A Letter to the Pope,
To DownLoad An Open Audio To The Pope And The World
From Assata Shakur
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I hope this letter finds you in good health, in
good disposition, and enveloped in the spirit of goodness. I must
confess that it had never occurred to me before to write to you,
and I find myself overwhelmed and moved to have this opportunity.
Although circumstances have compelled me to reach
out to you, I am glad to have this occasion to try and cross the
boundaries that would otherwise tend to separate us.
I understand that the New Jersey State Police have
written to you and asked you to intervene and to help facilitate
my extradition back to the United States. I believe that their request
is unprecedented in history. Since they have refused to make their
letter to you public, although they have not hesitated to publicize
their request, I am completely uninformed as to the accusations
they are making against me. Why, I wonder, do I warrant such attention?
What do I represent that is such a threat?
Please let me take a moment to tell you about myself.
My name is Assata Shakur and I was born and raised in the United
States. I am a descendant of Africans who were kidnapped and brought
to the Americas as slaves. I spent my early childhood in the racist
segregated South. I later moved to the northern part of the country,
where I realized that Black people were equally victimized by racism
I grew up and became a political activist, participating
in student struggles, the anti-war movement, and, most of all, in
the movement for the liberation of African Americans in the United
States. I later joined the Black Panther Party, an organization
that was targeted by COINTELPRO, a program that was set up by the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to eliminate all political
opposition to the U.S. government's policies, to destroy the Black
Liberation Movement in the U.S., and to discredit activists and
to eliminate potential leaders.
As a result of being targeted by COINTELPRO, I,
like many other young people, was faced with the threat of prison,
underground, exile or death.
At this point, I think that it is important to
make one thing very clear. I have advocated and still advocate revolutionary
changes in the structure and in the principles that govern the U.S.
I advocate an end to capitalist exploitation, the abolition of racist
policies, the eradication of sexism, and the elimination of political
repression. If that is a crime, then I am totally guilty.
To make a long story short, ...let me emphasize
that justice for me is not the issue, it is justice for my people
that is at stake. When my people receive justice, I am sure that
I will receive it, too. I know that Your Holiness will reach your
own conclusions, but I feel compelled to present the circumstances
surrounding the applicatlon of "justice" in New Jersey.
I am not the first nor the last person to be victimized by the New
Jersey system of "justice." The New Jersey State Police
are infamous for their racism and brutallty. Many legal actions
have been filed against them and just recently, in a class action
legal proceeding, the New Jersey State Police were found guilty
of having an "officially sanctioned, de facto policy of targeting
minorities for investigation and arrest."
Although New Jersey's population is more than 78
percent white, more than 75 percentof the prison population is made
up of Blacks and Latinos. Eighty percent of women in New Jersey
prisons are women of color. There are 15 people on death row in
the state and seven of them are Black. A 1987 study found that New
Jersey prosecutors sought the death penalty in 50 percent of cases
involving a Black defendant and a white victim, but in only 28 percent
of cases involving a Black defendant and a Black victim.
Unfortunately, the situation in New Jersey is not
unique, but reflects the racism that permeates the entire country.
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
There are more than 1.7 million people in U.S. prisons. This number
does not include the more than 500,000 people in city and county
jails, nor does it include the alarming number of children in juvenile
The vast majority of those behind bars are people
of color and virtually all of those behind bars are poor.
The result of this reality is devastating. One
third of Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are either in prison
or under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system.
Prisons are big business in the United States,
and the building, running, and supplying of prisons has become the
fastest growing industry in the country. Factories are being moved
into the prisons and prisoners are being forced to work for slave
wages. This super-exploitation of human beings has meant the institutionalization
of a new form of slavery. Those who cannot find work are forced
to work in prison.
Not only are prisons being used as instruments
of economic exploitation, they also serve as lnstruments of political
repression. There are more than 100 political prisoners in the U.S.
They are African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Natlve Americans,
Asians, and progressive white people who oppose the policies of
the United States government. Many of those targeted by the COINTELPRO
program have been in prison since the early 1970s.
Although the situation in the prisons is an lndication
of human rights violations inside the United States, there are other,
more deadly indicators.
