Putting the Assata Shakur Issue In Perspective


On May 4, I launched a petition drive in support of political activist Assata Shakur in response to the news that the FBI named her on their “Most Wanted Terrorists” List, and posted a $2 million reward for assistance leading to her capture. The petition, addressed to President Obama, requests that he:

1. Launch a federal and state investigation to determine the validity of Ms. Shakur’s initial conviction and prison sentence

2. Rescind Ms. Shakur’s status as a “terrorist.”

3. Terminate any bounty or “reward” for assisting in her capture.

 4. Exonerate Ms. Shakur of ALL criminal charges and void the remainder of her (unjust) prison sentence.
At this point, the petition has gained over 2,500 signatures from people all over America and the world who value freedom and justice. We aim to eventually obtain 10,000 signatures. Naturally, some people have expressed opposition to the petition drive, citing that Ms. Shakur should be punished for killing a state trooper, or that it makes no sense to petition the same government that persecuted her in the first place. I like to respond to such commentary by providing some perspective to this issue:

1. There is not a shred of evidence that suggests Assata killed the state trooper. No gun residue on her hands or body, no gun, and no ability to shoot one given that police gunfire shattered her clavicle.

2. Assata was previously charged with abduction, bank robbery, etc. but was completely exonerated of all charges. This occurred before the state trooper incident. Therefore, we have every reason to believe that law enforcement agents around the country troopers had motivation to kill Assata on sight or imprison her on false pretenses.

3. I am not under the naive impression that the President is an advocate of Black liberation or nationalism. Past articles will attest to this. And while he is part of the system that hunts for and harasses Assata, we are nevertheless intelligent to use our constitutional rights to petition the government on this matter. Short of leading an armed cadre of comrades to Cuba for her protection and whisking her away to an undisclosed location, what are the other options available to us?

The $2 million bounty on her head insures that it’s just a matter of time before opportunistic and pro-American elements in Cuba abduct and/or provide info to the FBI for her capture. In such scenarios, politically conscious people use whatever means at their disposal to fight. Perhaps a strong petition drive might pressure Obama to launch an investigation and clear Assata. Whatever the case, it is self-defeating and apolitical to do NOTHING. At worse, such a tactic re-energizes a national and global discussion and awareness around political prisoners, the FBI’s racist practices, and the issue of Black political resistance. Students of history will note that most enslaved Blacks did not escape or participate in plantation revolts; yet many broke tools, deliberately slowed down work production, faked illness, and stole items from the plantation owners. In other words, they participated in acts of RESISTANCE, doing what they could with what they had.

4. We can safely conclude that the FBI has strategic objectives in declaring Assata a “terrorist.” Provisions of the Patriot Act and the other heavy-handed laws allow law enforcement agents access to resources and use of methods that are unlawful and unethical. This characterization of Ms. Shakur is obviously propagandistic given that she was not deemed as a terrorist during her active years as a member of the Black Panther Party or Black Liberation Army! The Cuban government cites no illegal activities on Shakur’s par. The only thing she’s been “guilty” of is teaching and maintaining a website. Shakur has taken part in no terrorist activities against America. The brothers responsible for  bombing the Boston Marathon, the racists that bombed the Federal building in Oklahoma, the “Unabomber,” and those responsible for attacking the World Trade Center might qualify for such a distinction, but not Assata. Therefore I interpret this move by the FBI and their timing for the move to be an attempt to 1)initiate possible conflict with Cuba, a country that continues to be a thorn in America’s side  2) pressure Cuban residents to cooperate with American interests  3) depict Cuba in a negative light at a time when we witness an increasingly pro-Cuba sentiment in America, 4) exercise a vindictive attempt to catch “the one that got away,” and 5) to intimidate and suppress any current and future spirit of aggressive Black activism and self-determination.

5. In supporting this petition drive, we defend not only Assata Shakur, but our right to organize and challenge the governmental oppression and repression of Black, Brown and other people in America.

My hope is that you will all sign the petition and encourage others to do the same. We aim to get 10,000 signatures. We must not allow our skepticism or cynicism paralyze us; We must maintain the spirit of defiance and resistance that our ancestors maintained; And we must stand with sister Assata in challenging racist and repressive law enforcement agencies. Let us not forget that brother Malcolm suggested, “By ANY means necessary.” Typically, we took this to mean armed revolt or other acts of aggression. But this phrase also includes legislation, petition, grassroots organizing and any other method deemed effective for challenging injustice and pursuing liberation.


Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

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