As the Black Left Unity Network we want to link to the far reaches of the Black Liberation Movement and all tendencies of the anti-capitalist forces in the US and throughout the world. We embrace this task to hold firm to our anti-racist pro self-determination stand rooted in our critique of moving beyond the capitalist system.
There are many documents that represent all of us. In fact the forces of Black liberation and anti-capitalist social transformation are in general agreement on most of the key issues. In this part of the Black Activist we will focus on issues around which we can unite as diverse forces converging on common positions.
In our first issue we take up two critical issues in the 2012 summer:
1. the political attack against the Black Freedom Movement by setting a $2 million bounty on Assata Shakur as a US designated terrorist
2. the racist murder of Black youth in the case of Trayvon Martin
Assata Shakur has been protected by the Cuban government as an expression of their international solidarity with the Black Freedom Movement. She has been there for 29 years. The Obama government is bending to the right to pull out all stops to beat down Black revolutionary forces. Not only is she not guilty of the alleged murder of a Policeman, to brand her as a terrorist raises the ominous message that all Black freedom fighters are terrorists according to this US president.
The BLUN intends to join with all other forces to make this an international campaign against the terrorism of the US government under the leadership of Barack Obama.
Trayvon Martin’s death and the subsequent actions of authorities and others reveals a corrupt political system complicit with racist attacks against Black people. Trayvon was a young brother targeted by color-class-gender-generation prejudice against young working class Black brothers. The convergence of right wing forces to support the killer Zimmerman is testimony to the political importance of this drive and the trial.
On a national level the report released by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement suggests that it is now “open season” on Black people. (Report on Black People Executed without Trial by Police, Security Guards and Self-Appointed Law Enforcers January 1 - June 30, 2012, http://mxgm.org/report-on-the-extrajudicial-killings-of-120-black-people/)
We invite you to read these commentaries and spread the news through your conversations at work, at home, at school, in church, and with your neighbors and friends.
My name is Assata Shakur, and 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. 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 “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.
In 1978, my case was one of many cases bought before the United Nations Organization in a petition filed by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, exposing the existence of political prisoners in the United States, their political persecution, and the cruel and inhuman treatment they receive in US prisons. According to the report:
‘The FBI and the New York Police Department in particular, charged and accused Assata Shakur of participating in attacks on law enforcement personnel and widely circulated such charges and accusations among police agencies and units. The FBI and the NYPD further charged her as being a leader of the Black Liberation Army which the government and its respective agencies described as an organization engaged in the shooting of police officers. This description of the Black Liberation Army and the accusation of Assata Shakur’s relationship to it was widely circulated by government agents among police agencies and units. As a result of these activities by the government, Ms. Shakur became a hunted person; posters in police precincts and banks described her as being involved in serious criminal activities; she was highlighted on the FBI’s most wanted list; and to police at all levels she became a ‘shoot-to-kill’ target.”
I was falsely accused in six different “criminal cases” and in all six of these cases I was eventually acquitted or the charges were dismissed. The fact that I was acquitted or that the charges were dismissed, did not mean that I received justice in the courts, that was certainly not the case. It only meant that the “evidence” presented against me was so flimsy and false that my innocence became evident. This political persecution was part and parcel of the government’s policy of eliminating political opponents by charging them with crimes and arresting them with no regard to the factual basis of such charges.
On May 2, 1973 I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a “faulty tail light.” Sundiata Acoli got out of the car to determine why we were stopped. Zayd and I remained in the car. State trooper Harper then came to the car, opened the door and began to question us. Because we were black, and riding in a car with Vermont license plates, he claimed he became “suspicious.” He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told us to put our hands up in the air, in front of us, where he could see them.
I complied and in a split second, there was a sound that came from outside the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once with my arms held up in the air, and then once again from the back. Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, trooper Werner Foerster was killed, and even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot and killed Zayd Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder law, I was charged with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was my closest friend and comrade, and charged in the death of trooper Forester.
Never in my life have I felt such grief. Zayd had vowed to protect me, and to help me to get to a safe place, and it was clear that he had lost his life, trying to protect both me and Sundiata. Although he was also unarmed, and the gun that killed trooper Foerster was found under Zayd’s leg, Sundiata Acoli, who was captured later, was also charged with both deaths. Neither Sundiata Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial We were both convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted by an all- white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison. 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.
