How Many Cheeks Should Assata Offer?

by Robert Burton-Harris


Jesus said, If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” It’s a lesson that I will not teach to my children. Taken literally, it can invite or encourage physical abuse. Read metaphorically, the probable damage is not only limited to the body. Furthermore, the lesson raises more questions than it answers. What should the victim do if the assailant has a weapon? What if the victim is much smaller than the attacker or if he is the victim’s spouse or child? How about if the assailant is the richest, “most powerful nation in history” and has an entire governmental apparatus at its disposal? What does the lesson mean when the aggressor has the power to physically, psychologically, and economically, slap you (and everyone close to you) continuously for decades? In Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shakur gives us a sobering answer: run like hell, if you can.

Her experience demonstrates the extent that our country will go to vanquish the monster under its bed. Communists, Japanese­ Americans, “militant” minorities, Russians, Muslims, and, now, Hispanics can all be painted as today’s monsters with shockingly little effort. The scope and immorality of Shakur's persecution is the rule; not the exception.

Before her 1977 conviction, she was falsely accused in six (SIX!different criminal cases. All of which resulted in not­ guilty verdicts or a dismissal of the charges. Most, if not all, of these charges were politically motivated ­and consistent with the express purpose of the COINTELPRO program.1

She was beaten, shot, placed in solitary confinement for two years in an all male prison, and separated from her family - including her daughter - before she was ever convicted of anything. And the most serious charges, stemming from the fatal encounter with a New Jersey police officer, did not allege that she shot or killed anyone. Indeed, the second officer involved admitted that he had lied in every official report he made and in his Grand Jury testimony regarding her involvement (the police have been manipulating the Grand Jury process long before Ferguson). She was convicted under New Jersey’s “aiding and abetting” statute which allows the accused to be convicted of the more serious crime, if the accused’s presence at the scene helped facilitate the crime. In other words, as Judge Theodore Appleby instructed them, the jury was free to speculate that Shakur’s “mere presence” at the scene, with weapons in the car, was enough to convict her of murder. Notwithstanding the fact that her fingerprints were not on the gun nor were any traces of gunpowder found on her body. She was sentenced to life in prison; plus 30 years; plus 30 days.2  She subsequently escaped from prison and currently resides in Cuba as a political refugee” pursuant to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba.3

The Empire doesn’t offer another cheek.

In 2005, the New Jersey State Police placed a $1 million bounty for information leading to her capture. The FBI also classified her as a domestic terrorist. The similarities to the $12,000 bounty placed on Harriet Tubman are too obvious to ignore.4  And, in 2013, the FBI increased the total bounty to $2 million. Tubman’s bounty was rumored to also have been increased by $40,000 via the private fund raising efforts of slave owners. Luckily, the Cuban government, despite renewed diplomatic relations with the U.S., has made it very clear that Shakur’s political refugee status is not negotiable.

Among the chorus of stupid, irrational, and unexamined reasons given for why Shakur should voluntarily return to the U.S. is the often cited trope “so she can receive justice”; an idea so ridiculous it barely merits a response and instantly reveals the ignorance of the speaker. Although the consequences have been extraordinary, Shakur has taught us that there is no honor in allowing yourself to be slapped. Especially if that hand belongs to the Empire. Protect yourself. But be physically, emotionally, and psychologically prepared to run ­ indefinitely. 



1. “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate­type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder.”

2. The 30 day sentence was imposed for “contempt of court”. Shakur refused to stand for Judge Appleby during her trial.

3. “The Republic of Cuba grants asylum to those persecuted for their ideals or struggles for democratic rights against imperialism, fascism, colonialism and neocolonialism; against discrimination and racism; for national liberation; for the rights and demands of the workers, peasants, and students; for their progressive political, scientific, artistic, and literary activities; and for socialism and peace.”

4. Questions still remain regarding the exact amount of the bounty. See: