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Assata Shakur Hunted Decades Later: She Remains Free For Now

When most Americans, Blacks and Whites hear the terms Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army, they turn away and avoid simple dialogue regarding such organizations out of fear of reprisals from government officials or the stigma of being perceived pro-black, and militant. Much of the negative characterization that has lingered around such affiliations, political, and social empowerment groups derived from counter intelligence campaigns like COINTELLPRO which were designed  to suppress the mobilization of Black Nationalist groups that were born in the height of the Civil Rights era in America. Chiefly, racist U.S. officials such as the infamous J. Edgar Hoover, former head of the F.B.I. (Federal Bureau of Investigations) made it a point to use the full power of the American Government to make an example of any black person who dare brazenly, boldly, and courageously rise up and publicly fight against the tyranny, oppression, and imperialism of  the United States.

There are countless prominent African-American figures who were not only targeted by such convert government programs, but many of them ultimately fell as a result of their political and social views that racist public officials deemed a threat to National Security and  the white ruling class’ political order. COINTELLPRO is an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program which used  surveillance, infiltration, discrediting, and disruption of domestic political organizations. Many of the tactics that were used included discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination. Although illegal covert operations such as COINTELLPRO have been exposed, many who fell target to such scrutiny are still deemed as a threat even until this very day. 

One of the more known cases is the plight of JoAnne Deborah Byron (married name Chesimard)  who is more commonly referred to as Assata Shakur. Assata is a Community College of New York graduate who participated in rallies and became an African-American activist fighting for social change in America. Her political affiliation has ties to the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Both organizations were heavily watched by the F.B.I. and almost every member of the two groups became targets of COINTELLPRO. Assata’s troubles began when COINTELLPRO launched a campaign against her that started in 1971. She was accused of multiple felonies that eventually culminated in a successful prosecution and conviction for the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper (strong evidence supports that the police may have dumped the slain cop’s body at the scene of a traffic stop framing Shakur and others driving in the car that day) The below chart outlines all of the criminal charges filed against Shakur, which she was never convicted of except the murder charge of slaying Trooper Werner Foerster. 

 

Criminal charge Court Arraignment Proceedings Disposition
Attempted armed robbery at Statler Hilton Hotel

April 5, 1971

N.Y. Supreme Court, New York County November 22, 1977 None Dismissed
Bank robbery in Queens

August 23, 1971

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York July 20, 1973 January 5, 1976 – January 16, 1976 Acquitted
Bank robbery in Bronx: Conspiracy, robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon

September 1, 1972

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York August 1, 1973 December 3, 1973 – December 14, 1973 Hung jury
December 19, 1973 – December 28, 1973 Acquitted
Kidnapping of James E. Freeman

December 28, 1972

N.Y. Supreme Court, Kings County May 30, 1974 September 6, 1975 – December 19, 1975 Acquitted
Murder of Richard Nelson

January 2, 1973

N.Y. Supreme Court, New York County May 29, 1974 None Dismissed
Attempted murder of policemen Michael O’Reilly and Roy Polliana

January 23, 1973

N.Y. Supreme Court, Queens County May 11, 1974 None Dismissed
Turnpike shootout: First-degree murder, second-degree murder, atrocious assault and battery, assault and battery against a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery

May 2, 1973

N.J. Superior Court, Middlesex County May 3, 1973 October 9, 1973 – October 23, 1973 Change of venue
January 1, 1974 – February 1, 1974 Mistrial due to pregnancy
February 15, 1977 – March 25, 1977 Convicted
Source: Shakur, 1987, p. xiv.

 

Additionally, documentary evidence suggests that Shakur was targeted by an investigation named CHESROB, which “attempted to hook former New York Panther Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) to virtually every bank robbery or violent crime involving a black woman on the entire East Coast. The eventual acquittal of most charges against Assata demonstrates that they were trumped-up and never had any merit from the very start. Nonetheless, the state of New Jersey spent over a million dollars in tax payer’s money to win a conviction against Shakur, whose trial like most prominent African-Americans were nothing more than “public lynchings” in “kangaroo courts”. It has always been the policy of some in the racist American government to silence influential blacks based on nothing more than racism alone. It’s clear that New York and New Jersey law enforcement never had a solid case against Assata. The COINTELLPRO campaign against her rallied support from whites in this country who accepted just about everything that the media published about blacks who were deemed “radical”, depicted as violent, and were a threat to the comfort that many whites had become accustomed to during an era in American when many felt black people were gaining too much politically, socially, and way too fast. 