There are currently 3,365 people now on death row,
and more than 50 percent of those awaiting death are people of color.
Black people make up only 13 percent of the population, but we make
up 41 percent of persons who have received the death penalty.
The number of state assassinations has increased
drastically. In 1997 alone, 71 people were executed.
A special reporter assigned by the United Nations
organization found serious human rights violations in the U.S.,
especially those related to the death penalty. According to these
findings, people who were mentally ill were sentenced to death,
and people with severe mental and learning disabilities, as well
as minors under age 18. Serious racial bias was found on the part
of judges and prosecutors.
Specifically mentioned in the report was the case
of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the only political prisoner on death row, who
was sentenced to death because of his political beliefs and because
of his work as a journalist, exposing police brutality in the city
Police brutality is a daily occurrence in our communities.
The police have a virtual license to kill and they do kill: children,
grandmothers, anyone they perceive to be the enemy. They shoot first
and ask questions later. Inside the jails and prisons there is at
least as much brutality as there was on slave plantations. An ever
increasing number of prisoners are found hanging in their cells.
The United States is becoming a land more hostile
to Black people and other people of Color. Racism is running rampant
and xenophobia is on the rise. This has been especially true in
the sphere of domestic policy.
Politicians are attempting to blame social problems
on Black people and other people of color. There have been attacks
on essentially all affirmative action programs designed to help
correct the accumulated results of hundreds of years of slavery
and discrimination. In addition, the government seems determined
to eliminate all social programs that provide assistance to the
poor, resulting in a situation where millions of people do not have
access to basic health care, decent housing or quality education.
It was with great happiness that I read the Christmas
message that Your Holiness delivered. I applaud you for taking up
the cause of the poor, the homeless, the unemployed. The fact that
you are addressing the issues of today, unemployment, hopelessness,
child abuse, and the drug problem, is important to people all over
One third of Black people in the United States
live in poverty, and our communities are inundated with drugs. We
have every reason to believe that the CIA and other government agencies
are involved in drug trafficking.
Although we live in one of the richest, most techically
advanced countries in the world, our reality is similar to an undeveloped,
Third World country. We are a people who are truly seeking freedom
All my life I have been a spiritual person. I first
learned of the struggle and the sacrifice of Jesus in the segregated
churches of the South. I converted to Catholicism as a young girl.
In my adult life I have become a student of religion and have studied
Christianity, Islam, Asian religions and the African religions of
my ancestors. I have come to believe that God is universal in nature
although called different names and with different faces. I believe
that some people spell God with one "O" while others spell
it with two.
What we call God is unimportant, as long as we
do God's work. There are those who want to see God's wrath fall
on the oppressed and not on the oppressors.I believe that the time
has ended when slavery, colonialism, and oppression can be carried
out in the name of religion. It was in the dungeons of prison that
I felt the presence of God up close, and it has been my belief in
God,and in the goodness of human beings that has helped me to survive.
I am not ashamed of having been in prison, and I am certainly not
ashamed of having been a political prisoner. I believe that Jesus
was a political prisoner who was executed because he fought against
the evils of the Roman Empire, because he fought the greed of the
money changers in the temple, because he fought against the sins
and injustices of his time. As a true child of God, Jesus spoke
up for the poor, the meek, the sick, and the oppressed. The early
Christians were thrown into lion dens. I will try and follow the
example of so many who have stood up in the face of overwhelming
I am not writing to ask you to intercede on my
behalf. I ask nothing for myself. I only ask you to examine the
social reality of the United States and to speak out against the
human rights violations that are taking place.
On this day, the birthday of Martin Luther King,
Jr., I am reminded of all those who gave their lives for freedom.
Most of the people who five on this planet are still not free. I
ask only that you continue to work and pray to end Oppression and
political repression. It is my heartfelt belief that all the people
on this earth deserve justice: social justice, political justice,
and economic justice. I believe it is the only way that we will
ever achieve peace and prosperity on earth. I hope that you enjoy
your visit to Cuba. This is not a country that is rich in material
wealth, but it is a country that is rich in human wealth, spiritual
wealth and moral wealth.
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Click Here 16 mins