The U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the USA, revealed that “The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the public’s perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through “friendly” news contacts.” This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today.
On December 24, 1997, The New Jersey State called a press conference to announce that New Jersey State Police had written a letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to intervene on their behalf and to aid in having me extradited back to New Jersey prisons.
The New Jersey State Police refused to make their letter public. Knowing that they had probably totally distort the facts, and attempted to get the Pope to do the devils work in the name of religion, I decided to write the Pope to inform him about the reality of’ “justice” for black people in the State of New Jersey and in the United States. (See attached Letter to the Pope).In January of 1998, during the pope’s visit to Cuba, I agreed to do an interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza around my letter to the Pope, about my experiences in New Jersey court system, and about the changes I saw in the United States and it’s treatment of Black people in the last 25 years. I agreed to do this interview because I saw this secret letter to the Pope as a vicious, vulgar, publicity maneuver on the part of the New Jersey State Police, and as a cynical attempt to manipulate Pope John Paul II. I have lived in Cuba for many years, and was completely out of touch with the sensationalist, dishonest, nature of the establishment media today. It is worse today than it was 30 years ago.
After years of being victimized by the “establishment” media it was naive of me to hope that I might finally get the opportunity to tell “my side of the story.” Instead of an interview with me, what took place was a “staged media event” in three parts, full of distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies. NBC purposely misrepresented the facts. Not only did NBC spend thousands of dollars promoting this “exclusive interview series” on NBC, they also spent a great deal of money advertising this “exclusive interview” on black radio stations and also placed notices in local newspapers.
Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman.
I own no TV stations, or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth. But I sincerely ask, those of you in the Black media, those of you in the progressive media, those of you who believe in truth freedom, To publish this statement and to let people know what is happening. We have no voice, so you must be the voice of the voiceless.
Free all Political Prisoners, I send you Love and Revolutionary Greetings From Cuba, One of the Largest, Most Resistant and Most Courageous Palenques (Maroon Camps) That has ever existed on the Face of this Planet.
Assata Shakur, Havana, Cuba
I hope this letter finds you in good health, in good disposition, and enveloped in the spirit of goodness. I must confess that it had never occurred to me before to write to you, and I find myself overwhelmed and moved to have this opportunity.
Although circumstances have compelled me to reach out to you, I am glad to have this occasion to try and cross the boundaries that would otherwise tend to separate us.
I understand that the New Jersey State Police have written to you and asked you to intervene and to help facilitate my extradition back to the United States. I believe that their request is unprecedented in history. Since they have refused to make their letter to you public, although they have not hesitated to publicize their request, I am completely uninformed as to the accusations they are making against me. Why, I wonder, do I warrant such attention? What do I represent that is such a threat?
Please let me take a moment to tell you about myself. My name is Assata Shakur and I was born and raised in the United States. I am a descendant of Africans who were kidnapped and brought to the Americas as slaves. I spent my early childhood in the racist segregated South. I later moved to the northern part of the country, where I realized that Black people were equally victimized by racism and oppression.
I grew up and became a political activist, participating in student struggles, the anti-war movement, and, most of all, in the movement for the liberation of African Americans in the United States. I later joined the Black Panther Party, an organization that was targeted by COINTELPRO, a program that was set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to eliminate all political opposition to the U.S. government’s policies, to destroy the Black Liberation Movement in the U.S., and to discredit activists and to eliminate potential leaders.
As a result of being targeted by COINTELPRO, I, like many other young people, was faced with the threat of prison, underground, exile or death.
At this point, I think that it is important to make one thing very clear. I have advocated and still advocate revolutionary changes in the structure and in the principles that govern the U.S. I advocate an end to capitalist exploitation, the abolition of racist policies, the eradication of sexism, and the elimination of political repression. If that is a crime, then I am totally guilty.