However, the overt racial climate that existed during the Civil Rights Movement has now dissipated, and the fact that law enforcement officials of today continue to increase the bounty for the capture and incarceration of once prominent black political figures such as Assata Shakur speaks volumes regarding the true extent of just how much the Government’s policy has actually change related to the advancement of African-Americans in this country. The details of Trooper Werner Foerster’s killing are extremely shaky at best. For example, expert witness who testified during the Shakur trial clearly demonstrated that Assata could not have fired a weapon as the cops claimed that day. X-ray images depicted that during the alleged shoot out, bullets that struck Shakur entered her body while her hands were raised in the air from behind. The Prosecution’s counter on these facts were met with testimony which deemed police accounts “anatomically impossible” by an expert witness. 

More importantly to Shakur’s defense though, is that Neutron Activation Analysis (testing conducted to determine if a person has fired a weapon) administered after the shootout showed no gun powder residue on Shakur’s fingers; her fingerprints were not found on any weapon at the scene, according to forensic analysis performed at the Trenton, New Jersey crime lab and the FBI crime labs in Washington D.C.  According to tape recordings and police reports made several hours after the shoot-out, when Harper (one of the cops involved who fingered Shakur) returned on foot to the administration building 200 yards (183 m) away, he did not report Foerster’s presence at the scene; no one at headquarters even knew of Foerster’s involvement in the shoot-out until his body was discovered beside his patrol car, more than an hour later. Despite these very exculpatory facts, Shakur was found guilty and remanded to custody for decades. 

Assata’s trial contained the usual questionable adjudication tactics often seem during criminal trials of prominent blacks during that time, like the dismissal of legal funding, multiple contempt of court rulings for the defense, and rulings that violated her constitutional rights under the law making it virtually impossible for Assata’s attorney to mount an adequate defense. Her time in prison caused her to become a constant victim of brutality, confinement to deplorable conditions, and was often visited while shackled to a cot. Fearful that Shakur’s demise would culminate at the hands of New Jersey State Correctional Officials, trusted friends and other supporters literally ‘busted” Shakur from prison. On November 2, 1979 she escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility for women in New Jersey, when three members of the Black Liberation Army visiting her drew concealed .45-caliber pistols, seized two guards as hostages and commandeered a prison van. For years after Shakur’s escape, the movements, activities, and phone calls of her friends and relatives—including her daughter walking to school in upper Manhattan—were monitored by investigators in an attempt to ascertain her whereabouts, but to no avail. 

Shakur remained on the run as a fugitive from justice until she fled to the island nation of Cuba by 1984; in that year she was granted political asylum in that country where she remains to this day. Shakur a once english editor at the University of Havanna lived openly for years. Recent extradition efforts by the F.B.I. (including a reported deal to lift the American embargo against Cuba in exchange the release of 90 fugitives believed living there, including Shakur) has forced Shakur underground again, but she remains a celebrated political figure within African-American studies at Colleges and Universities world-wide from many of those who sympathize with her plight. Others within in the New Jersey law enforcement community revile her as a cold-blooded killer. Fidel Castro himself said, Assata Shakur was “a victim of racial persecution”, also saying “they wanted to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, and an infamous lie”. 

African-American politicians have called for the bounty on Shakur to be rescended and many educators have called her a “revolutionary fighter against imperialism”. Read a complete history on the Assata Shakur case here: African -American Freedom Fighter Assata Shakur. There are those within the African-American community who argue that blacks who involve themselves with controversial groups of this nature are suffering from self imposed horrors from a knowingly racist government, and should not be afforded empathy nor notoriety. I personally beg to differ from such a perspective, as the right of free speech is constitutionally protected, and personal non-violent ideologies should not be persecuted solely on race and other diverse ideals related to philosophical disparities.  Assata’s story demonstrates the imperialistic power of our government, and how anyone can be fabricated into a villain to silence their political and social idealism. Assata Shakur, a true freedom fighter of her people. She remains free for now!

