Hands Off Assata?

by Kierra Gray


President Barack Obama’s plan to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism raises extradition questions in the case of Assata Shakur, an activist with political asylum whom the U.S. calls a terrorist.


Timeline of Events Preceding & Following Assata’s Political Asylum:

1973: Assata and two other members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) were pulled over by two state troopers on a New Jersey turnpike. In Assata: An Autobiography, she recounts the details of the confrontation, saying the police brutalized her and landed her in the hospital with multiple injuries. During this altercation New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and BLA member Zayd Malik Shakur were killed.

1977: Assata was convicted of killing state trooper Foster.

1979: Assata escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey.

1984: She fled to Cuba where she was offered political asylum.

2013: The United States named Assata Shakur to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List and offered $2 million for her capture.


Assata’s Legacy    

The re-emergence of Assata’s story due to the change in US-Cuba diplomatic relations has provided many millennials with the opportunity to learn about a key female figure in the civil rights movement - one who has arguably influenced black political thought as much as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. In her autobiography, Assata Shakur reveals that she refused to take a back seat in the Black Liberation Movement; she was a woman who took an active role in the Black Panther Party and fought passionately for her cause. This renewed knowledge of Assata’s activism has been very impactful in the context of the modern day black rights movement, providing our generation and created a new wave of support for her cause.

Though travel from the United States to Cuba is currently limited to 12 categories of people including close relatives and individuals on humanitarian or educational exchange trips, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently stated that he wants flights from New Jersey to Cuba banned until the alleged “cop killer”(Assata) i s extradited. When Shakur was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, supporters took to social media and used the hashtag #HandsOffAssata; black rights activists’ resurrected the hashtag in light of Christie’s comments and flooded social media with messages calling for the U.S. to free its political prisoners. The support Assata has received from activists of our generation show how she has impacted the Black Liberation Movement with her teachings of political strategy, intersectionality and race relations.

As she depicts her life in her autobiography, it shows Assata Shakur refused to take a back seat in the Black Liberation Movement. She was a woman who took an active role in the Black Panther Party and fought passionately for her cause. The United States media paints figures, such as Assata Shakur, as a threat to national security yet the public has little context about the details of her case. As the news unfolds, we will see how the United States and Cuban relations will handle the ongoing battle for Assata Shakur.

The case of Assata Shakur undoubtedly will have an impact on the current wave of the Black Liberation Movement. Her past, present, and future treatment at the hands of the United States government may not change. She may also remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, but as the movement gains momentum, the government could face pressure from activists to emend their ruling. Shakur was convicted of killing one officer 38 years ago, but based on her political ideology she's still being treated as a threat - as if the police task force aren’t threatening black lives everyday. In light of these realities, one question remains: should Assata Shakur be extradited back to the United States and charged or is it hands off Assata?

Posted on October 26, 2015 .