To make a long story short, ...let me emphasize that justice for me is not the issue, it is justice for my people that is at stake. When my people receive justice, I am sure that I will receive it, too. I know that Your Holiness will reach your own conclusions, but I feel compelled to present the circumstances surrounding the applicatlon of "justice" in New Jersey. I am not the first nor the last person to be victimized by the New Jersey system of "justice." The New Jersey State Police are infamous for their racism and brutallty. Many legal actions have been filed against them and just recently, in a class action legal proceeding, the New Jersey State Police were found guilty of having an "officially sanctioned, de facto policy of targeting minorities for investigation and arrest."
Although New Jersey’s population is more than 78 percent white, more than 75 percentof the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos. Eighty percent of women in New Jersey prisons are women of color. There are 15 people on death row in the state and seven of them are Black. A 1987 study found that New Jersey prosecutors sought the death penalty in 50 percent of cases involving a Black defendant and a white victim, but in only 28 percent of cases involving a Black defendant and a Black victim.
Unfortunately, the situation in New Jersey is not unique, but reflects the racism that permeates the entire country. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. There are more than 1.7 million people in U.S. prisons. This number does not include the more than 500,000 people in city and county jails, nor does it include the alarming number of children in juvenile institutions.
The vast majority of those behind bars are people of color and virtually all of those behind bars are poor.
The result of this reality is devastating. One third of Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are either in prison or under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.
Prisons are big business in the United States, and the building, running, and supplying of prisons has become the fastest growing industry in the country. Factories are being moved into the prisons and prisoners are being forced to work for slave wages. This super-exploitation of human beings has meant the institutionalization of a new form of slavery. Those who cannot find work are forced to work in prison.
Not only are prisons being used as instruments of economic exploitation, they also serve as lnstruments of political repression. There are more than 100 political prisoners in the U.S. They are African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Natlve Americans, Asians, and progressive white people who oppose the policies of the United States government. Many of those targeted by the COINTELPRO program have been in prison since the early 1970s.
Although the situation in the prisons is an lndication of human rights violations inside the United States, there are other, more deadly indicators.
There are currently 3,365 people now on death row, and more than 50 percent of those awaiting death are people of color. Black people make up only 13 percent of the population, but we make up 41 percent of persons who have received the death penalty.
The number of state assassinations has increased drastically. In 1997 alone, 71 people were executed.
A special reporter assigned by the United Nations organization found serious human rights violations in the U.S., especially those related to the death penalty. According to these findings, people who were mentally ill were sentenced to death, and people with severe mental and learning disabilities, as well as minors under age 18. Serious racial bias was found on the part of judges and prosecutors.
Specifically mentioned in the report was the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the only political prisoner on death row, who was sentenced to death because of his political beliefs and because of his work as a journalist, exposing police brutality in the city of Philadelphia.
Police brutality is a daily occurrence in our communities. The police have a virtual license to kill and they do kill: children, grandmothers, anyone they perceive to be the enemy. They shoot first and ask questions later. Inside the jails and prisons there is at least as much brutality as there was on slave plantations. An ever increasing number of prisoners are found hanging in their cells.
The United States is becoming a land more hostile to Black people and other people of Color. Racism is running rampant and xenophobia is on the rise. This has been especially true in the sphere of domestic policy.
Politicians are attempting to blame social problems on Black people and other people of color. There have been attacks on essentially all affirmative action programs designed to help correct the accumulated results of hundreds of years of slavery and discrimination. In addition, the government seems determined to eliminate all social programs that provide assistance to the poor, resulting in a situation where millions of people do not have access to basic health care, decent housing or quality education.
It was with great happiness that I read the Christmas message that Your Holiness delivered. I applaud you for taking up the cause of the poor, the homeless, the unemployed. The fact that you are addressing the issues of today, unemployment, hopelessness, child abuse, and the drug problem, is important to people all over the world.
One third of Black people in the United States live in poverty, and our communities are inundated with drugs. We have every reason to believe that the CIA and other government agencies are involved in drug trafficking.
Although we live in one of the richest, most technically advanced countries in the world, our reality is similar to an undeveloped, Third World country. We are a people who are truly seeking freedom and harmony.
All my life I have been a spiritual person. I first learned of the struggle and the sacrifice of Jesus in the segregated churches of the South. I converted to Catholicism as a young girl. In my adult life I have become a student of religion and have studied Christianity, Islam, Asian religions and the African religions of my ancestors. I have come to believe that God is universal in nature although called different names and with different faces. I believe that some people spell God with one "O" while others spell it with two.
