[Ppnews] Allhiphop: Open Letter from Assata Shakur

PPnews at freedomarchives.org PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 5 08:51:38 EDT 2005


The views expressed inside this editorial aren't necessarily the views of 
AllHipHop.com or its employees.

Open Letter from Assata Shakur
Assata Shakur

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of 
government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from 
the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US 
government's policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, 
and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

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.

In 1978, my case was one of many cases bought before the United Nations 
Organization in a petition filed by the National Conference of Black 
Lawyers, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and 
the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, exposing the 
existence of political prisoners in the United States, their political 
persecution, and the cruel and inhuman treatment they receive in US 
prisons. According to the report:

The FBI and the New York Police Department in particular, charged and 
accused Assata Shakur of participating in attacks on law enforcement 
personnel and widely circulated such charges and accusations among police 
agencies and units. The FBI and the NYPD further charged her as being a 
leader of the Black Liberation Army which the government and its respective 
agencies described as an organization engaged in the shooting of police 
officers. This description of the Black Liberation Army and the accusation 
of Assata Shakur's relationship to it was widely circulated by government 
agents among police agencies and units. As a result of these activities by 
the government, Ms. Shakur became a hunted person; posters in police 
precincts and banks described her as being involved in serious criminal 
activities; she was highlighted on the FBI's most wanted list; and to 
police at all levels she became a 'shoot-to-kill' target."

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.

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.

The U.S. Senate's 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations 
inside the USA, revealed that "The FBI has attempted covertly to influence 
the public's perception of persons and organizations by disseminating 
derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through 
"friendly" news contacts." This same policy is evidently still very much in 
effect today.

On December 24, 1997, The New Jersey State called a press conference to 
announce that New Jersey State Police had written a letter to Pope John 
Paul II asking him to intervene on their behalf and to aid in having me 
extradited back to New Jersey prisons. The New Jersey State Police refused 
to make their letter public. Knowing that they had probably totally distort 
the facts, and attempted to get the Pope to do the devils work in the name 
of religion, I decided to write the Pope to inform him about the reality 
of' "justice" for black people in the State of New Jersey and in the United 
States. (See attached Letter to the Pope).

In January of 1998, during the pope's visit to Cuba, I agreed to do an 
interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza around my letter to the Pope, 
about my experiences in New Jersey court system, and about the changes I 
saw in the United States and it's treatment of Black people in the last 25 
years. I agreed to do this interview because I saw this secret letter to 
the Pope as a vicious, vulgar, publicity maneuver on the part of the New 
Jersey State Police, and as a cynical attempt to manipulate Pope John Paul 
II. I have lived in Cuba for many years, and was completely out of touch 
with the sensationalist, dishonest, nature of the establishment media 
today. It is worse today than it was 30 years ago. After years of being 
victimized by the "establishment" media it was naive of me to hope that I 
might finally get the opportunity to tell "my side of the story." Instead 
of an interview with me, what took place was a "staged media event" in 
three parts, full of distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies. NBC 
purposely misrepresented the facts. Not only did NBC spend thousands of 
dollars promoting this "exclusive interview series" on NBC, they also spent 
a great deal of money advertising this "exclusive interview" on black radio 
stations and also placed notices in local newspapers.

In an NBC interview Gov. Whitman was quoted as saying that "this has 
nothing to do with race, this had everything to do with crime." Either Gov. 
Whitman is completely unfamiliar with the facts in my case, or her 
sensitivity to racism and to the plight of black people and other people of 
color in the United States is at a sub-zero level. In 1973 the trial in 
Middlesex County had to be stopped because of the overwhelming racism 
expressed in the jury room. The court was finally forced to rule that the 
entire jury panel had been contaminated by racist comments like "If she's 
black, she's guilty." In an obvious effort to prevent us from being tried 
by "a jury of our peers the New Jersey courts ordered that a jury be 
selected from Morris County, New Jersey where only 2.2 percent of the 
population was black and 97.5 percent of potential jurors were white. In a 
study done in Morris County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, 
92 percent of the registered voters said that they were familiar with the 
case through the news media, and 72 percent believed we were guilty based 
on pretrial publicity. During the jury selection process in Morris County, 
white supremacists from the National Social White People's Party, wearing 
Swastikas, demonstrated carrying signs reading "SUPPORT WHITE POLICE." The 
trial was later moved back to Middlesex County where 70 percent thought I 
was guilty based on pretrial publicity I was tried by an all-white jury, 
where the presumption of innocence was not the criteria for jury selection. 
Potential jurors were merely asked if they could "put their prejudices 
aside, and "render a fair verdict." The basic reality in the United States 
is that being black is a crime and black people are always "suspects" and 
an accusation is usually a conviction. Most white people still think that 
being a "black militant" or a "black revolutionary" is tantamount to being 
guilty of some kind of crime. The current situation in New Jersey's 
prisons, underlines the racism that dominates the politics of the state of 
New Jersey, in particular and in the U.S. as a whole. Although the 
population of New Jersey is approximately 78 percent white, more than 75 
percent of New Jersey's prison population is made up of blacks and Latinos. 
80 percent of the women in Jersey prisons are people of color. That may not 
seem like racism to Gov. Whitman, but it reeks of of racism to us.

