. In 1977 both Assata and her friend were found guilty of first degree murder, assault, battery of a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of weapon and armed robbery and sentenced to life imprisonment. Assata says to this day that she isn't and never has been a criminal [she was found not guilty of the crimes in New York]. While in prison Assata gave birth to her daughter. Assata was imprisoned for 6 years, 2 of which she spent in solitary confinement. But on November 2, 1979 Assata escaped from the New Jersey prison [she says she was "liberated"]. Assata resurfaced in Cuba in 1984 where she was given political asylum and was reunited with her daughter. She claims all the tribulations of her life were due to the FBI's COINTELPRO program. And J.Edgar Hoover's racist belief that the BPP was the greatest threat to American security. While in Cuba, Assata has written numerous books and done interviews where she explains her flight from America.

In one such interview she says she was forced to leave feeling she was being falsely imprisoned due to racism and persecution. She still proclaims her innocence of all crimes. She says she chose Cuba because it was close to the U.S so she wouldn't be far from her family, also because Cuba is as she put it "very-principled" in its struggle of "Eurocentric racism" that America and Europe force upon people of color throughout the world. Another reason is because she wanted to see socialism in action and believed the Cuban people were very different from Americans, saying Americans "felt like they were not part of a community, but were isolated units afraid of that interaction, of contact..". She believes in Cuba's stronger sense of community and even with the rumor of the ending of America's blockade of Cuba that she would not be sent back, saying she believes that Cuba is a nation immune to America's "institutional terrorism". Although she's been in Cuba for at least 25 years the FBI still have a standing $1,000,000 bounty on her for crimes such as; Acts of terrorism, domestic terrorism, unlawful flight to avoid confinement and murder. Assata Shakur is considered heroic and even referred to herself as a "former 20th century slave" who ran for her freedom and away from persecution, on the other hand the FBI considers her the mother hen of numerous criminals and an extremely dangerous fugitive. Since being in Cuba, Assata has written her autobiography and even has a song dedicated to her by popular rapper Common entitled "A song for Assata" on his 2000 album "Like Water for Chocolate". In the song Common tells Assata's incredible story [which he learned from her book and other research] which in turn prompted me to do research of my own that lead to this blog. . I consider Assata a heroine, a person of strong convictions and incredible courage.

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