What we call God is unimportant, as long as we do God’s work. There are those who want to see God’s wrath fall on the oppressed and not on the oppressors. I believe that the time has ended when slavery, colonialism, and oppression can be carried out in the name of religion. It was in the dungeons of prison that I felt the presence of God up close, and it has been my belief in God, and in the goodness of human beings that has helped me to survive. I am not ashamed of having been in prison, and I am certainly not ashamed of having been a political prisoner. I believe that Jesus was a political prisoner who was executed because he fought against the evils of the Roman Empire, because he fought the greed of the money changers in the temple, because he fought against the sins and injustices of his time. As a true child of God, Jesus spoke up for the poor, the meek, the sick, and the oppressed. The early Christians were thrown into lion dens. I will try and follow the example of so many who have stood up in the face of overwhelming oppression.
I am not writing to ask you to intercede on my behalf. I ask nothing for myself. I only ask you to examine the social reality of the United States and to speak out against the human rights violations that are taking place.
On this day, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded of all those who gave their lives for freedom. Most of the people who five on this planet are still not free. I ask only that you continue to work and pray to end Oppression and political repression. It is my heartfelt belief that all the people on this earth deserve justice: social justice, political justice, and economic justice. I believe it is the only way that we will ever achieve peace and prosperity on earth. I hope that you enjoy your visit to Cuba. This is not a country that is rich in material wealth, but it is a country that is rich in human wealth, spiritual wealth and moral wealth.
Assata Shakur, Havana, Cuba
The National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) condemns the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s recent placement of activist Assata Shakur on its Most Wanted Terrorists list, and its increase of the reward for her capture to $2 million. These actions by the FBI should alarm everyone in the United States as they only serve to criminalize the right of people to disagree with governmental policies. These actions intimidate activists and recklessly expand the use and meaning of the word “terrorist.”
In the 1960s Assata Shakur was active in several human rights causes, such as the Black Liberation Movement, the struggle for student rights and activism to end the war in Vietnam. She joined the Black Panther Party, an organization that by the late 1960s was persecuted by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO). COINTELPRO notoriously utilized covert and often illegal tactics in an attempt to discredit and destroy a wide range of groups, including the NAACP, groups advocating for the rights of Native Americans, groups associated with the women’s rights movement and groups that opposed the war in Vietnam. Like other members of the Black Panther Party, on more than one occasion Shakur was falsely charged with crimes, and in six different cases where she was indicted she was either acquitted or the charges were dismissed.
On May 2, 1973, Shakur was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped on the New Jersey turnpike by state troopers for an alleged “faulty tail light.” That vehicle stop ended in one of Shakur’s companions being killed and a trooper being killed. Shakur, whose hands were in the air per the police’s instructions, was shot twice. Sundiata Acoli, the third person in Shakur’s car, was also shot. Another state trooper present admitted to shooting Shakur’s companion, yet Shakur and Acoli were charged for his death under the felony murder law. Shakur and Acoli were also both charged for the trooper’s death, though both were unarmed and the evidence indicated that someone else shot the trooper. Shakur was found guilty by an all-white jury and sentenced to life imprisonment plus 33 years. Shakur’s treatment as a prisoner –which included being confined to a men’s prison and being subjected to anal and vaginal searches—led to her being declared a political prisoner by the United Nations and other organizations and individuals. On November 2, 1979, with outside assistance, Shakur escaped from prison. In 1984 she fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum.
Why, when Shakur has lived in Cuba for nearly three decades, has the FBI elevated the importance of her capture by placing her on its Most Wanted Terrorists list? Why, since 2005, has the FBI labeled Assata Shakur a terrorist?
These actions by the FBI are a continuation of the government’s efforts to intimidate activists and stifle political dissent. In 2005, utilizing the definition of “domestic terrorist” under the PATRIOT Act, the FBI was able to designate Shakur a terrorist. The criminalization of dissent is a standard tactic of State repression.
Labeling Shakur as a terrorist and placing her on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list not only further criminalizes Shakur, it creates political and emotional circumstances on which the government could rely for justification or excuse in the event of her assassination.
