Testimony of Assata Shakur before the United
From Covert Action Quarterly
26 October 1998
CAQ Editor's note: This article contains portions
of the text of several letters and interviews by Assata Shakur and
comments by two noted attorneys, Lennox Hinds and Michael Ratner.
The text that follows in (...) is by Rosemari Mealy, who has excerpted
Assata's writings for Covert Action.
One person who was able to escape horrendous
persecution, after being convicted in 1977 by an all-white jury
and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison, was Assata Shakur
(formerly known as JoAnne Chesimard. In her written statement to
the 54th Session of the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights,
held in Geneva Switzer- land, in March 1998, Assata Shakur testified
US Senate's 1976 Church Committee report on intelligence operations
inside the USA revealed that, "The FBI has attempted covertly
to influence the public's perception of persons and organizations
by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously
or through 'friendly' news contacts."
In 1978 my case was one of many cases brought before
the United Nations..,exposing the existence of political prisoners
in the United States, their political persecution, and the cruel
and inhuman treat- ment they receive in US prisons... (see ... Shakur
I was falsely accused in six different "criminal
cases," and in all six of these cases I was eventually acquitted
or the charges were dismissed. The fact that I was acquitted or
that the charges were dismissed, did not mean that I received justice
in the courts; that was certainly not the case. It only meant that
the "evidence" presented against me was so flimsy and
false that my innocence became evident. This political persecution
was part and parcel of the government's policy of eliminating political
opponents by charging them with crimes and arresting them with no
regard to the factual basis of such charges. ...
On May 2, 1973, I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur
and Sundiata Acoli, were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly
for a "faulty tail light".. Sundiata Acoli got out of
the car to determine why we were stopped. Zayd and I remained in
th car. State Trooper Harper then came to the car, opened the door,and
began to question us.
Because we were black, and riding in a car with
Vermont licence plates, he claimed he became "suspicious".
He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told us to put our hands
up in the air in front of us, where he could see them. I complied
and in a split second, there was a sound that came from outside
the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once with my
arms held up in the air, and then once again from the back. Zayd
Malik Shakur was later killed, Trooper Werner Foerster was killed.
I was left on the ground to die and when I did not, I was taken
to a local hospital where I was threatened, beaten, and tortured...
Even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot
and killed Zayd Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder
law, I was charged with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was
my closest friend and comrade, and charged in the death of trooper
Trooper Foerster. Never in my life have I felt such grief. Zayd
had vowed to protect me, and to help me get to a safe place, and
it was clear that he had lost his life trying to protect both me
and Sundiata. Although he was also unarmed, and the gun that killed
trooper Foerster was found under Zayd's leg, Sundiata Acoli, who
was captured later, was also charged with both deaths. Neither Sundiata
Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial. We were both convicted in
the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted
to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed
stories to the press on a daily basis...
Because of government persecution, I was left with
no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism
and violence that dominate US government's policy towards people
of color, and in 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison,
and knowing that I would never receive any justice, I was liberated
from prison, aided by committed comrades who understood the depths
of the injustices in my case, and who were also extremely fearful
for my life.
(The greatest fear that Assata had to endure during
the early years of her incarceration was for the safety of her daughter,
Kakuya who was born while Assata was confined to a hospital ward.
After the daring escape from a maximum security unit at New Jersey's
Clinton Correctional facilities, Assata lived and struggled underground
for many years. She was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list and
hunted by federal officials during this period.
There was great relief among the progressive community
when it became known that Assata had been liberated from prison
on Black Solidarity Day, Nov 2 1979. Bright yellow posters with
Assata's photo were anonymously printed, and appeared on signposts
throughout Harlem with the message, "Assata Is Welcome Here".
But at the same time, Black women throughout the United States were
summarily detained by the police under the pretext that they resembled
the so-called fugitive. Homes of Black activists in New York and
other cities were raided by heavily armed SWAT teams, where police
informants had directed them to what they falsely believed to be
safe houses harboring this dangerous "cop killer".
Assata's family was also harrassed. Her aunt and
attorney, Evelyn Williams, was jailed for criminal contempt for
vigorously defending her client. Ms Williams,in her book, "Inadmissible
Evidence -Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1993- provides in detail a frightening
saga of American Jurisprudence. Before she passed in 1995, Assata's
mother, Doris, bore the emotional scars induced by mental torture.
Imagine your phone ringing constantly in the middle of the night
with a sadistic caller telling you that your daughter is dead!
If the psychological warfare that was waged against
her immediate family by the US police and other law enforcement
agencies throughout the years took place in any other country, it
would be deemed a human rights violation. In her own autobiography,
Assata -Chicago Lawrence Hill, 1987, she chronicles her experiences,
and describes herself as a "20th Century Escaped Slave."
In [the] late 1980's, Assata Shakur publicly emerged
in Cuba where she was accorded the status of political refugee.
Throughout the years, the New Jersey police have
been particularly vindictive, vowing to capture Assata Shakur dead
or alive. On Dec 24 1979, the NJ State Police called a press conference
to announce that they had written a letter to Pope John Paul II
-who was about to embark on a trip to Cuba -asking him to intervene
on their behalf to have Assata extradited to New Jersey (NJ).
Assata sent an open letter to the Pope, which received
widespread international dissemination. It was published in Arabic,
French Spanish and several other languages. In the United States,
the letter went virtually unnoticed by the mainstream press, but
was given front page coverage by New York's only Black Daily, --
the Daily Challenge.)