Assata Shakur : An Open Letter To The Media -
My name is Assata Shakur, 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
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
In 1978, my case was one of many cases bought before the United Nations
Organization in a petition filed by the National Conference of Black
Lawyers, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression,
and the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, exposing
the existence of political prisoners in the United States, their
political persecution, and the cruel and inhuman treatment they receive
in US prisons. According to the report:
“The FBI and the New York Police Department in particular, charged and
accused Assata Shakur of participating in attacks on law enforcement
personnel and widely circulated such charges and accusations among
police agencies and units. The FBI and the NYPD further charged her as
being a leader of the Black Liberation Army which the government and
its respective agencies described as an organization engaged in the
shooting of police officers.
This description of the Black Liberation Army and the accusation of
Assata Shakur’s relationship to it was widely circulated by government
agents among police agencies and units. As a result of these activities
by the government, Ms. Shakur became a hunted person; posters in police
precincts and banks described her as being involved in serious criminal
activities; she was highlighted on the FBI’s most wanted list; and to
police at all levels she became a ‘shoot-to-kill’ target.”
I was falsely accused in six different “criminal cases” and in all six
of these cases I was eventually acquitted or the charges were
dismissed. The fact that I was acquitted or that the charges were
dismissed, did not mean that I received justice in the courts, that was
certainly not the case. It only meant that the “evidence” presented
against me was so flimsy and false that my innocence became evident.
This political persecution was part and parcel of the government’s
policy of eliminating political opponents by charging them with crimes
and arresting them with no regard to the factual basis of such charges.
On May 2, 1973 I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were
stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a “faulty tail
light.” Sundiata Acoli got out of the car to determine why we were
stopped. Zayd and I remained in the car. State trooper Harper then came
to the car, opened the door and began to question us. Because we were
black, and riding in a car with Vermont license plates, he claimed he
became “suspicious.” He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told
us to put our hands up in the air, in front of us, where he could see
them. I complied and in a split second, there was a sound that came
from outside the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once
with my arms held up in the air, and then once again from the back.
Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, trooper Werner Foerster was killed,
and even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot and killed Zayd
Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder law, I was charged
with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was my closest friend and
comrade, and charged in the death of trooper Foerster. Never in my life
have I felt such grief. Zayd had vowed to protect me, and to help me to
get to a safe place, and it was clear that he had lost his life, trying
to protect both me and Sundiata. Although he was also unarmed, and the
gun that killed trooper Foerster was found under Zayd’s leg, Sundiata
Acoli, who was captured later, was also charged with both deaths.
Neither Sundiata Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial We were both
convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was
ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the
FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted
by an all- white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison.
In 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison, and knowing that I
would never receive any justice, I was liberated from prison, aided by
committed comrades who understood the depths of the injustices in my
case, and who were also extremely fearful for my life.
The U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence
operations inside the USA, revealed that “The FBI has attempted
covertly to influence the public’s perception of persons and
organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press,
either anonymously or through “friendly” news contacts.” This same
policy is evidently still very much in effect today.
On December 24, 1997, The New Jersey State called a press conference to
announce that New Jersey State Police had written a letter to Pope John
Paul II asking him to intervene on their behalf and to aid in having me
extradited back to New Jersey prisons. The New Jersey State Police
refused to make their letter public. Knowing that they had probably
totally distorted the facts, and attempted to get the Pope to do the
devils work in the name of religion, I decided to write the Pope to
inform him about the reality of’ “justice” for black people in the
State of New Jersey and in the United States. (See attached Letter to
In January of 1998, during the pope’s visit to Cuba, I agreed to do an
interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza around my letter to the Pope,
about my experiences in New Jersey court system, and about the changes
I saw in the United States and it’s treatment of Black people in the
last 25 years. I agreed to do this interview because I saw this secret
letter to the Pope as a vicious, vulgar, publicity maneuver on the part
of the New Jersey State Police, and as a cynical attempt to manipulate
Pope John Paul II. I have lived in Cuba for many years, and was
completely out of touch with the sensationalist, dishonest, nature of
the establishment media today. It is worse today than it was 30 years
After years of being victimized by the “establishment” media it was
naive of me to hope that I might finally get the opportunity to tell
“my side of the story.” Instead of an interview with me, what took
place was a “staged media event” in three parts, full of distortions,
inaccuracies and outright lies. NBC purposely misrepresented the facts.
Not only did NBC spend thousands of dollars promoting this “exclusive
interview series” on NBC, they also spent a great deal of money
advertising this “exclusive interview” on black radio stations and also
placed notices in local newspapers.
Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have
a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of
speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the
press. The black press and the progressive media has historically
played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to
continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets
that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate
their minds. I am only one woman.
I own no TV stations, or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that
people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand
the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression
in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the
truth. But I sincerely ask, those of you in the Black media, those of
you in the progressive media, those of you who believe in true
freedom, to publish this statement and to let people know what is
happening. We have no voice, so you must be the voice of the voiceless.
Free all Political Prisoners, I send you Love and Revolutionary
Greetings From Cuba, One of the Largest, Most Resistant and Most
Courageous Palenques (Maroon Camps) That has ever existed on the Face
of this Planet.