The FBI’s actions can also be interpreted as maneuvering by the Obama Administration to keep Cuba on the list of countries supporting terrorism. This also sends a message to the leftist governments in Latin America that are friendly with Cuba.
In addition, very importantly, this recent action by the U.S. government specifically sends a message to Black people in America that if they oppose systemic oppression and police violence they will be labeled criminals and hunted down. Further, it attempts to revise history by claiming that the brave people that fought for the rights of Black people in the 1960s and 1970s are not heroes, but vicious criminals. It attempts to absolve the United States government of its sins of the past, as it ignores its sins of the present.
The NCBL demands that the government remove Assata Shakur from any terrorist list, and cease all pursuit of her. Further, the U.S. government must finally acknowledge the role that it played in criminalizing people such as Assata Shakur who fought for Black liberation in the 1960s and 1970s, and free all political prisoners.
To place her on such a list is fundamentally unjust. It is a perversion of justice and involves the ex post facto application of terrorist laws and definitions of terrorism that were not in existence or applied to her case at the time of her arrest and conviction.
Furthermore, she did not commit the crime she was accused of. She was placed on the list because her conviction connected her to the murder of a police officer. However, evidence in her case shows that she could not have shot and killed that officer. She became a fugitive because given the circumstances of her case, the atmosphere of repression, and the racism of the criminal justice system she could not get justice in this country and to remain here may have cost her life.
The move to place her on the list and the doubling of her bounty to $2 million has little to do with justice and everything to do with politics. It is an opportunistic attempt to use the criminal justice system to score political points in this highly charged post Boston bombing environment.
Placing Assata Shakur on the terrorists list when she was not convicted of a "terrorist act" is in essence falsely accusing her of a crime that she did not commit. It is the abandonment of the law in the name of enforcing the law.
Like the war in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, preemptive strikes, and the abandonment of international law, it is the establishment of a false premise as a rationale for violent action, which has no legal basis but for which political support may be imagined or conjured up. Placing Assata Shakur on the terrorists list sets a dangerous precedent.
With the false premise established what will be next? Will Cuba be given the ultimatum to give up Shakur like the Afghanistan government was told to give up Osama Bin Laden before the US invasion of that country? Will there be a drone strike of Shakur's supposed residence in Cuba? Will Navy Seal Team "7" be sent on a covert mission to assassinate Assata Shakur who is an American citizen?
By identifying Shakur as a terrorist the FBI is taking the terrorists list and making it a "political enemies" list, which is an instrument of state terror. And why not? This fits in perfectly with unjust and illegal trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, extraordinary renditions, black site secret prisons in foreign lands, torture, assassination of US citizens, military courts, secret trials, Guantanamo, elimination of habeas corpus, indefinite detention, government domestic spying, arbitrary arrests, police brutality, racial profiling, stop and frisk, mass incarceration, school to prison pipeline, suppression of dissent, COINTELPRO type operations, ignoring the Constitution, trashing the Bill of rights, and trampling upon our civil liberties.
And let's look at her accusers. Who is calling her a terrorist? The FBI who spied on Dr. Martin Luther King. The FBI whose Director J. Edgar Hoover made it his mission to destroy Dr. King. The FBI who engaged in acts of state terror that included assassination against people and organizations in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.
And the New Jersey State Police who shot up Newark and killed innocent people during the rebellion. The New Jersey State Police who for years engaged in the worst forms of racial profiling. The New Jersey State Police, a department so rife with racism that the federal government had to put it under a "master" to force it to reform its racist ways.
With this precedent the rights of all Americans are placed in greater jeopardy. Now, anyone can be deemed a terrorist, not because this was proven in a court of law but by fiat, proclamation or declaration by the President, US Attorney General, FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, or some other agency of the federal government.
And this can be done not just for transgressions of the present. It can be done retroactively for sins of the past, ten, twenty, thirty, and forty years ago. If the government doesn't like someone just put them on the terrorist list.
Of course, this exercise of twenty-first century US democracy would not be complete unless accompanied by the economic incentive that American capitalism can provide. In this age of robber billionaires a $1 million dollar bounty on the head of Assata Shakur was not enough. It has been doubled to $2 million.
