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Critique of Interview of Assata Shakur with NBC journalist Ralph Penza
Assata Shakur, in Covert Action Quaterly
[26 October 1998]

In January of 1998, during the Pope's visit to Cuba, Assata agreed to do an interview with NBC journalist, Ralph Penza, about her letter to the Pope, her experiences in the NewJersey court system, and her views on the treatment of Blacks in the U.S. during the last 25 years. The interview, as edited and broadcast, read like something out of the Police Gazette. It catapulted Assata Shakur into the limelight once again, prompting the NJ state Police to state openly that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to have her brought back from Cuba It also prompted an unprecedented intervention by Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Assata wrote a lengthy critique of the show, which stated, in part:

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... In an NBC interview, Governor Whitman was quoted as saying that "this has nothing to do with race, this has everything to do with crime."

Either Governor Whitman is completely unfamiliar with the facts in my case, or her sensitivity to racism and to the plight of Black people and other people of color in the United States is at a sub-zero level...

The NBC story implied that Governor Christine Whitman raised the reward for my capture based on my interview with NBC. Whitman claimed that she was writing Janet Reno for federal assistance in my capture, based on what she saw in the NBC interview. The fact of the matter is that she has been campaigning since she was elected into office to double the reward for my capture... Anybody who knows anything about NJ politics can be certain that her motives are purely political. She, like Senator Robert Torricelli and several other opportunistic politicians in NJ, came to power as part-time lobbyists for the Batista faction-soliciting votes from right-wing Cubans. They want to use my case as a barrier to normalizing relations with Cuba, and as a pretext for maintaining the immoral blockade against the Cuban people.

In what can only be called deliberate deception and slander, NBC aired a photograph of a woman with a gun in her hand implying that the woman in the photograph was me. I was not, in fact, the woman in the photograph... It was a vile, fraudulent attempt to make me look guilty. NBC deliberately misrepresented the truth... Not once have the NJ State Police, Governor Whitman, or NBC come forth and stated that I was not the woman in the photograph, or that I had been acquitted of that charge...

In a clear attempt to discredit me, Col. Karl Williams of the NJ State Police was allowed to give blow-by-blow distortions of my interview. In my interview I stated that on the night of May 2, 1973, I was shot with my arms in the air, then shot again in the back.

Williams stated, "that is absolutely false. Our records show that she reached in her pocketbook, pulled out a nine-millimeter weapon and started firing." However, the claim that I reached into my pocketbook and pulled out a gun, while inside the car, was even contested by Trooper Harper.

Although in three official reports, and when he testified before the grand jury, he stated that he saw me take a gun out of my pocketbook, he finally admitted under cross-examination that he never saw me with my hands in a pocketbook, never saw me with a weapon inside the car, and that he did not see me shoot him.

The truth is that I was examined by three medical specialists: (1) A neurologist who testified that I was paralyzed immediately after being shot. (2) A surgeon who testified that "It was absolutely anatomically necessary that both arms be in the air for Mrs. Chesimard to receive the wounds." The same surgeon also testified that the claim by Trooper Harper that I had been crouching in a firing position when I was shot was "totally anatomically impossible." (3) A pathologist who testified that "There is no conceivable way that it [the bullet] could have traveled over to hit the clavicle if her arm was down." He said it was impossible to have that trajectory. The prosecutors presented no medical testimony whatsoever to refute the above medical evidence...

In an obvious maneuver to provoke sympathy for the police, the NBC series juxtaposed my interview with the weeping widow of Werner Foerster. While I can sympathize with her grief, I believe that her appearance was deliberately included to appeal to people's emotions, to blur the facts, to make me look like a villain, and to create the kind of lynch-mob mentality that has historically been associated with white women portrayed as victims of Black people. In essence, the supposed interview with me became a forum for the New State Police, Foerster's Widow and the obviously hostile commentary of Ralph Penza...

As I watched Governor Whitman's interview, the one thing that struck me was her "outrage" at my joy about being a grandmother, and my "quite nice life," as she put it, here in Cuba. While I love the Cuban people and the solidarity they have shown me, the pain of being torn away from everybody I love has been intense. I have never had the opportunity to see or to hold my grandchild. If Governor Whitman thinks that my life has been so nice,that 50 years of dealing with racism, poverty, persecution, brutality, prison, underground, exile, and blatant lies has been so nice, then I'd be more than happy to let her walk in my shoes for a while so she can get a taste of how it feels. I am a proud Black woman, and I'm not about to get on the television and cry for Ralph Penza or any other journalist, but the way 1 have suffered in my lifetime, and the way my people have suffered, only God can bear witness to...

It has been a long time since I have lived inside the United States. But during my life-time I have seen every prominent Black leader, politician, or activist come under attack by the establishment media.

When African Americans appear on news programs, they are usually talking about sports or entertainment, or they are in handcuffs. When we have a protest, they ridicule it, minimize it, or cut the numbers of the people who attended in half. The news is big business and it is owned and operated by affluent white men. Unfortunately, they shape the way that many people see the world, and even the way people see themselves.

Too often Black journalists and other journalists of color mimic their white counterparts. They often gear their reports to reflect the foreign policies and of the domestic policies of the same people who are oppressing their people. In the establishment media, the bombing and murder of thousands of innocent women and children in Libya or Iraq or Panama is seen as "patriotic," while those who fight for freedom, no matter where they are, seen as "radicals," "extremists," or "terrorists."

Today Assata Skakur's voice remains fresh and strong She refuses to be silenced even in exile. She poses even more of a threat as her messages are read on the Internet or in magazines like Covert Action Quarterly. Concerned about issues particularly those which affect the youth of this country, she extols.

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 have 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 TVstations, 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 America.

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 and freedom, to publish my side of the story 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.


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