 

 

The People’s Champion

I’m David Adams

 

David Adams

Self proclaimed geek, Advocate for the homeless, Social Change, Crime Blogger, and mobile technology enthusiast. A recognized Journalist and Human Interest Writer championing the plight of the masses whom are without a voice of their own.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
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When most Americans, Blacks and Whites hear the terms Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army, they turn away and avoid simple dialogue regarding such organizations out of fear of reprisals from government officials or the stigma of being perceived pro-black, and militant. Much of the negative characterization that has lingered around such affiliations, political, and social empowerment groups derived from counter intelligence campaigns like COINTELLPRO which were designed  to suppress the mobilization of Black Nationalist groups that were born in the height of the Civil Rights era in America. Chiefly, racist U.S. officials such as the infamous J. Edgar Hoover, former head of the F.B.I. (Federal Bureau of Investigations) made it a point to use the full power of the American Government to make an example of any black person who dare brazenly, boldly, and courageously rise up and publicly fight against the tyranny, oppression, and imperialism of  the United States.

There are countless prominent African-American figures who were not only targeted by such convert government programs, but many of them ultimately fell as a result of their political and social views that racist public officials deemed a threat to National Security and  the white ruling class’ political order. COINTELLPRO is an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program which used  surveillance, infiltration, discrediting, and disruption of domestic political organizations. Many of the tactics that were used included discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination. Although illegal covert operations such as COINTELLPRO have been exposed, many who fell target to such scrutiny are still deemed as a threat even until this very day. 

One of the more known cases is the plight of JoAnne Deborah Byron (married name Chesimard)  who is more commonly referred to as Assata Shakur. Assata is a Community College of New York graduate who participated in rallies and became an African-American activist fighting for social change in America. Her political affiliation has ties to the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Both organizations were heavily watched by the F.B.I. and almost every member of the two groups became targets of COINTELLPRO. Assata’s troubles began when COINTELLPRO launched a campaign against her that started in 1971. She was accused of multiple felonies that eventually culminated in a successful prosecution and conviction for the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper (strong evidence supports that the police may have dumped the slain cop’s body at the scene of a traffic stop framing Shakur and others driving in the car that day) The below chart outlines all of the criminal charges filed against Shakur, which she was never convicted of except the murder charge of slaying Trooper Werner Foerster. 

 

Criminal charge Court Arraignment Proceedings Disposition
Attempted armed robbery at Statler Hilton Hotel

April 5, 1971

N.Y. Supreme Court, New York County November 22, 1977 None Dismissed
Bank robbery in Queens

August 23, 1971

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York July 20, 1973 January 5, 1976 – January 16, 1976 Acquitted
Bank robbery in Bronx: Conspiracy, robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon

September 1, 1972

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York August 1, 1973 December 3, 1973 – December 14, 1973 Hung jury
December 19, 1973 – December 28, 1973 Acquitted
Kidnapping of James E. Freeman

December 28, 1972

N.Y. Supreme Court, Kings County May 30, 1974 September 6, 1975 – December 19, 1975 Acquitted
Murder of Richard Nelson

January 2, 1973

N.Y. Supreme Court, New York County May 29, 1974 None Dismissed
Attempted murder of policemen Michael O’Reilly and Roy Polliana

January 23, 1973

N.Y. Supreme Court, Queens County May 11, 1974 None Dismissed
Turnpike shootout: First-degree murder, second-degree murder, atrocious assault and battery, assault and battery against a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery

May 2, 1973

N.J. Superior Court, Middlesex County May 3, 1973 October 9, 1973 – October 23, 1973 Change of venue
January 1, 1974 – February 1, 1974 Mistrial due to pregnancy
February 15, 1977 – March 25, 1977 Convicted
Source: Shakur, 1987, p. xiv.

 

Additionally, documentary evidence suggests that Shakur was targeted by an investigation named CHESROB, which “attempted to hook former New York Panther Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) to virtually every bank robbery or violent crime involving a black woman on the entire East Coast. The eventual acquittal of most charges against Assata demonstrates that they were trumped-up and never had any merit from the very start. Nonetheless, the state of New Jersey spent over a million dollars in tax payer’s money to win a conviction against Shakur, whose trial like most prominent African-Americans were nothing more than “public lynchings” in “kangaroo courts”. It has always been the policy of some in the racist American government to silence influential blacks based on nothing more than racism alone. It’s clear that New York and New Jersey law enforcement never had a solid case against Assata. The COINTELLPRO campaign against her rallied support from whites in this country who accepted just about everything that the media published about blacks who were deemed “radical”, depicted as violent, and were a threat to the comfort that many whites had become accustomed to during an era in American when many felt black people were gaining too much politically, socially, and way too fast. 