Who are the $2 million pieces of silver for? Are they for enterprising US citizens? No. Assata Shakur has been given political asylum in Cuba. This pot of gold is to entice elements within Cuban Society to violate the laws and policies of the Cuban government.
The FBI and company hope that in Cuba there are corrupt persons within the police, or criminal elements, or people opposed to the government who will take the bait and do this bit of subcontracting work and keep some of the heat off the bosses in the US.
They hope that there are Hamid Kharzais in Cuba who would like to have bags of money delivered to them on a monthly basis. "Bring Assata Shakur to us and you too can be a millionaire." Dead or alive has not been specified.
The placing of Assata Shakur on the terrorist list while portrayed as a noble act in the attempt to get justice for a slain police officer is in fact a shameful act of revenge, opportunism, political manipulation, and authoritarianism. It is part and parcel of a corrosive trend eating away at the democratic processes and institutions in our country for half a century and which has accelerated since 9/11.
Assata Shakur should not be on the terrorist list. She should be removed from that list just as Nelson Mandela was removed from that list several years ago. When the threat of terrorism and the terrorist label is misused in this manner the victims of real acts of terror are dishonored.
The decision to place her on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List is a sharp reminder that the repression of Black radical activists remains a top priority for the powers that be—all in the name of a racist and corrupt American “justice” system.
If we are clear about American history, we know that it is incorrect and outright deceptive to label Assata a “terrorist.” The fact is that Assata is a victim of government-sanctioned harassment, violence and terror, as a result of the joint efforts of the CIA and FBI, through the Counter Intelligence Program (commonly referred to as COINTELPRO). In 1975 the Church Committee of the U.S. Senate condemned the program’s use of questionable, immoral, and illegal tactics, including everything from wiretapping, fraud, manipulation, torture, liable, theft, wrongful persecution, assassination and murder. So how can Assata be a terrorist if the criminal charges filed against her were constructed under the aegis of this very same program? Rather than spending taxpayer money to pursue and harass citizens who were targeted by illegal government persecution, there needs to be a national effort to acquit and compensate victims, like Assata and other activists, for the physical, mental and emotional damages that have been inflicted upon them.
Assata’s case also reveals the way that the State continues to place a high value on some lives, while rendering others expendable. Why is the State of New Jersey, willing to spend millions of dollars in resources to pursue a wrongfully alleged, police murder, yet unable to invest in pensions for state workers? How does the destruction of three Black lives (Assata and her fellow passengers Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli) equate to justice for one white New Jersey patrolman? Why is a white police officer’s life treated with more value than the average citizen, or the lives of those black citizens murdered by law enforcement every 36 hours—Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo? Why is the Justice Department wasting resources on the pursuit of one, harmless Black woman, while at the same time allowing corporate criminals to get away with a slap on the wrist for running the U.S. economy to a near-Depression?
Unlike these corporate raiders who hid their money in foreign tax shelters, Assata herself is hiding in Cuba from unjust persecution. Even as you read this, these corporate interests and their political allies are trying to pry Cuba open to their greed and expose the island to capitalist looting. And since the American government is clearly willing to sacrifice genuine democracy for economic profiteering, we cannot expect this same government to invest in real justice. In these troubled economic and political times, the State of New Jersey and the Justice Department continue to persecute Assata not because she is a “terrorist” but because these government entities are terrified of what she stands for—she is the embodiment of resistance, she is a strong, vibrant symbol of the Black Liberation Movement, who has continued to elude the reach of the corrupt and racist American system of injustice.
So we say, loud and clear, “Hands off Assata!” We encourage everyone to get familiar with this case.
Read her open letter. Join the Hands off Assata Campaign, download, read and circulate her autobiography, form study groups, post signs for support, and join the Organization for Black Struggle for their Freedom School Session (Saturday May 18th, 12-2pm @ 1401 Rowan Ave) where we will watch her documentary Eyes of the Rainbow, discuss her case, and find ways to organize in support of our sister!
Please sign the petition to President Obama to take Sista Assata off the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” List! Click on the photo to the right to go to the petition.
