Gender Equality of Terror
I can say with absolute certainty that gender equality in America has never been better.
Sure, women are still paid less on average than men for equal work, and the military just agreed to let women serve in combat roles, but there is no denying that progress has been made. And it continues to be made, most recently by the FBI.
Only this time, progress really isn’t a good thing.
For the first time since its inception in 2001, the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list includes a woman: former Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur (a.k.a. JoAnne Deborah Byron or JoAnne Chesimard).
Congratulations! You’ve come a long way, baby!
Seriously, though… this is nothing to cheer about.
Shakur was a member of the Black Liberation Army, a militant organization that splintered off from the Black Panthers in 1970 and believed in “armed struggle” in the war to liberate blacks in America. Their tactics included robberies, murders, bombings and even prison breaks, the latter of which Shakur would experience first-hand.
From 1973 to 1977, Shakur was indicted ten times in New York and New Jersey, which resulted in seven criminal trials. And the charges against her would impress even the most hardened criminal: bank robbery, attempted armed robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, assault and battery, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with intent to kill and illegal possession of a weapon.
Of her seven trials, three resulted in acquittals, one in a change of venue, one in a hung jury, one in a mistrial and, finally, one in a conviction.
In May of 1973, Shakur and two other alleged BLA members—James Costan and Clark Squire—were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike for driving with a broken tail light and speeding. State Trooper James Harper approached the driver of the vehicle while Trooper Werner Foerster backed him up.
Harper asked Costan for identification and when he noticed a discrepancy, he asked the driver to step out and questioned him behind the car. Shakur was in the passenger seat.
At this point, accounts vary greatly about what happened next—cops and criminals are going to tell different stories, to be sure. From what I can tell, though, it went down like this:
- Shakur pulled a 9mm pistol from her purse and shot Trooper Harper in the shoulder. She exited the vehicle and was then shot by Harper in the arms and shoulder. Shakur would later claim that she had her hands up to surrender when Harper shot her.
- After being hit in the shoulder, Harper shot Costan and fatally wounded him. He managed to crawl back into the car while Harper was tangling with Shakur.
- Squire shot Trooper Foerster from the back seat of the vehicle, walked over to where the officer lay wounded and used his own gun to execute him at point-blank range.
- Squire returned to the car—where Shakur and Costan both lay wounded—and fled the scene, coming to a stop several miles down the road. He jumped out and ran into the woods, leaving his partners to be apprehended. Costan was actually dead at this point.
- Squire himself was apprehended after a 36-hour manhunt.
It took a while, but Shakur was finally tried and convicted in March 1977. She was sentenced to 26-33 years in state prison with no possibility of parole until a minimum of 25 years had been served. And for all intents and purposes, it seemed as if Rikers Island Correctional Institution for Women would be her new home for the next quarter century.
A year after her conviction and following several transfers to different penal institutions, Shakur found herself at the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey. And in November of 1979, that’s where members of the BLA found her.
Posing as visitors, the members gained access to Shakur, pulled concealed pistols, took several guards hostage and escaped in a stolen van. No one was injured and not a drop of blood was spilled in the daring prison break.
For the next few years, Shakur lived as a fugitive and managed to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. She eventually fled to Cuba in 1984 and was granted political asylum there, where she has lived ever since.
The FBI classified Shakur as a domestic terrorist in 2005—on the 32nd anniversary of the Turnpike shootings—and the current reward for information leading to her arrest is $2 million. Of course, the FBI knows that she’s in Cuba and even described her in a recent statement: “She attends government functions and her standard of living is higher than most Cubans.”
Not what you might expect from a terrorist and fugitive, is it? That’s because in Shakur’s mind, she is the victim here. After years of being mistreated, discriminated against, marginalized, molested, oppressed, abused and accused—mostly because of the color of her skin—Shakur persevered and even outsmarted those who tried to imprison her. Now she’s living it up in Cuba, puffing cigars and celebrating her victory.
Who knows? Perhaps she also considers this latest news about “making the FBI terror list” as some kind of victory. After all, it cemented Assata Shakur’s place in history.
And sometimes being infamous is just as good as being famous. Just ask Lindsay Lohan.
Posted on May 5, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged Black Panther, commentary, Crime and Justice, Cuba, current-events, equal rights, FBI, Gender equality, news, perspectives, Race, Shakur. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.