The Federal Bureau of Investigation says that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had nothing to do with putting the first black woman on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list for a crime she allegedly committed 40 years ago.
The move also makes Assata Shakur, previously known as Joanne Chesimard — once active in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army in the United States at different times over 35 years ago — the first woman to be placed on the list.
“Both AG and the President has nothing to do with the selection of the list or the approval and have not been involved since the creation of the list from 2001,” an FBI public affairs official told Politic365.
However, the official added that President Obama and Holder are aware of Assata Shakur being added to the list.
The FBI conducts an “internal review” when determining who goes on the list and President Obama and Attorney General Holder aren’t necessarily involved, the official explained.
On May 2, the FBI placed Assata Shakur on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list. The Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Newark Division, Aaron T. Ford, called Shakur a “domestic terrorist.” According to the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL), Shakur’s designation as a “domestic terrorist” was enabled under the PATRIOT Act.
Additionally, the state of New Jersey added $1 million to the $1 million already proposed by the FBI for information that will lead to the arrest of Shakur.
Assata’s Word Versus The FBI’s Word
In the FBI’s account, Assata Shakur along with two other people were stopped while traveling alongside the New Jersey Turnpike by two New Jersey state troopers for a reportedly broken tail light.
“All three subjects possessed fictitious identification, and, unbeknownst to the troopers, all three were armed with semi-automatic handguns,” according to an FBI press release.
“From the front passenger seat, Chesimard fired the first shot, wounding Trooper James Harper in the shoulder,” it continued. “As Harper moved for cover, Chesimard exited the car and continued to fire at both troopers until she was wounded by Harper’s return fire.”
The FBI says that another passenger, James Coston (spelled Costan in other accounts; also known as Zayd Shakur), also fired at the two state troopers and “was mortally wounded” by trooper James Harper.
The driver, Clark Squire, was said by the FBI to have engaged with the other trooper, Werner Foerster, in “hand-to-hand” combat.
“Foerster was severely wounded in his right arm and abdomen and then executed with his own service weapon on the roadside,” the FBI’s account continues. “Chesimard’s jammed handgun was found at Foerster’s side.”
Shakur, Squire, and Coston then hopped back in the car and abandoned the car after driving five miles. Shakur was arrested. Coston died from his wounds. Squire was found within two days, according to the FBI.
However, Shakur’s account is slightly different and less detailed.
Her letter to Pope John Paul II written in Cuba (in prison because of a 1977 conviction, she escaped from there in 1979, and eventually traveled to Cuba and lived there ever since in political asylum) contradicts the FBI account on a few fronts.
The FBI says Shakur was shot during return fire which she was said to have initiated. Shakur says she was shot with her hands in the air.
“To make a long story short, I was captured in New Jersey in 1973, after being shot with both arms held in the air, and then shot again from the back,” Shakur said. “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.”
Her account of the May 2, 1973 incident didn’t get more detailed.
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) says that the conviction came “despite medical evidence showing that Ms. Shakur was shot with her hands in the air and physically unable to fire a weapon and despite the sole witness recanting the testimony that fingered Ms. Shakur as a shooter.”
*All of the 15 jurors were white, in a clear Batson v. Kentucky violation;
*Five jurors had personal connections to state troopers (one girlfriend, two nephews and two friends), posing a clear conflict of interest;
*One juror violated the jury’s sequestration order and, according to William Kunstler, a New Jersey State Assembly member spoke to jury members at the hotel where they were sequestered, urging them to convict Shakur;
*The judge cut funding for additional expert defense testimony after medical testimony demonstrated that Ms. Shakur—who had no gunpowder residues on her fingers, and whose fingerprints were not found on any weapon at the crime scene—was shot with her hands up and suffered injury to a critical nerve in her right arm, making it anatomically impossible for her to fire a weapon;
*Forensic and ballistic specialists declined to testify, citing conflicts of interest because they routinely testified for law enforcement officials.
Shakur was targeted by the FBI under the COINTELPRO program, which she says was “a program that was set up…to eliminate all political opposition to the U.S. government’s policies, to destroy the Black Liberation Movement in the United States, to discredit activists and to eliminate potential leaders.”
Additionally, she says police could shoot her at first sight.
“Under the COINTELPRO program, many political activists were harassed, imprisoned, murdered or otherwise neutralized,” Shakur said.
“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,” she continued. “The FBI, with the help of local police agencies, systematically fed false accusations and fake news articles to the press accusing me and other activists of crimes we did not commit.”
In that letter, she says “the charges were eventually dropped or I was eventually acquitted,” but adds “the national and local police agencies created a situation where, based on their false accusations against me, any police officer could shoot me on sight.”
Groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, which was founded by a lawyer in Shakur’s defense team for her New Jersey Turnpike shootout trial, the NLG, which another Shakur attorney has been a member of, and the NCBL condemned the FBI placing Shakur on the terrorism list, all of them agreeing that the move “criminalizes political dissent” and is designed to intimidate activists into inaction.
The Congressional Response
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) has been a long critic of Shakur’s asylum in Cuba and has sought for her to be extradited over the years.
In an op-ed written on May 10, he reinforced the FBI’s narrative and repeated past calls to normalize relations with Cuba by first receiving political prisoners to be returned to the United States. He called Shakur a “terrorist thug” who murdered a “friend.”
He also mentions Jay-Z and Beyonce’s recent trip to Cuba.
“It is baffling that the administration would choose to legitimize the Castro regime through cultural exchange of high-profile American entertainers — and all the while the regime provides refuge to a convicted murderer,” wrote Garrett.
In 2011, Garrett wrote a letter to President Obama calling for her extradition and to make it a “top priority.”
In February 2013, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) rehashed the “controversy” surrounding President Obama inviting Chicago rapper Common to the White House. Stockman’s post was entitled “Flashback: Obama White House guest glorified cop-killer.”
In 1998, the House and the Senate passed a resolution (H.Con. Res 254) calling for the the extradition of Shakur and other’s who fled the United States seeking asylum.
Even the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus at the time Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) voted for the bill. However, a day later Waters said she would have voted against it.
“Mr. Speaker, I inadvertently voted ‘yea’ on rollcall vote No. 428,” wrote Waters in her personal explanation in the Congressional Record. “If I had been aware of this, I would have changed my vote to ‘nay’ instead of ‘yea,'” she wrote on September 15, 1998.
In a May 2005 television broadcast, then-Cuban President Fidel Castro stated opposition to turn over Shakur and said accusations of her being a terrorist is a lie.