The NBC story implied that Governor Christie Whitman raised the reward for 
my capture based on my interview with NBC. The fact of the matter is that 
she has been campaigning since she was elected into office to double the 
reward for my capture. In 1994, she appointed Col. Carl Williams who 
immediately vowed to make my capture a priority. In 1995, Gov. Whitman 
sought to "match a $25,000 departmental appropriation sponsored by an 
"unidentified legislator." I watched a tape of Gov. Whitman's "testimony" 
in her interview with NBC. She gave a very dramatic, exaggerated version of 
what happened, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support her claim 
that Trooper Foerster had "four bullets in him at least, and then they got 
up and with his own gun, fired two bullets into his head." She claimed that 
she was writing Janet Reno for federal assistance in my capture, based on 
what she saw in the NBC interview. If this is the kind of "information" 
that is being passed on to Janet Reno and the Pope, it is clear that the 
facts have been totally distorted. Whitman also claimed that my return to 
prison should be a condition for "normalizing relations with Cuba". How did 
I get so important that my life can determine the foreign relations between 
two governments? Anybody who knows anything about New Jersey politics can 
be certain that her motives are purely political. She, like Torrecelli and 
several other opportunistic politicians in New Jersey came to power, as 
part- time lobbyists for the Batistia faction - soliciting votes from right 
wing Cubans. They want to use my case as a barrier for normalizing 
relations with Cuba, and as a pretext for maintaining the immoral blockade 
against the Cuban people.

In what can only be called deliberate deception and slander NBC aired a 
photograph of a woman with a gun in her hand implying that the woman in the 
photograph was me. I was not, in fact, the woman in the photograph. The 
photograph was taken from a highly publicized case where I was accused of 
bank robbery. Not only did I voluntarily insist on participating in a 
lineup, during which witnesses selected another woman, but during the 
trial, several witnesses, including the manager of the bank, testified that 
the woman in that photograph was not me. I was acquitted of that bank 
robbery. NBC aired that photograph on at least 5 different occasions, 
representing the woman in the photograph as me. How is it possible, that 
the New Jersey State Police, who claim to have a detective working full 
time on my case, Governor of New Jersey Christine Whitman, who claimed she 
reviewed all the "evidence," or NBC, which has an extensive research 
department, did not know that the photograph was false? It was a vile, 
fraudulent attempt to make me look guilty. NBC deliberately misrepresented 
the truth. Even after many people had called in, and there was massive fax, 
and e-mail campaign protesting NBC's mutilation of the facts, Ralph Penza 
and NBC continued to broadcast that photograph, representing it as me. Not 
once have the New Jersey State Police, Governor Christine Whitman, or NBC 
come forth and stated that I was not the woman in the photograph, or that I 
had been acquitted of that charge.

Another major lie and distortion was that we had left trooper Werner 
Foerster on the roadside to die. The truth is that there was a major 
cover-up as to what happened on May 2, 1973. Trooper Harper, the same man 
who shot me with my arms raised in the air, testified that he returned to 
the State Police Headquarters which was less than 200 yards away, "To seek 
aid." However, tape recordings and police reports made on May 2, 1973 prove 
that not only did Trooper Harper give several conflicting statements about 
what happened on the turnpike, but he never once mentioned the name of 
Werner Foerster, or the fact that the incident took place right in front of 
the Trooper Headquarters. In an effort to hide his tracks and cover his 
guilt he said nothing whatsoever about Foerster to his superiors or to his 
fellow officers.

