On May 2nd the FBI placed Assata Shakur on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list. Simultaneously the New Jersey State Police increased its bounty on her from one to two million dollars.
Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panthers and then the Black Liberation Army. In 1973 she was involved in a shoot-out with the New Jersey State Police in which one of her companions and a state trooper were killed. She was convicted of killing the trooper even though forensic evidence supported her claim that she had been shot in the back while her hands were raised. She escaped from prison in 1979 and now lives in exile in Cuba, which granted her asylum in 1984.
Assata Shakur meets the Rosenberg Fund for Children’s definition of a targeted progressive activist. She championed the cause of African American liberation and equality along with other members of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In response, a consortium of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies attacked the Black Panthers through their infamous COINTELPRO program. COINTELPRO was a coordinated campaign of government-sponsored terror that included police harassment, frame-ups and even targeted assassinations. I believe Assata had the right to defend herself. However, the evidence indicates she was not doing so in this instance, but rather that she was the victim of an attempted police killing.
The facts of the 1973 incident aside, what justifies listing Assata as a “terrorist?” My understanding is that terrorism consists of an effort to kill civilians in a manner designed to spread fear and panic among the general population. Even if Assata killed the trooper during a late night shootout, how does that constitute terrorism? Is it the FBI’s position that everyone who shoots a law enforcement agent is a terrorist?
It amazes me how the government adjusts its definition of terrorism to meet its political agenda. Anyone from animal rights and environmental activists who destroy corporate property or endanger corporate profits, to hackers who divulge government secrets, to those resisting police attacks make the grade. But Cuban exiles who blow up civilian airplanes, CIA assets who engage in targeted assassinations, and those who order drone strikes that terrorize entire communities don’t.
Assata Shakur is a heroine, not a terrorist. She is a symbol of courage and resistance who is treasured by freedom-loving people in many countries. Hopefully Obama will not order a drone strike against her, or the two million dollar reward will not tempt some hit man to assassinate her. I hope she remains safe in Cuba, or better still, the truth of her targeting is revealed and she is able to return home if she wishes.
If the FBI and the New Jersey State Police want to find terrorists, they don’t need to look for them in Cuba, they can just look in the mirror.
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