The federal government
has announced a $1 million bounty for the capture of fugitive JoAnne Chesimard,
who is widely known as Assata Shakur. Assata, who is also Tupac’s godmother,
has lived in Cuba nearly 30 years after escaping a maximum security jail.
Today [May 2] represents the 32nd anniversary of a notorious clash between members
of the Black Liberation Army and the New Jersey state troopers. At the end of
the conflict, two were dead and two were incarcerated, including Assata.
Rappers like Paris and Common have written sympathetic, reflective songs about
Assata [“Assata’s Song” and “A Song For Assata”
respectively]. Common explained his support of Shakur.
“The reason I was even connected to this woman is because of her humanity
and her passion for people,” the Chicago native told AllHipHop.com. “And
when I met her on a Black August trip four years ago and I learned she was innocent
and that all the pain and hate that had been placed upon her, she’d overcome.
There’s no way than anyone in this world should want to harm her. She’s
such a beautiful human being.”
Accounts of that fateful day vary. On May 2 1973, New Jersey State Trooper James
Harper pulled over Assata, Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli for an apparent broken
taillight on their vehicle.
The incident rapidly
escalated into a gunfight and resulted in the deaths of Zayd Shakur and Trooper
Werner Foerster. Harper and Assata were also injured in the melee.
maintain that Assata murdered Foerster executioner style after he was injured,
but her lawyers charge that she herself was too severely wounded to do such
and act. She was hit twice and her gunshot wounds were inflicted as she surrendered.
Nevertheless, Assata was convicted and served six and a half years in prison
at the maximum security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women
in New Jersey.
In 1979, with the
help of others, she escaped and found asylum in Cuba. She asserts that she was
living in deplorable conditions and was brutalized by correctional officers.
Tupac’s godfather Mutulu Shakur, a political prisoner, was also sent to
prison and accused of helping Assata escape Clinton.
Despite her legal status, he still has staunch supporters stateside.
“Assata is innocent. She is a legitimate political refugee in Cuba. Castro
recognizes her as such because the case against her in New Jersey nearly 30
years ago was an attempt to frame a Black revolutionary who was herself shot
and tortured by police,” writer/author Dream Hampton told AllHipHop.com.
of Jay-Z’s upcoming autobiography “The Black Book,” is also
a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, helps organize Black August and
helped launch the “Hands off Assata” campaign.
“But we should never lose sight of the fact that she’s innocent. And now
more than ever she needs our support,” Hampton said. Hampton said that
three experts testified in the case and there was no gun power residue present
to support the theory that she murdered officer Foerster.
In her own words, Assata, now 57, has proclaimed her innocence in writings now
widely posted online. “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,” Shakur has written in the past. “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
On the classic song “Rebel Without A Pause,” Chuck D of Public Enemy
declared himself to be a “supporter of Chesimard” and Hampton concurred
that the fugitive continues to inspire the generations after her escape to Cuba
– as she is vilified in the mainstream press and domestic government.
“Black August, our annual Hip-Hop benefit concert, is inspired in part
by Assata. The artist[S] we’ve taken to Cuba—Mos, dead prez, Common and [Talib]
Kweli have all been moved to action by Assata. She’s our soldier and hero.”
Regardless of her grassroots backing, the federal authorities haven’t
eased their pursuit of Assata Shakur and plan to use international influence
to squeeze her out of her Cuban sanctuary.
"She is now 120 pounds of money," State Police Superintendent Rick
Fuentes said to the NJ Star-Ledger. "[This new initiative] is going to
exert pressures that weren’t in place nationally and internationally before.
And we’re going to follow up to make sure everybody is aware of this both inside
and outside of Cuba."
The bounty on Assata Shakur is the largest reward ever placed on an individual
in the state of New Jersey.