[News] The Fugitive - Kathleen Cleaver

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Tue Jul 12 19:33:02 EDT 2005

The Fugitive
Why has the FBI placed a million-dollar bounty on Assata Shakur?
By Kathleen Cleaver

Twenty-eight years ago, in a highly disputed trial, an all-White jury 
convicted former Black Panther Assata Shakur of the murder of a New Jersey 
state trooper. In 1979, while serving a life sentence, she escaped from 
prison and eventually resurfaced in Cuba, where she was granted asylum and 
has lived ever since. But the U.S. government has continued to pursue 
Shakur, regularly increasing the bounty on her head and classifying her as 
a “domestic terrorist.” Last May the Justice Department issued an 
unprecedented $1,000,000 bounty for the return of Assata Shakur, 58, who 
continues to maintain her innocence. Kathleen Cleaver, a law professor and 
former communications secretary for the Black Panther Party, talks about 
why we all need to know about Assata, and why she must live free:

I was startled when I heard about the $1,000,000 bounty for the capture of 
Assata Shakur. What triggered this renewed interest in Assata? Why spend so 
much time and money to hunt her down when Osama bin Laden, head of an 
international terrorist enterprise, remains at large?

It turns out that FBI and New Jersey police officials revealed the 
million-dollar bounty on May 2 of this year, the thirty-second anniversary 
of the New Jersey Turnpike shootout in which State Trooper Werner Foerster 
and Black Panther Zayd Shakur were killed. Sundiata Acoli and Assata Shakur 
were arrested for the murders. Assata was severely wounded, shot while her 
hands were up. She has always insisted—and expert defense testimony from 
the trial bears it out—that she did not kill anyone. But in separate 
trials, Sundiata and Assata were convicted of murdering Werner Foerster.

In 1979, while incarcerated for life in the Clinton Correctional Facility 
for Women in New Jersey, Assata escaped. As the FBI circulated the wanted 
poster that called for her arrest, all over the New York­New Jersey area 
her supporters hung posters proclaiming “Assata Shakur is welcome here.” 
Cuba gave her political asylum several years later on the grounds that she 
had been subjected to political persecution and had never received a fair 

Apparently the million-dollar bounty has already been covertly offered by 
police to a relative of Assata’s for assistance in kidnapping her from 
Cuba. This bounty evokes the memory of those vicious slave catchers who 
were paid to capture and torment our runaway slave ancestors and return 
them dead or alive. This extraordinary bounty on the head of a Black woman 
inevitably brings to mind Harriet Tubman, that Underground Railroad 
“conductor” whose ability to organize escapes earned a $12,000 price on her 
head from the state of Maryland. Outraged slave owners added $40,000.

Many freedom fighters I knew and loved, including Eldridge Cleaver, to whom 
I was married, were arrested and imprisoned because of our membership in 
the Black Panther Party. Our organization started in response to the 
gruesome war in Vietnam and the racism and injustice here that drenched our 
lives in violence. Demonstrations, riots, rampant police brutality and 
political assassinations marked those years when I witnessed thousands upon 
thousands of people arrested and hundreds killed. Many turned into 
fugitives to save their own lives, including my husband, whom I joined in 
Algeria in May 1969. That was around the same time that Assata, then a 
bright New York City college student named Joanne Chesimard, joined the 
Black Panthers.

WE had a concrete ten-point program to end racial inequality. The Black 
Panther Party demanded the power to determine our own destiny. We insisted 
on decent housing, appropriate education, economic justice, an immediate 
end to police brutality, and other rights our people had been fighting for 
since slavery ended. We were not patient, we were not passive, and we were 
willing to defend our principles with our lives. Since Panthers couldn’t be 
bought off or scared off, the government made the decision to kill us off.



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