The big news to come out of Washington is the U.S's initiative to reignite diplomatic relations with Cuba. Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba does have it's positives. Relaxing the trade restrictions can allow for Cuban businesses to flourish, thus stimulating the economy and providing jobs for Cuba's citizens. On the other hand, there is worry that the U.S. is doing what world superpowers do: opening up another opportunity for neocolonization and interventionist policies.
Whatever the outcome of reestablishing relations with Cuba may be, President Obama must pardon Assata Shakur immediately.
For those unfamiliar, Assata Shakur is a member of the ORIGINAL (not that other shit) Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. She was charged and subsequently acquitted of several crimes, including kidnapping, armed robbery, and attempted murder. Other charges against Shakur were dismissed. The only crime for which Assata Shakur was convicted, and the one that forced her asylum to Cuba, is the killing of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.
The Turnpike Shootout trial where Assata was found guilty of (being an accomplice) of Trooper Foerster's murder already endured a change of venue in 1973 and a mistrial in 1974 before the final verdict occurred in 1977. Medical examination from a neurologist, neurosurgeon, and a pathologist supported Assata Shakur's claims that she did not fire any weapon during the Turnpike Shootout. Testimony, indicating that Shakur was armed and was shooting at police officers, from the surviving State Trooper in the gunfight, James Harper, was found to be false as Harper admitted he purposefully lied in initial reports about the case. In a deeper reading of Mark Lewis Taylor's deconstruction of Assata Shakur's case, one finds several injustices carried out against Assata Shakur (emphasis, mine):
First, it is time for New Jersey leaders to do what the judge in Ms. Shakur's 1977 trial refused to do: give a full account of the legacy of Cointelpro in recent New Jersey history. The Governor's spokesman on Assata Shakur said by phone to me he didn't know what I meant by the term Cointelpro — the Federal Bureau of Investigation's counterintelligence program for ''neutralizing'' leaders of black social movements of the 1960's and 70's.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the most famous victim of this program, but many other black leaders were also targeted, especially those in the Black Panthers, of which Ms. Shakur was a member. Many black activists were goaded into conflicts with the police and framed on flimsy charges.
Ms. Shakur maintains she was caught up in Cointelpro's web. The police claim they stopped her and her friends on the turnpike because she was wanted on bank robbery and murder charges. The flimsy nature of these charges is suggested by the fact that in all seven court cases dealing with them, she was acquitted or had the charges dismissed. One jury even determined that a widely circulated F.B.I. photo showing her in a bank robbery was not her at all.
Ms. Shakur's apprehension and 1977 trial need to be re-examined in light of this conspiratorial milieu. It makes all the more suspect the conviction rendered by an all-white jury in Middlesex County, even though the only witness, the slain trooper's partner, James Harper, admitted having lied in his reports about seeing Ms. Shakur holding a gun in the incident on the turnpike.
Second, another new approach would be to explore fully the claims by Ms. Shakur — and by lawyers, family and friends — that she was tortured by New Jersey officials after being apprehended on the turnpike. Referring to her physical ordeal, Lennox Hinds, Ms. Shakur's attorney and a Rutgers law professor, argued that ''in the history of New Jersey, no woman pretrial detainee or prisoner has ever been treated as she was.'' We all have a stake in checking out police abuse, especially when its details are so long remembered by so many.
As the relations between the U.S. and Cuba thaw, New Jersey has already solidified their intentions to pursue Assata Shakur and put her back in prison. It appears to be obvious that Assata Shakur's trial went down in a questionable (at best) manner. Since the current national discussion of police behavior in relation to communities of color is heating up, wouldn't it make sense to, at the bare minimum, revisit Assata Shakur's case to ensure that justice was carried out? If police officers are killing unarmed People of Color without impunity, with widespread cover-ups of said killings completed by local and state governments, in 2014, imagine what would occur in the age of COINTELPRO during the 70s.
Placing historical context of COINTELPRO aside, the events and testimony that occurred during Assata Shakur's trial are sketchy enough to be worth a more thorough reexamination by our judicial system to ensure a fair trial was given to a citizen of the United States. We are waiting, President Obama.
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