Assata Shakur Update- Beyond the News

Yesterday, May 2, the FBI held a press conference in Newark, NJ to announce they were (1) making Assata the first women on its list of most wanted terrorists and (2) raising the reward for her capture from $1 million to $2 million.  The FBI chose to hold this press conference yesterday as it marked the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike shoot out that led to Assata Shakur’s original capture. On May 2, 2005, the 22nd anniversary, the FBI also held a press conference announcing at that time their $1 million dollar reward.

Most of the news accounts on the story tell the story from the side of the police and FBI not offering the counter stories or even the full details. Most of these stories state that Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard) murdered Werner Foerster execution style by shooting him twice in the head in the midst of this shoot out.  What the stories do not say is that Officer James Harper who was at the scene and was wounded in the shoot out testified during the court case Foerester was not shot by Assata but instead he was shot while Assata was felled by bullets from Harpers gun or that Harper and that she was not the one who murdered Foerster. (New York Times, 1974).  Nor do they say they mention that Harper also said he had never seen Assata with a gun.

In fact Neurosurgeon Dr. Arthur Turner Davidson,  testified that the wounds in Assata’s upper arms, armpit and chest, and severed median nerve that instantly paralyzed her right arm, would only have been caused if both arms were raised, and that to sustain such injuries while crouching and firing a weapon (as described in Trooper Harper’s original testimony) “would be anatomically impossible.”

Most of these same news stories also draw attention to the fact that at the time of Assata’s arrest she was wanted on several other criminal charges from her activities in the Black Liberation Army.  What these stories fail to mention is that Assata’s trials for the 6 other charges that were brought against her for other robbery, murder and kidnapping cases resulted in 3 acquittals and 3 dismissals meaning she was NEVER convicted of any of these and was actually found innocent in half of them and the other half were dismissed from court.

What is certain is that on May 2, 1973, the car Assata Shakur, Zayd Shakur, and Sundiata Acoli were riding in was pulled over by police and a shoot out occurred in which both Zayd Shakur and Officer Foerster were killed and Assata and Officer Harper were wounded. Assata who was arrested, tried, and convicted was highlighted by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1979 for having received treatment as a political prisoner that was cruel and unusual punishment and “conditions totally unbefitting any prisoner”.

On November 2, 1979 Assata escaped from prison and eventually went to Cuba where she received political asylum and has lived in exile ever since.

Most people would ask why the Assata Shakur case still strikes a chord? We encourage you to find out why and to research more on Assata.  For more info on Assata please watch the film Eyes on the Rainbow, read her autobiography Assata,  and read the Statement of Facts in the New Jersey Trial of Assata Shakur.

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