Like many, the book Assata An Autobiography, from the memoirs of Assata Shakur was part of the awakening process for me as it relates to the Black struggle in America and throughout the world. Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party has become a cultural icon; a hero of sorts for the hip-hop nation and oppressed people all over the planet. Hip-Hop in its roots was founded upon Black awareness and became a culture for that expression. So it is no coincidence that Shakur would be a hero to those true to the culture of hip-hop.
Well the U.S. Government thinks this should not be the case. On May 2 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) added her as the first female to their Most Wanted Terrorist list, issuing a $2 million reward for information leading to her capture. That’s a million dollars more than they issued back in 2005, when they first classified Shakur as a domestic terrorist. How could Shakur be seen by some as a hero and by others as a terrorist? Like another of hip-hop’s well loved revolutionaries; the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan says, “one man’s freedom fighter, is another man’s terrorist.” This is the contrast between those who are oppressed and their oppressors.
What is the FBI’s logic in giving Shakur the title of a terrorist? Well, in 1977, Shakur was convicted of the first-degree murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and of seven other felonies related to the 1973 NJ turnpike shooting. Murder does not necessarily qualify as terrorism. Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, often violent, especially as a means of coercion. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political or, ideological goal and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).
Given the sometimes tumultuous history of Black people and law enforcement in this country, a history that includes: Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and 7 year old Aiyanna Jones, just to name a few, how is the U.S. Government so sure that Shakur is a terrorist? Given the FBI’s COINTELPRO activities of the 1960’s (even up to present day), which many deem as unsavory and unjust, why should their classification of Shakur be taken on face value? Are law enforcement officers domestic terrorists for the many unarmed Black and oppressed people they have shot and killed?
Here’s what Congresswoman Maxine Waters had to say on the matter in a 1998 letter to Cuban Leader Fidel Castro, as Shakur has been in Cuba since her escape from prison in 1979.
“I respect the right of Assata Shakur to seek political asylum. Assata Shakur has maintained that she was persecuted as a result of her political beliefs and political affiliations.
In a sad and shameful chapter of our history, during the 1960s and 1970s, many civil rights, Black Power and other politically active groups were secretly targeted by the FBI for prosecution based on their political beliefs. However, the most vicious and reprehensible acts were taken against the leaders and organizations associated with the Black Power or Black Liberation Movement. At the time, Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party, one of the leading groups associated with the Black Liberation Movement. The Black Panther Party was the primary target of U.S. domestic government political harassment and persecution during this era.
This illegal clandestine political persecution was wrong in 1973 and remains wrong today,” said Waters.
Many know of Shakur because of hip-hop. The legend of Shakur, who was also the aunt of hip-hop great Tupac Shakur, is often revered in hip-hop culture. Chuck D, of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Public Enemy, said in the lyrics of one PE’s Rebel Without a Pause, he was a “supporter of Chesimard,” which was Shakur’s last name before she became culturally aware. Hip-Hop artist and actor Common on his gold album, Like Water For Chocolate, along with now pop artist Cee- Lo Green, dedicated a song to Shakur, called A Song For Assata. Many more in hip-hop’s Black consciousness heyday expressed love for her, like X Clan, Paris and others. The world waits to see if this generation of hip-hop will utilize its voice to support justice for Assata. Or just maybe, hip-hop will have to wait on the birth of another one like the one Shakur mentioned in her book.
She said "Afeni had her baby today. She named him Tupac Amaru Shakur. Then the state came and took him away."