In a clear attempt to discredit me, Col. Carl Williams of the New Jersey 
State Police was allowed to give blow by blow distortions of my interview. 
In my interview I stated that on the night of May 2, 1973 I was shot with 
my arms in the air, then shot again in the back. Williams stated "that is 
absolutely false. Our records show that she reached in her pocketbook, 
pulled out a nine millimeter weapon and started firing." However, the claim 
that I reached into my pocketbook and pulled out a gun, while inside the 
car was even contested by trooper Harper. Although on three official 
reports, and when he testified before the grand jury he stated that he saw 
me take a gun out of my pocketbook, he finally admitted under 
cross-examination that he never saw me with my hands in a pocketbook, never 
saw me with a weapon inside the car, and that he did not see me shoot him.

The truth is that I was examined by 3 medical specialists:

(1) A Neurologist who testified that I was immediately paralyzed 
immediately after the being shot.
(2) A Surgeon who testified that "It was absolutely anatomically necessary 
that both arms be in the air for Mrs. Chesimard to receive the wounds." The 
same surgeon also testified that the claim by Trooper Harper that I had 
been crouching in a firing position when I was shot was "totally 
anatomically impossible."
(3) A Pathologist who testified that "There is no conceivable way that it 
[the bullet] could have traveled over to hit the clavicle if her arm was 
down." he said "It was impossible to have that trajectory"

The prosecutors presented no medical testimony whatsoever to refute the 
above medical evidence.

No evidence whatsoever was ever presented that I had a 9-millimeter weapon, 
in fact New Jersey State Police testified that the 9-millimeter weapon 
belonged to Zayd Malik Shakur based on a holster fitting the weapon that 
they was recovered from his body.

There were no fingerprints, or any other evidence whatsoever that linked me 
to any guns or ammunition.

The results of the Neutron Activation test to determine whether or not I 
had fired a weapon were negative.

Although Col. Williams refers to us as the "criminal element" neither Zayd, 
or Sundiata Acoli or I were criminals, we were political activists. I was a 
college student until the police kicked down my door in an effort to force 
me to "cooperate" with them and Sundiata Acoli was a computer expert who 
had worked for NASA, before he joined the Black Panther Party and was 
targeted by COINTELPRO.

In an obvious maneuver to provoke sympathy for the police, the NBC series 
juxtaposed my interview with the weeping widow of Werner Foerster. While I 
can sympathize with her grief, I believe that her appearance was 
deliberately included to appeal to people's emotions, to blur the facts, to 
make me look like a villain, and to create the kind of lynch mob mentality 
that has historically been associated with white women portrayed as victims 
of black people. In essence the supposed interview with me became a forum 
for the New State Police, Foerster's widow, and the obviously hostile 
commentary of Ralph Penza. The two initial programs together lasted 3.5 
minutes - me - 59 seconds, the widow 50 seconds, the state police 38 
seconds, and Penza - 68 seconds. Not once in the interview was I ever asked 
about Zayd, Sundiata or their families. As the interview went on, it was 
painfully evident that Ralph Penza would never see me as a human being. 
Although I tried to talk about racism and about the victims of government 
and police repression, it was clear that he was totally uninterested.

I have stated publicly on various occasions that I was ashamed of 
participating in my trial in New Jersey trial because it was so racist, but 
I did testify. Even though I was extremely limited by the judge, as to what 
I could testfy about, I testified as clearly as I could about what happened 
that night. After being almost fatally wounded I managed to climb in the 
back seat of the car to get away from the shooting. Sundiata drove the car 
five miles down the road carried me into a grassy area because he was 
afraid that the police would see the car parked on the side of the road and 
just start shooting into it again. Yes, it was five miles down the highway 
where I was captured, dragged out of the car, stomped and then left on the 
ground. Although I drifted in and out of consciousness I remember clearly 
that both while I was lying on the ground, and while I was in the 
ambulance, I kept hearing the State troopers ask "is she dead yet?" Because 
of my condition I have no independent recollection of how long I was on the 
ground, or how long it was before the ambulance was allowed to leave for 
the hospital, but in the trial transcript trooper Harper stated that it was 
while he was being questioned, some time after 2:00 am that a detective 
told him that I had just been brought into the hospital. I was the only 
live "suspect" in custody, and prior to that time Harper, had never told 
anyone that a woman had shot him.

As I watched Governor Whitman's interview the one thing that struck me was 
her "outrage" at my joy about being a grandmother, and my "quite nice life" 
as she put it here in Cuba. While I love the Cuban people and the 
solidarity they have shown me, the pain of being torn away from everybody I 
love has been intense. I have never had the opportunity to see or to hold 
my grandchild. If Gov. Whitman thinks that my life has been so nice, that 
50 years of dealing with racism, poverty, persecution, brutality, prison, 
underground, exile and blatant lies has been so nice, then I'd be more than 
happy to let her walk in my shoes for a while so she can get a taste of how 
it feels. I am a proud black woman, and I'm not about to get on the 
television and cry for Ralph Penza or any other journalist, but the way I 
have suffered in my lifetime, and the way my people have suffered, only god 
can bear witness to.

