Assata Shakur After Her Capture on May 2, 1973 in New Jersey
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire Photo File.
An Open Letter to the Black and Progressive Communities
Sisters, Brothers, Comrades:
Hands Off Assata Web Site
The United States and New Jersey recently placed Assata Shakur on the FBI’s wanted lists of “terrorists,” and also placed a $1 million dollar bounty on her head. Both of these actions pose serious threats to Assata’s life. These actions are also equally dangerous to the Republic of Cuba, because they are an escalation of the United States’ destabilization campaign, providing a pretext for military aggression. For more than four decades, the United States has worked to overthrow the Republic of Cuba, attempting on more than two dozen occasions to assassinate its president, His Excellency Fidel Castro.
Who Is Assata Shakur?
Assata Shakur is a mother, grandmother, and activist who follow in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and all of those sisters and brothers who risked their lives so that Black people may one day be free. Assata is not a terrorist; she is a victim of the American government’s internal terror campaign, directed against the Black Liberation Movement.
Popularly known as COINTELPRO (counterintelligence program), this onslaught against Black people in America resulted in the assassination of, unlawful imprisonment of, and exile of hundreds of Black activists during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Among the casualties and victims were Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Hampton, who were both murdered with the complicity of the government; and Geromino Pratt and Dhoruba bin Wihad, who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
As part of the FBI’s campaign against the Black Panther Party, Assata was labeled the “Queen of the Black Liberation Army,” and falsely accused of bank robberies and other crimes up and down in the East Coast in the early 1970s. Fleeing from these false allegations, she was captured while traveling the New Jersey Turnpike on May 2, 1973 with two other members of the Black Panther Party--Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli--after their car was stopped for an alleged faulty taillight. A shoot-out erupted that resulted in deaths of Zayd and a state trooper, Werner Forster.
Following her arrest, New Jersey State Troopers delighted in torturing Assata and, after his arrest, Sundiata, as well. While shackled and chained to a bed, arms paralyzed, and bullet wounds in her chest, Assata was beaten with shotgun butts by New Jersey State Troopers shouting Nazi slogans and threats to kill her.
In the history of New Jersey, no woman pretrial detainee has ever been treated as she was, continuously confined to a men’s prison, under twenty-four surveillance of her most intimate activities, without intellectual sustenance, adequate medical attention, or exercise, and without the company of other women for all the years she was in their custody.
Following detentions and trials riddled with egregious human rights violations and constitutional errors (e.g., massive negative publicity and exclusion of African people from the jury), Assata and Sundiata were both found guilty, in separate trials, of the murder of Trooper Weiner and sentenced to life in prison. Prior to her New Jersey trial, Assata was tried six times on the various flimsy, false charges for which she was being sought. Each time she was acquitted.
In 1979, in one of the boldest and most righteous actions in the history of the 20th century Black Liberation Movement, Assata was liberated from a New Jersey jail. In 1986, she was granted asylum by the government of Cuba, where she has continued to speak out for the right of African people in the United States to freedom and self-determination.
Thirty-two years later, Sundiata, now sixty-eight years old, remains in prison and, despite a near stellar prison record, has twice been denied parole because of his continuing commitment to speaking out for the freedom of Black people, and against the vindictiveness of the law enforcement agencies in New Jersey.
United States and New Jersey Actions Violate International Law
The United States and New Jersey actions represent a historically unprecedented attack on the sovereignty of a nation and its right to grant political asylum to those it believes are deserving of it.
Several international instruments address the question of political asylum and political refugees. The two most comprehensive of these instruments are the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted in Geneva in 1951; and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted in New York in 1967.
The Protocol is an independent international treaty detailing the minimum humanitarian standards for the treatment of refugees. The fact that the majority of UN member countries, including the United States, are parties to both the Convention and the Protocol shows how universal these two treaties are.
The Convention defines refugees as people who are outside their country of origin (or their habitual residence, in the case of stateless people) and who, due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for race, religion, nationality, a group membership or political opinion, cannot or will not avail themselves of the protection to which they are entitled.
The Convention also details the rights and obligations of refugees, including those refugees should not be expelled or returned to territory where their life or freedom would be threatened. Furthermore, it prohibits discrimination against refugees on the basis of race, religion, or country of origin. In short, the United States and New Jersey’s actions make a mockery of international law and norms.
The hypocrisy of the United States is also clear. The United States has a long history of providing asylum to individuals considered “criminals” by other governments, most notably those considered “criminals” by the Cuban government. The United States, for example, provided asylum to the veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs (the United States-endorsed invasion of Cuba).
The first Bush administration overruled a United States deportation order on Orlando Bosch, one of the most notorious, and granted him asylum. The Justice Department had described Bosch as “a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency, threatening and inflicting violence without regard to the identity of his victims.”
More recently, Luis Posada Carriles, another long-time violent anti-Cuban government activist, illegally entered the United States. Posada is a prime suspect in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner, which crashed over the Island of Barbados that killed 73 people. He has also admitted to plotting attacks that damaged tourist spots in Havana and killed an Italian visitor there in 1997.
Additionally, Posada was convicted in Panama in a 2000 bomb plot against President Castro. The United States has arrested Posada and reportedly is considering whether or not to deport him, but not to Venezuela that is seeking his extraction for trial on charges stemming from the Cuban airline bombing. Posada lawyer has argued that Posada was granted legal residency in the United States while working with the United States and the CIA against President Castro. Unlike Assata, Bosch and Posada are true “terrorists” because they have complete lack of regard for the lives of innocent civilians.
We are forever indebted to the Cuban people for their solidarity and friendship to African people, in Africa and throughout the Diaspora and for providing sanctuary to our beloved Sister from the racist United States criminal injustice system. When Africa called, Cuba answered! Cuba’s military assistance to the people of Angola was critical to the successful overthrow of the racist apartheid regime of South Africa. We urge you to join with us in solidarity with the Cuban people and in solidarity with Assata.
What You Can Do:
- Sign our petition and circulate this letter.
- Write letters to the President, your United States Senator and Congressperson and Acting New Jersey Governor Richard Codey expressing your support for Assata and urging them respect the Cuban government’s sovereignty and stop their attacks on Assata.
- Hold a local rally or other event in solidarity with Cuba and Assata.
- Work to free Sundiata Acoli and all political prisoners and prisoners of war.
HANDS OFF CUBA! HANDS OFF ASSATA!
FREE SUNDIATA ACOLI AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!
Joan P. Gibbs, Esq.
Rosemarie Mealy, J.D