16 On Brother Trayvon Martin
Sixteen Months Later: George Zimmerman’s Trial Begins by Jelani Cobb
June 11, 2013—It’s been sixteen months since an encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman left the former mortally wounded on the rain-soaked ground of Sanford, Florida, and placed the latter on a circuitous path to the defendant’s table at the Seminole County Courthouse, where jury selection for his trial began Monday. During that time, we’ve witnessed the hooded sweatshirt transform from a utilitarian garment into a statement of political solidarity; we’ve become aware of the hazy shades of innocence created by Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and beyond. We’ve seen cable news parse audio of Zimmerman’s 911 call to determine what he had said about Martin before getting out of his car to confront him. The faces of Martin’s parents, dignified though grief-stricken, have become familiar to us, as has that of Robert Zimmerman, George’s look-alike sibling and chief defender in the media. But more than anything we have come to understand context.
It’s possible—no, reasonable—to look at Martin’s death as the opening scene in a four-act drama centering on American gun culture. The subsequent scenes were set in Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and Newtown, Connecticut.
If we’ve been hesitant to recognize Martin as part of that processional of slain bystanders, it’s because the public sympathies here are muddied. More than in any of the other instances, people quietly, perhaps ashamedly—or not—can find it easier to imagine themselves in Zimmerman’s shoes than those of James Holmes, Wade Michael Page, or Adam Lanza. How else to explain the impressive sums proffered by supporters via Zimmerman’s Web site? Or the nauseating popularity of Trayvon Martin shooting targets last spring? Not all unarmed citizens facing down armed men are created equal. Where Newtown, the tragic climax to a season of violence, caused deep self-reflection on the presumed bonds between weaponry and liberty and the unchallenged authority of the National Rifle Association, the Martin-Zimmerman incident prompted far less pondering about these questions. Context matters.
This week, the prosecution will try to narrow down a prospective pool of five hundred people to a set of jurors and alternates who can imagine themselves in Martin’s position, while the defense will attempt to empanel a jury of people who might sympathize with a man fearing for his life despite the sidearm within reach. (It’s an ironic moment when the prosecution might reasonably favor potential jurors who’ve been racially profiled by police.) Statistical palm-reading and lawyerly gut instincts will yield preëmptory strikes on both sides until a few handfuls of citizens are left to ponder evidence that can be distilled to a single question: Under what circumstances is it permissible to shoot an unarmed citizen whom you have pursued against the advice of law enforcement?
That the judge has ruled out any evidence regarding Martin’s alleged use of marijuana or proclivity for fisticuffs is significant. In the weeks following Zimmerman’s arrest, the already-febrile imaginations of Internet conspiracy jockeys were arguing that Martin was far from the baby-faced tween we’ve seen repeatedly but rather a six-foot, hundred-and-ninety-pound, facially-tatted thug apparent. (The image used as evidence turned out to be that of the very much alive rapper The Game.) The presumption—unspoken but very much relevant—was that a heavily muscled black man walking down the street is not as innocent as a group of religious worshippers in their temple, or moviegoers taking in a summer blockbuster. Robert Zimmerman implied as much when, following the horrid murder of a thirteen-month-old child, he tweeted a picture of the alleged assailant alongside that of Martin, with the message: “A picture speaks a thousand words. Any questions?” He went on to state that actions like the murder of a toddler were a rationale for thinking of blacks as “risky.”
That doctrine of collective guilt and epidermal suspicion is what makes this case different than the others. George Zimmerman is on trial but so is a set of durable fears about black men in this society. For that reason and others, it’s difficult to separate the context of this trial from that of other similar debates—most pointedly, the legal battles over the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policies. At the heart of both these issues are questions regarding who is suspicious, when the intervention of authorities is justified, and the extent to which one segment of the public is willing to accept the forfeiture of civil liberties in another one. Yet, if 2012 should have taught us anything, it’s that none of us can be hermetically sealed off from these questions. The Second Amendment fundamentalism that makes incidents like the Martin shooting possible also makes ones like Newtown inevitable.
We know, or ought to know, that in moments when civil rights and civil liberties find themselves in conflict, absolutism is the enemy of resolution. In the coming weeks, there will be a great deal spoken about the contexts in which Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman encountered each other, but no matter how the legal stagecraft plays out, there will not be catharsis for the rest of us. A jury will render a verdict and, in place of closure, a new concern will emerge. This drama will be restaged with an entirely new cast but a sickeningly familiar plot.-----------------------------------