A Captured or Dead Assata wouldn't be to Silence Her: It Would be to Silence Us

Frank Castro I Social Movement Studies I Commentary I January 7th, 2015

"For centuries, nothing has so stirred up American fury like the escape of a slave. That ain't just distant history. For daring to slip her bonds and escape from brutal and unjust bondage, the Empire now labels her a terrorist. That's because to them, nothing is more terrifying than resistance to their imperial will."

- Mumia Abu-Jamal on Assata Shakur

When it comes to "capturing" "terrorists" or America's political fugitives, the same litmus test applies: What makes less noise, a prisoner or a corpse?

With the United States and Cuba resuming diplomatic ties, there has been a lot of speculation about what will happen to Assata Shakur, a 67 year old black liberationist and political fugitive. Almost immediately after President Obama announced resurrecting ties between the two nations, the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) started scheming to get their hands on her.

According to the NJSP's Facebook page, Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, issued the following statement:

"We continue to work closely with the FBI towards the capture of Joanne Chesimard [Assata Shakur], a convicted felon and fugitive who escaped from jail in 1979 and remains on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List, as well as New Jersey's Most Wanted List. We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring her back to the United States to finish her sentence for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. We stand by the reward money and hope that the total of two million dollars will prompt fresh information in the light of this altered international relationship."

But of course that's the state sponsored narrative of whom she is and why she is wanted by US authorities. This is the only propaganda you are supposed to unquestionably swallow as you rally behind the most racist nation in the world to go lynch yet another life in the name of "justice".

In reality Assata was a prominent female member of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. She became a member of the Black Power movement at a time when many activists were galvanized following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. And she experienced firsthand the authentic history of a nation built on genocide and slavery, something which stands in stark contrast to the whitewashed beacon of exceptionalism that mainstream America propagates today.

That experience was cemented as Shakur was targeted and framed by the FBI's COINTELPRO program, a series of illegal practices and entities formed precisely for the purpose of domestic political repression.

As David Love elaborated in a recent article for the Grio:

"The baby of J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO was designed to monitor, infiltrate and destroy social justice movements seen as a threat to national security, including civil rights and antiwar groups, the Black Power movement, [the American Indian Movement], and the Young Lords. Some of the stated goals of the program in an FBI memo were to "prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups," to "Prevent the RISE OF A 'MESSIAH' who could unify…the militant black nationalist movement," to "Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to…both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy…," and to "prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth."

As a result, black leadership was decimated, either assassinated… or thrown in prison with the key thrown away. Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba, was the last woman standing, so to speak. And apparently that is embarrassing to someone in the FBI, so they want to make an example of her as a so-called "domestic terrorist." That is why last year, 40 years after the shooting, the FBI made thepolitically-motivated move of placing Shakur on their Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list, making her the first woman and second U.S. citizen on that list. If you listen to the FBI, you'd think the ten most dangerous people on Earth are essentially nine Al Qaeda operatives and-Assata Shakur."

Yet still, to peoples struggling against American oppression she remains a prominent figure in the fight for liberation, and that's the REAL problem. To put it how Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin might, a former political prisoner himself, the reason that the US government is still after Assata is not because they fear that she will engage in violence or to just punish her, but rather because they fear her effects upon the oppressed, who see in her the inspiration to fight - and more importantly, the strength to win.

Primarily it is for this reason that the US government is unlikely to seek extradition of Shakur. Further still, bringing her back stateside in the midst of a social movement like BlackLivesMatter, the likes of which has not mobilized since her last years in America, would only add fuel to the flame of public outrage over police terror in our communities.

There are more logistical reasons she is unlikely to be extradited anytime soon though.

These include, but are not limited to 1) because her (alleged) crime and acceptance into Cuba was political in nature she is not subject to extradition per the un-revoked 1905 extradition treaty between the US and Cuba; 2) if Shakur is a Cuban citizen, this would prevent extradition; 3) there are precedents for U.S.-friendly nations that have refused to extradite American fugitives who have fled the U.S. whom fear political repression upon returning; 4) it would take a decision by Obama or the DOJ to order it in the first place; and 5) any renegotiated treaty would have to go through the Senate first.

But if we know anything about the United States' treatment of political dissidents, extraditions are low on the priority list.

There is a reason Osama bin Laden was brought back dead rather than alive. The U.S. government didn't want to try him. They didn't want bin Laden, a former partner of the CIA, to recall in intimate detail the U.S. sponsored terrorism in the Middle East that has killed millions . They didn't want to remember that before the Taliban they funded, trained, andpart nered with the Mujahideen and countless other militias in proxy wars with the USSR, devastating and destabilizing entire regions in the process. LEAST of all did the U.S. government want a lesson in historical accuracy to rally the victims of U.S. oppression around the fact that AmeriKKKa has never given a shit about brown bodies - not here, not anywhere.

Nope. They didn't want any of that. What the U.S. government DID want was a trophy for U.S. imperialism. They wanted to hang a dead body in the public square. They wanted a dead body because dead bodies don't talk.

This is why Fred Hampton never spoke again. Why Dr. King never spoke again. Why Malcolm X never spoke again. Why Huey P. Newton never spoke again. Why George Jackson, John Huggins, Bunchy Carter, Sylvester Bell, and so many others never spoke again. Any threat to the hegemony of AmeriKKKa's narrative that it is the benevolent land of milk and honey - of democracy and freedom - MUST be dealt with.

It is why if we understand the current options available to the U.S. government, and if we remember its history, the danger of Assata's U.S.-sponsored assassination is now more menacing than ever. AmeriKKKa doesn't want to bring her to "trial". That was done already and it was a farce. This government wants her shut up, out of sight, or dead. And a re-established U.S. embassy in Havana would make it that much easier. It would put agents of repression closer to Shakur than they may have ever been in the past 40 years.

So now is the time to renew our conviction to Hands Off Assata. Now is the time to remind our oppressive government that we are here, we are watching, and we will fight for Assata no matter where she is. This is the time to remember, in the powerful words of Dr. King, that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, because any effort to silence Assata Shakur is an effort to silence us.