However, the overt racial climate that existed during the Civil Rights Movement has now dissipated, and the fact that law enforcement officials of today continue to increase the bounty for the capture and incarceration of once prominent black political figures such as Assata Shakur speaks volumes regarding the true extent of just how much the Government’s policy has actually change related to the advancement of African-Americans in this country. The details of Trooper Werner Foerster’s killing are extremely shaky at best. For example, expert witness who testified during the Shakur trial clearly demonstrated that Assata could not have fired a weapon as the cops claimed that day. X-ray images depicted that during the alleged shoot out, bullets that struck Shakur entered her body while her hands were raised in the air from behind. The Prosecution’s counter on these facts were met with testimony which deemed police accounts “anatomically impossible” by an expert witness. 

More importantly to Shakur’s defense though, is that Neutron Activation Analysis (testing conducted to determine if a person has fired a weapon) administered after the shootout showed no gun powder residue on Shakur’s fingers; her fingerprints were not found on any weapon at the scene, according to forensic analysis performed at the Trenton, New Jersey crime lab and the FBI crime labs in Washington D.C.  According to tape recordings and police reports made several hours after the shoot-out, when Harper (one of the cops involved who fingered Shakur) returned on foot to the administration building 200 yards (183 m) away, he did not report Foerster’s presence at the scene; no one at headquarters even knew of Foerster’s involvement in the shoot-out until his body was discovered beside his patrol car, more than an hour later. Despite these very exculpatory facts, Shakur was found guilty and remanded to custody for decades. 

Assata’s trial contained the usual questionable adjudication tactics often seem during criminal trials of prominent blacks during that time, like the dismissal of legal funding, multiple contempt of court rulings for the defense, and rulings that violated her constitutional rights under the law making it virtually impossible for Assata’s attorney to mount an adequate defense. Her time in prison caused her to become a constant victim of brutality, confinement to deplorable conditions, and was often visited while shackled to a cot. Fearful that Shakur’s demise would culminate at the hands of New Jersey State Correctional Officials, trusted friends and other supporters literally ‘busted” Shakur from prison. On November 2, 1979 she escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility for women in New Jersey, when three members of the Black Liberation Army visiting her drew concealed .45-caliber pistols, seized two guards as hostages and commandeered a prison van. For years after Shakur’s escape, the movements, activities, and phone calls of her friends and relatives—including her daughter walking to school in upper Manhattan—were monitored by investigators in an attempt to ascertain her whereabouts, but to no avail. 

Shakur remained on the run as a fugitive from justice until she fled to the island nation of Cuba by 1984; in that year she was granted political asylum in that country where she remains to this day. Shakur a once english editor at the University of Havanna lived openly for years. Recent extradition efforts by the F.B.I. (including a reported deal to lift the American embargo against Cuba in exchange the release of 90 fugitives believed living there, including Shakur) has forced Shakur underground again, but she remains a celebrated political figure within African-American studies at Colleges and Universities world-wide from many of those who sympathize with her plight. Others within in the New Jersey law enforcement community revile her as a cold-blooded killer. Fidel Castro himself said, Assata Shakur was “a victim of racial persecution”, also saying “they wanted to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, and an infamous lie”. 

African-American politicians have called for the bounty on Shakur to be rescended and many educators have called her a “revolutionary fighter against imperialism”. Read a complete history on the Assata Shakur case here: African -American Freedom Fighter Assata Shakur. There are those within the African-American community who argue that blacks who involve themselves with controversial groups of this nature are suffering from self imposed horrors from a knowingly racist government, and should not be afforded empathy nor notoriety. I personally beg to differ from such a perspective, as the right of free speech is constitutionally protected, and personal non-violent ideologies should not be persecuted solely on race and other diverse ideals related to philosophical disparities.  Assata’s story demonstrates the imperialistic power of our government, and how anyone can be fabricated into a villain to silence their political and social idealism. Assata Shakur, a true freedom fighter of her people. She remains free for now!

 

 

The People’s Champion

I’m David Adams

 

David Adams

Self proclaimed geek, Advocate for the homeless, Social Change, Crime Blogger, and mobile technology enthusiast. A recognized Journalist and Human Interest Writer championing the plight of the masses whom are without a voice of their own.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle Plus

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