Is Assata Shakur a Terrorist for Fleeing Prison, or for Being Black?
This week, Assata Shakur was the first woman to be put on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.
“My name is Assata Shakur and I am a 20th century escaped slave.”
Some background – Assata Shakur was a Black Panther and leading activist in the Black liberation Army. She, along with the coalitions by her side, was continuously persecuted and criminalized because of her involvement in Black liberation and activism.
Forty years ago, Zayd Malik Shakur and trooper Werner Foerster were killed. Trooper Harper admitted, under New Jersey felony murder law, that he killed Zayd Malik Shakur. Assata was still charged with Zayd Malik Shakur’s murder. During this incident, Assata was shot herself and despite forensic evidence being on her side, she was convicted and then granted asylum in Cuba where she had escaped to find liberation. Despite truth being on her side, she was criminalized and continues to be targeted by the FBI and US Governement.
J. Edgar – the first director of the FBI – named the Black liberation movement, or freedom for Black people, one of the largest threats to the United States. In order to combat this threat, the FBI was heavily involved in COINTELPRO, which was illegal and created to present Black activism as terrorism, to target people like Assata Shakur.
Forty years later, after Assata fled political persecution and silencing tactics, she was put on the Most Wanted list – labeled as a terrorist.
Assata Shakur, activist, went from freedom fighter to Most Wanted. Assata Shakur went from revolutionary to terrorist, two words that are almost interchangeable for the FBI and US government. And even though her alleged crime happened decades ago, the FBI continues to punish Assata Shakur for being an activist and seemingly anti-American, much of which is perceived by her simple existence as a Black woman.
This is problematic for a multitude of reasons. Assata Shakur is not only a woman of color, an identity that has been “Otherized,” criminalized, and silenced, but she is being used as a ploy to represent Cuba as a place that “harbors terrorists.” The FBI’s need to represent Cuba as a socialist regime that is complicit in crime is one of the main factors of placing someone on the Most Wanted List, forty years after she was accused of a crime she didn’t commit.
There is a deeper issue here. The deeper issues of racism and how the FBI and our US Government succeed in creating oppressive tactics towards Black people. The definition of the word terrorist, as created by our own government, is that of people of color. The word “terrorist” rather than being used to describe real threats, has become a method of Otherizing people of color and foreign countries by the US Government. The United States Government continues to not only perpetrate people of color, whose innocence is trumped by the color of their skin, but also subscribe to the hegemonic traditions of blocking and condemning activism and progressive thought.
The Black liberation front is presented in our history books as being “too militant” or “too radical.” As people were fighting for liberation, a liberation that is still yet to be completely experienced, the US government was criminalizing and assassinating folks, while at the same time involved in the destruction of individuals across the globe.
It’s important to understand the context of how these situations are presenting themselves. Those who involve themselves in activism like that of the Black liberation army are those whose existence requires them to. Those who put their bodies on the line for structural change and recognition are those who have no other choice. Those who risk the possibility of political exile are those who are considered terrorists. Those who defend themselves from the wall of privilege, supremacy, oppression, hatred, and injustice, are too radical and, also, terrorists. Those who align themselves with movements that save their soul from the destruction that is disempowerment are linked to an idea of the political destruction of human life. However, those who send drones to Pakistan and Yemen, those who fund and perpetuate the military occupation of Palestine, those who send money to bomb Syria, those who enslave more in prisons than educate in higher education, those wage war in two countries and militarize in more, those who institutionalize every “ism,” those who neoliberalize foreign countries, profit from violence, deport, and criminalize the underprivileged, are beacons for freedom and democracy.
When a Black woman demands justice, she is a terrorist. When a Black woman exists, she is a criminal. When a government wages war and values destruction, it is within its jurisdiction.
The simplicity in which the American government criminalized a woman of color is truly an incredible thing, the ability for an entity to place a woman of color in line to be assassinated, based on her silenced struggle for equality and recognition. The fact that the US government and FBI can support and spearhead the criminalization of minorities that have only seen silencing so swiftly is a representation of how the meaning of freedom and democracy in our country needs to truly be analyzed. I don’t hear people say it enough, but democracy for whom? Democracy and freedom for whom? Democracy and freedom for whom, and at what cost?
Democracy and freedom for the privileged, for the white, for the upper class, at the expense of those whose strength, fight, and vitality is categorized under the blanket ideology of “The War on Terror.”
I am aware that this type of article is going to get a lot of backlash. The backlash is nowhere near that that Assata Shakur’s continuous fight for liberation receives, but backlash nonetheless. And it is important that we remember to continue to use progressive media for justice and critiquing the systems we exist in.
“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 has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice.” – Assata Shakur, An Open Letter From Assata
The United States of America: where people of color are not “innocent until proven guilty.” Where people of color are born criminals, into the stereotypes and class structures that are created by those who oppress.
The US Government: built on the exploitation of the marginalized and threatened by resistance from someone confined in another country entirely. To the USA and US government, resistance is terrorism. But to reality, truth, and justice, resistance is simply necessary.
It is our duty to give a voice to the voiceless. It is our duty to present facts and critique the institutions that continue to enslave the outspoken.
Do not silence, and stand with justice. Stand with the oppressed, stand with activism, stand with liberation, stand with women of color, and stand with Assata Shakur.
Written by Anisha Ahuja