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.-Assata Shakur
Thirty years ago today three individuals signed in as visitors to see Assata Shakur, who was at that time a prisoner of war, framed by the United States government as part of its vendetta against the Black Liberation Movement.
Only thing was, these “visitors” had other plans… they managed to smuggle in guns, took some guards hostage and managed to break Assata out of jail. Comrades were waiting in a car not far away, and they all made it away.
One of the finest operations ever carried out by "our side" in North America, if you ask me…
None of the guards were harmed, and despite a massive FBI manhunt Shakur managed to disappear without a trace. It was five years later – in 1984 – that Assata made a public statement, letting us know that she was living in Cuba, working on a masters degree in political science, writing her autobiography, and raising her daughter.
As it states in Assata's short biography in Let Freedom Ring:
In May 1973, while Assata and two companions were traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike, state police spotted and identified them as people they believed to be members of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, and proceeded to ambush them. When the smoke cleared, one police officer and one of Assata’s companions, Zayd Shakur, lay dead. Assata, shot with her hands in the air and dragged from the car, lay wounded. Only belatedly taken to the hospital, Assata was then chained to her bed, tortured, and questioned while injured. In fact, she never received adequate medical attention even though she had a broken clavicle and a paralyzed arm. Nonetheless, she was quickly jailed, prosecuted, and incarcerated over the next few years for the series of trumped up cases. In five separate trials, and with majority-white juries, where charges were not dismissed due to lack of evidence, she was repeatedly found not guilty of charges ranging from bank robbery to murder. As the manager of one bank said at trial, “She is just not the one who robbed my bank.” In the final trial in 1977, where she was charged with the Turnpike killings, she was found guilty by an all-white jury. This, even though forensic evidence taken that day showed that she had not fired a weapon. She was sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison. (Sundiata Acoli was tried separately, convicted of killing the policeman, and sentenced to life plus 30 years.)
Sadly, several comrades - Marilyn Buck, Mutulu Shakur and Sekou Odinga and Silvia Baraldini – were arrested in the years following Assata's liberation, and charged with having participated in the action (amongst other things). All but Baraldini remain behind bars today. Black Liberation Army martyr Kuwasi Balagoon – who died of AIDS while in prison in 1986 – was also said to have been a member of the Black Liberation Army unit that participated in the action.
For years the US government has had a bounty on Assata's head - $150,000 for the forcible return of this remarkable woman, this "twentieth century escaped slave". In May of 2005 the federal government upped the bounty, now offering one million dollars for anyone who might kidnap and her and return her to her to the US plantation. All of which, it must be said, is as much about the broader trend towards repression within the United States and that country's war of attrition against Cuba as it is about Assata herself.
As Assata herself has explained:
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 U.S. government’s policy toward 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 the ‘greatest threat to the internal security of the country’ and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.
For more information about Assata Shakur – including information about ordering her autobiography Assata – please visit the Assata Shakur Page on the Kersplebedeb Site.
For more information about Kuwasi Balagoon, including information about the incredible book A Soldier’s Story, check out the Kuwasi Balagoon Memorial Page.
For more information about political prisoners and prisoners of war in the United States, check out the Kersplebedeb PP/POW Page.
Assata, Kuwasi Balagoon: A Soldier's Story, and Let Freedom Ring are all available from leftwingbooks.net: