Amid President Barack Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the U.S. terrorist list in an attempt to improve relations between the two countries, an online petition is now calling on him to pardon Assata Shakur.
“Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, so as to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world,” President Obama said last week during a press announcement. “We can’t keep doing the same thing for five decades and expect a different result.”
But some are looking for the president to go a step further and grant a pardon on Shakur, who has been on the run from the U.S. government for nearly 40 years.
Shakur, 67, also known as JoAnne Chesimard, was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. In 1973, she was arrested during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. A shootout left Assata injured with multiple wounds, the
driver, Zayd Shakur, dead, and a state trooper dead.
Shakur underwent numerous trails and, in 1977, was convicted of first degree murder of the officer. And in 1979, Shakur escaped and fled to Cuba, where Fidel Castro granted her asylum.
“Assata was falsely charged on numerous occasions in the United States during the early 1970s and vilified by the media,” wrote scholar and activist Angela Davis in an article for The Guardian. Davis added Shakur “was charged with armed robbery, bank robbery, kidnap, murder, and attempted murder of a policeman. Although she faced 10 separate legal proceedings, and had already been pronounced guilty by the media, all except one of these trials – the case resulting from her capture – concluded in acquittal, hung jury, or dismissal.”
“Under highly questionable circumstances, she was finally convicted of being an accomplice to the murder of a New Jersey state trooper,” Davis added.
According to the National Lawyers Guild, who represented Shakur in her final trial, the proceedings were plagued with constitutional violations, including an all-white jury of 15 people, including five jurors who had personal connections to state troopers. A state Assemblyman spoke to jurors while they were sequestered, urging them to
“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,” the Guild said in a statement.
The petition, which was launched on Change.org, is demanding that the U.S., like it recently did with Cuba, remove Shakur from its list of terrorists.
According to The Grio’s David A. Love, the FBI went after Shakur in an attempt to silence her and make an example of her based on her political views.
“As a result, Black leadership was decimated, either assassinated—as in the case of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton—or thrown in prison with the key thrown away. Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba, was the last woman standing, so to speak,” Love wrote.
“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 the politically-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.”
So far nearly 20,000 supporters have signed the online petition for Shakur’s freedom. The petition is seeking a total of 80,000 online signatures.
(Photo: Johnny Nunez/WireImage)