by SAEED SHABAZZ
“My name is Assata (she who struggles) Olugbala (for the people) Shakur (the thankful one), and I am a 20th century escaped slave,” she wrote on her website in 2013. “Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the U.S. government’s policy toward 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,” Shakur wrote.
On July 16, “activists, artists and humanitarians will come together to salute Assata Shakur to mark her 70th birthday,” according to a press release from the New Jersey Black Panther Party Commemoration Committee.
The birthday celebration will take place at The REFAL Center, 271 South 9th St., Newark, N.J., at 4:30 p.m. The theme for the gathering is “For the Love of Freedom: Assata is Always Welcome Here—An Honoring of 70 Years of a Committed Life.”
On May 2, 1973, Shakur was shot and critically injured in an incident on the New Jersey Turnpike. According to the BPP, Shakur was left wounded, and the driver of the car, Zayd Shakur, was killed, as was State Trooper Werner Foerster. Shakur and co-defendant Sundiata Acoli, now 80 and still incarcerated, were sentenced to life plus 30 years.
Shakur made a daring escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility, and has since been given exile in Cuba. The U.S. government has placed a $2 million bounty for her capture and placed her on the FBI’s Domestic Terrorist List.
“Assata was not even an officer or a leader in the [BP] Party, and yet there was an obsession with going after her. What happened to her is a prime example of the length that the government was willing to go to destroy the BPP,” wrote Zayid Muhammad, a main organizer of the upcoming gathering.
“The fact that she survived such an incredible ordeal, and was able to secure some semblance of freedom, albeit exiled, is a testimony to the spiritual will of our people to survive the worst expressions of oppression and to be free,” concluded Muhammad.
Nisa Islam Muhammad, staff writer at The Final Call News, remembered the time she interviewed Shakur: “It was my great pleasure to be able to interview Assata Shakur during my first trip to Cuba in 2002. It was a dream come true. She’s every bit as wise and beautiful as you would imagine. Cuba has embraced her and given her a home away from home. I asked her what is the one thing she misses about not being in America. She said she misses being around Black women, our sway, our language, our way of caring for each other. She loves the Cuban people who have been so kind and gracious to her.”
Nisa Islam Muhammad explained, “This interview allowed me to see the real person, the real woman who was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, the woman whose injuries could not have allowed her to shoot anyone, the woman who continues to express her innocence.”
She continued, “Another comment she made that stuck with me was her impression when she was sent to prison: it was wall-to-wall Black women as if no other woman in America committed a crime. She was touched and move by that injustice.”