17 May 2013

FBI’s Racist “Anti-Terror” Vendetta Against Assata Shakur

Although the government largely succeeded in destroying the Black Panther Party decades ago, the state vendetta against these courageous fighters for black freedom is not only alive and well, but thriving under the administration of the first black president and attorney general. To great fanfare, two weeks ago the FBI named Assata Shakur (formerly known as Joanne Chesimard) as the first woman to be placed on the FBI’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists.” Shakur was convicted in 1977 on frame-up murder charges in the shooting death of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster on 2 May 1973 and sentenced to life plus 33 years. Shakur escaped from prison in 1979, and five years later was granted political asylum in the Cuban deformed workers state, where she has resided for the past 29 years.

Declaring a 65-year-old grandmother one of the world’s deadliest “terrorists” may have many scratching their heads and wondering what the Feds are smoking. But this is deadly serious. At a May 2 press conference, the Feds and New Jersey State Police announced they were doubling the bounty on Shakur to $2 million. In an unprecedented move, the FBI placed billboards with her likeness, reading “Wanted: Terrorist Joanne Chesimard a/k/a Assata Shakur,” along New Jersey highways.

Given that Shakur is unlikely to pop up in Newark or Jersey City any time soon, this may seem a bit gratuitous—but that’s hardly the point. Cloaking the decades-long vendetta against Assata Shakur in the guise of the current “war on terrorism” has a dual purpose: to settle the score against those who fought for black freedom over 40 years ago and to warn that radical activity would be treated as “domestic terrorism.” It underscores what we have insisted since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon—that the ultimate target of the vast “anti-terror” arsenal will be labor, blacks and radical youth. Indeed, the Democratic administration of Barack Obama has accelerated the use of anti-terror laws against leftists. The renewed vendetta against Shakur is particularly ominous coming on the heels of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing, which was seized on by the bloody capitalist rulers to further enhance their vast repressive powers.

The FBI/cop crusade is nothing but a racist political witchhunt with a drawn gun. New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes railed, “From her safe haven in Cuba, Chesimard has been given the pulpit to preach and profess, stirring supporters and groups to mobilize against the United States by any means necessary.” Aaron T. Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI Newark Division, complained that in Cuba Shakur has continued to espouse her “anti-U.S. views” in speeches advocating “revolution and terrorism,” and ludicrously added that she may have connections to international terrorist organizations. He added: “She’s a danger to the American government.”

The State Department seized on the FBI announcement to make clear that Cuba will remain on its list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” one of the many pretexts for the continued embargo of the tiny island, where capitalist rule was overthrown 53 years ago. As always, whom the U.S. capitalist rulers consider a terrorist is entirely self-serving. Freely roaming the beaches of Miami is Cuban CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, the mastermind of the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner, which killed 73 people, as well as hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist and wounded 12 other people.

On 2 May 1973, Shakur and two other former Panthers, Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli—then members of the Black Liberation Army—were stopped by troopers Foerster and James Harper on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a “faulty taillight.” Approaching the car, one of the cops drew his gun and ordered the three to raise their hands. A moment later, Zayd Shakur was shot dead by Harper. Foerster died in the crossfire, shot with a bullet from a police revolver. Assata had just been shot twice, once in the back. Acoli was convicted of killing Foerster in 1974 and sentenced to life. After standing trial six times on other charges without a conviction, in 1977 Assata Shakur was finally tried and convicted by an all-white New Jersey jury on grotesque charges of killing her own comrade Zayd as well as Foerster.

At their May 2 press conference, Fuentes and Ford repeated the lie, dutifully echoed by the bourgeois press, that Shakur “murdered a law enforcement officer execution style.” This never happened, nor could it have. One of the bullets that struck Assata shattered her clavicle and median nerve, paralyzing her entire right arm. Assata’s fingerprints were absent from every gun and piece of ammunition found at the scene. Neutron activation analysis taken immediately after Assata arrived at the hospital showed there was no gunpowder residue on her hands. Shakur was never convicted of firing the shot that killed Foerster. Instead, she was railroaded to prison as an “accomplice” under a New Jersey statute that declares that if a person present at the scene of a crime can be construed as “aiding and abetting” it, she can be convicted of the crime itself.

Assata Shakur was on the receiving end of the greatest terrorist enterprise in the world—the bloodthirsty American capitalist rulers. She and her two comrades were among the targets for assassination by the FBI and cops under the deadly Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). In the eyes of the capitalist rulers, the great crime of the Panthers was not only proclaiming the need for a revolutionary solution to the oppression of black people but advocating the right of armed self-defense against the racist terrorists, whether in the white robes of the KKK or the navy blue of the police. The FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover labeled the Panthers the “greatest threat to the internal security of the U.S.” and in 1968 vowed, “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” Despite our deep political differences with the Panthers, we as Marxists vigorously defended them against the capitalist state’s murderous drive to crush black radicalism.

Thirty-eight Panthers were cut down, including Chicago party leader Fred Hampton, shot to death in December 1969 as he lay in his bed. Countless more were locked away for decades on frame-up charges. Foremost among them was Los Angeles Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), who himself survived an LAPD assassination attempt days after Hampton’s murder and was later imprisoned for 27 years on frame-up charges for a murder that FBI wiretap logs confirmed he could not have committed, as he was 400 miles away. Today, former Panther spokesman Mumia Abu-Jamal is condemned to a life of prison hell on false charges of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Mumia spent 30 years on death row before his death sentence was overturned two years ago. Like Shakur, the seriously wounded Mumia could not have shot anyone: no physical evidence linked Mumia to Faulkner’s killing and the courts rejected outright the evidence of innocence. In Mumia’s case, the suppressed evidence included the confession of the actual killer.

After the New Jersey governor put a $100,000 bounty on her head 15 years ago, Shakur stated in an open letter:

“I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color....

“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....

“I guess the theory is that if they could kidnap millions of Africans from Africa 400 years ago, they should be able to kidnap one African woman today. It is nothing but an attempt to bring about the re-incarnation of the Fugitive Slave Act. All I represent is just another slave that they want to bring back to the plantation. Well, I might be a slave, but I will go to my grave a rebellious slave.”

In the absence of a class-struggle leadership of labor committed to the fight for black freedom, the Panthers, their personal courage notwithstanding, rejected the only strategy for sweeping away the racist bourgeois order—socialist revolution by the multiracial proletariat. Instead, they embraced a reformist program that included the utopian call for “community control” of the police. Racist repression and cop terror will only be ended when the working class seizes state power under the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party. Hands off Assata Shakur! Free Sundiata Acoli! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! 

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1024, 17 May 2013)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.