While digging through my mp3 collection the other night, I stumbled upon Common’s “Like Water for Chocolate” album (2000), which I had not listened to in a long while. When the album came out a few years ago there were a few cuts that I like but they had no real meaning to me other that I like they way they sounded. Specifically speaking of “A Song for Assata” and “Time Traveling (A Tribute To Fela)”, basically I was hearing what I wanted to hear & not listening to what I should have.
For the sake of a quick post, I am focusing on “A Song for Assata”, which discusses the former Black Panther Assata Shakur who now has political asylum in Cuba.
I first learned of Assata last year (2005) via a Detroit Poetry friend who was sporting a “Free Assata” t-shirt so I asked who she was & she broke it all down & I was like damn for real! She (lets call her Poet Shorté) also informed me that Assata’s drama & quest for freedom is still an issues as the US government issued a 1,000,000 (1 million if you ain’t gud wit’ numba’s) bounty for her capture. When I learned that I was like shit, Black people ain’t had no dollar value since the end of slavery (this is a joke so laugh dammit).
So anyway, after the PicNap poetry set was over, I made it home to find a wealth of knowledge about Assata on the internet & most notably, her own site (assatashakur.org). After reading more in-depth about her story, I find it so shocking that evidence in her benefit made no difference in her innocence but I guess I am not surprised: after all someone had to pay for the murdered white office and who better than a few Black Panthers.
Assata: Exile since 1979
On May 2 1973, Black Panther activist Assata Shakur (fsn) JoAnne Chesimard, was pulled over by the New Jersey State Police, shot twice and then charged with murder of a police officer. Assata spent six and a half years in prison under brutal circumstances before escaping out of the maximum security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979 and moving to Cuba.
Assata: In her own words
My name is Assata (“she who struggles”) Shakur (“the thankful one”), and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984. I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.
The Fugitive: Why has the FBI placed a million-dollar bounty on Assata Shakur?
By Kathleen Cleaver
Twenty-eight years ago, in a highly disputed trial, an all-White jury convicted former Black Panther Assata Shakur of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. In 1979, while serving a life sentence, she escaped from prison and eventually resurfaced in Cuba , where she was granted asylum and has lived ever since. But the U.S. government has continued to pursue Shakur, regularly increasing the bounty on her head and classifying her as a “domestic terrorist.” Last May the Justice Department issued an unprecedented $1,000,000 bounty for the return of Assata Shakur, 58, who continues to maintain her innocence. Kathleen Cleaver, a law professor and former communications secretary for the Black Panther Party, talks about why we all need to know about Assata, and why she must live free: I was startled when I heard about the $1,000,000 bounty for the capture of Assata Shakur. What triggered this renewed interest in Assata? Why spend so much time and money to hunt her down when Osama bin Laden, head of an international terrorist enterprise, remains at large?
It turns out that FBI and New Jersey police officials revealed the million-dollar bounty on May 2 of this year, the thirty-second anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike shootout in which State Trooper Werner Foerster and Black Panther Zayd Shakur were killed. Sundiata Acoli and Assata Shakur were arrested for the murders. Assata was severely wounded,
shot while her hands were up. She has always insisted—and expert defense testimony from the trial bears it out—that she did not kill anyone. But in separate trials, Sundiata and Assata were convicted of murdering Werner Foerster. In 1979, while incarcerated for life in the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, Assata escaped. As the FBI circulated the wanted poster that called for her arrest, all over the New York–New Jersey area her supporters hung posters proclaiming “Assata Shakur is welcome here.” Cuba gave her political asylum several years later on the grounds that she had been subjected to political persecution and had never received a fair trial.
Apparently the million-dollar bounty has already been covertly offered by police to a relative of Assata’s for assistance in kidnapping her from Cuba. This bounty evokes the memory of those vicious slave catchers who were paid to capture and torment our runaway slave ancestors and return them dead or alive. This extraordinary bounty on the head of a Black woman inevitably brings to mind Harriet Tubman, that Underground
Railroad “conductor” whose ability to organize escapes earned a $12,000 price on her head from the state of Maryland. Outraged slave owners added $40,000.
Many freedom fighters I knew and loved, including Eldridge Cleaver, to whom I was married, were arrested and imprisoned because of our membership in the Black Panther Party. Our organization started in response to the gruesome war in Vietnam and the racism and injustice here that
drenched our lives in violence. Demonstrations, riots, rampant police brutality and political assassinations marked those years when I witnessed thousands upon thousands of people arrested and hundreds killed. Many turned into fugitives to save their own lives, including my husband, whom I joined in Algeria in May 1969. That was around the same time that Assata, then a bright New York City college student named Joanne Chesimard, joined the Black Panthers.
We had a concrete ten-point program to end racial inequality. The Black Panther Party demanded the power to determine our own destiny. We insisted on decent housing, appropriate education, economic justice, an immediate end to police brutality, and other rights our people had been fighting for since slavery ended. We were not patient, we were not
passive, and we were willing to defend our principles with our lives. Since Panthers couldn’t be bought off or scared off, the government made the decision to kill us off.
Back in 1968 we became prime targets for … (Read full story here)
From the lyrics from Common’s “A Song for Assata”:
Freedom! You askin me about freedom. Askin me about freedom?
I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole more about what freedom isn’t than about what it is, cause I’ve never been free.
I can only share my vision with you of the future, about what freedom is.
Uhh, the way I see it, freedom is– is the right to grow, is the right to blossom.
Freedom is -is the right to be yourself, to be who you are, to be who you wanna be, to do what you wanna do. (From the words of Assata Shakur)