Col. Williams of the New Jersey State Police stated "we would do everything 
we could go get her off the island of Cuba and if that includes kidnaping, 
we would do it." I guess the theory is that if they could kidnap millions 
of Africans from Africa 400 years ago, they should be able to kidnap one 
African woman today. It is nothing but an attempt to bring about the 
re-incarnation of the Fugitive Slave Act. All I represent is just another 
slave that they want to bring back to the plantation. Well, I might be a 
slave, but I will go to my grave a rebellious slave. I am and I feel like a 
maroon woman. I will never voluntarily accept the condition of slavery, 
whether it's de-facto or ipso-facto, official, or unofficial. In another 
recent interview, Williams talked about asking the federal government to 
add to the $50,000 reward for my capture. He also talked about seeking 
"outside money, or something like that, a benefactor, whatever." Now who is 
he looking to "contribute" to that "cause"? The Ku Klux Klan, the Neo Nazi 
Parties, the white militia organizations? But the plot gets even thicker. 
He says that the money might lure bounty hunters. "There are individuals 
out there, I guess they call themselves 'soldiers of fortune' who might be 
interested in doing something, in turning her over to us" Well, in the old 
days they used to call them slave-catchers, trackers, or patter-rollers, 
now they are called mercenaries. Neither the governor nor the state police 
say one word about "justice." They have no moral authority to do so. The 
level of their moral and ethical bankruptcy is evident in their eagerness 
to not only break the law and hire hoodlums, all in the name of "law and 
order." But you know what gets to me, what makes me truly indignant? With 
the schools in Paterson, N.J. falling down, with areas of Newark looking 
like a disaster area, with the crack epidemic, with the wide-spread poverty 
and unemployment in New Jersey, these depraved, decadent, would-be 
slave-masters want federal funds to help put this "nigger wench" back in 
her place. They call me the "most wanted woman" in Amerika. I find that 
ironic. I've never felt very "wanted" before. When it came to jobs, I was 
never the "most wanted," when it came to "economic opportunities I was 
never the "most wanted, when it came to decent housing." It seems like the 
only time Black people are on the "most wanted" list is when they want to 
put us in prison.

But at this moment, I am not so concerned about myself. Everybody has to 
die sometime, and all I want is to go with dignity. I am more concerned 
about the growing poverty, the growing despair that is rife in Amerika. I 
am more concerned about our younger generations, who represent our future. 
I am more concerned that one-third of young black are either in prison or 
under the jurisdiction of the "criminal in-justice system." I am more 
concerned about the rise of the prison-industrial complex that is turning 
our people into slaves again. I am more concerned about the repression, the 
police brutality, violence, the rising wave of racism that makes up the 
political landscape of the U.S. today. Our young people deserve a future, 
and I consider it the mandate of my ancestors to be part of the struggle to 
insure that they have one. They have the right to live free from political 
repression. The U.S. is becoming more and more of a police state and that 
fact compels us to fight against political repression. I urge you all, 
every single person who reads this statement, to fight to free all 
political prisoners. As the concentration camps in the U.S. turn into death 
camps, I urge you to fight to abolish the death penalty. I make a special, 
urgent appeal to you to fight to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the only 
political prisoner who is currently on death row.

It has been a long time since I have lived inside the United States. But 
during my lifetime I have seen every prominent black leader, politician or 
activist come under attack by the establishment media. When 
African-Americans appear on news programs they are usually talking about 
sports, entertainment or they are in handcuffs. When we have a protest they 
ridicule it, minimized it, or cut the numbers of the people who attended in 
half. The news is big business and it is owned operated by affluent white 
men. Unfortunately, they shape the way that many people see the world, and 
even the way people see themselves. Too often black journalists, and other 
journalists of color mimic their white counterparts. They often gear their 
reports to reflect the foreign policies and the domestic policies of the 
same people who are oppressing their people. In the establishment media, 
the bombing and of murder of thousands of innocent women and children in 
Libya or Iraq or Panama is seen as "patriotic," while those who fight for 
freedom, no matter where they are, are seen as "radicals," "extremists," or 

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

The views expressed inside this editorial aren't necessarily the views of 
AllHipHop.com or its employees.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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