Joanne Chesimard (1947- ), better known as Assata Shakur, is a black American revolutionary and former political prisoner. She now lives in political exile in Cuba. The FBI says she is a terrorist, “armed and extremely dangerous”, offering a million dollars for information leading to her arrest. Congress asked Cuba to turn her over. The New Jersey police asked the pope for help in getting her back. She is the aunt and godmother of Tupac Shakur.
In 1977 she was found guilty of first-degree murder for the 1973 shooting death of a policeman on the New Jersey Turnpike. She was broken out of prison in 1979 and, after five years of laying low, made her way to Cuba in 1984. Her autobiography, “Assata”, came out in 1987.
On May 2nd 1973 she and two friends of hers were driving down the New Jersey Turnpike when the police pulled them over. The police said it was for a broken tail light on their car, but more likely it was for driving while black. She was asked to put her hands up. She did but then was shot twice and then in the back. One of her friends tried to protect her. In the shoot out both her friend and one of the policemen were killed. Another policeman was wounded and so was her other friend.
Four years later an all-white jury found her guilty of murdering the policeman even though her hands were in the air (the only way her wounds make sense) and there was no proof she ever touched a gun.
With no hope of justice and fearing that she would be murdered in prison, she escaped and got to Cuba where she lives today. Fidel Castro himself said he will not give her up.
She had been on trial six times before on other charges, mainly bank robbery and murder, but none of the charges stuck. The government had no proof for any of it, not even for what they got her on in the end: they just wanted to keep her tied up in court and in prison.
In the 1970s the American government cracked down on black revolutionaries. The FBI used the police, the courts and, indirectly, the press. Some they killed outright, others they put in prison or tied up in the courts.
Shakur belongs to the Black Liberation Army, which broke off from the Black Panthers. She believes violence is necessary for blacks to become free and equal: it is the only way whites will give up enough power.
But she believes education is also necessary: guns will not do the trick if black people remain brainwashed, by the schools and by the news:
The schools we go to are reflections of the society that created them. Nobody is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them…I am convinced that a systematic program for political education, ranging from the simplest to the highest level, is imperative for any successful organization or movement for Black liberation in this country.
- Assata Shakur – Social Justice Wiki – a good website on her at Columbia University. The first draft of this post was way longer: there is so much I had to cut out. I only present the bare bones here. If you like that website, then you should read her book: do not wait for Hollywood.
- FBI: Wanted: Joanne Deborah Chesimard – see her wanted poster at the FBI
- Angela Davis – more famous; less violent in her philosophy
- Paul Robeson
- bell hooks
- driving while black
- The New Jersey Turnpike – the main road heading south from New York City. It is infamously racist – and postworthy.
- Some stuff I have in common with her: