Friday, June 24, 2005

The Fine Art of Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

“Black people don’t scare me,” Donald Rumsfeld says. “ For one thing, their T-shirts shrink after washing.”

Huh? Does that make any sense to you? Oh, wait.

“For one thing, this woman’s name is not Assata Shakur,” Rumsfeld continues (I knew I was missing something), “it’s Joanne Chesimard. And finally, the United States government has just offered one million—dollars, not t-shirts—to anyone who captures her. She’s a convicted cop killer, for christsake.”

We are speaking of course, about Assata Shakur, exiled African American activist, self-proclaimed “20th century escaped slave” and… terrorist(?).

One June 8, 2005, Assata Shakur made what some may or may not consider a generous bounty on the head of the U.S. Secretary of Defense: one million “HANDS OF ASSATA” T-shirts to anyone who can capture Rumsfeld and deliver him to the International Criminal Court to faces of war crimes related to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. So, now, Rummy makes a lot more sense. Well, just a little.
There is no question that the topic of Assata Shakur is a fairly hot one right now. In in 1973, Shakur was convicted of the murder of New Jersey state patrolman Werner Forrester under circumstances that would probably make Rubin “Hurricane” Carter blush.

Of course, there is probably no one who can tell the tale better than Assata Shakur herself: “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 Forester 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 Forester.”

The trials that followed were wrought with issues. In 1973, for example, Assata’s trial in Middlesex county was stopped due to overwhelming racism – one juror was even heard to remark “if she’s black, she’s guilty.”

The kanagroo court case was beset by all sorts of extremists. The American National Socialist White Person’s party even protested outside the courthouse, urging people to “support white cops”. In 1977, Assata would finally be convicted by an all-white jury.

Assata would escape from prison in 1979, and flee to Cuba in 1981. The Cuban government of Fidel Castro (obviously recognizing a P.R. windfall when they see it – doing what may be the right thing for the wrong reasons) granted Shakur refuge, and the matter has been a source of political strife ever since.

In May, 2005, the United States Government raised the $150,000 bounty on Shakur to an even $1 million, and continues to petition Cuba to return the “terrorist” Assata Shakur (it should be noted that Shakur was reputed to be the “Bandit Queen” of the Black Panthers). However, this alone should not be enough to make Shakur guilty of murder. But she must be guilty… she was convicted, right?

Rapper Mos Def disagrees: “ There are those who believe that being convicted of a crime makes you guilty. But that imposes an assumption of infallibility upon our criminal justice system. When Assata Shakur was convicted of killing Werner Forester, not only had the Black Panther Party been labeled by then F.B.I. director, J. Edgar Hoover, as “the greatest internal threat” to American security, but Assata herself had been thoroughly criminalized in the minds of the American public; she’d been charged in six different crimes ranging from attempted murder to bank robbery, and her acquittal or dismissal of the charges outright notwithstanding, to the average citizen, it seemed she must be guilty of something.”

And according to Mos Def, she was: “ She was guilty of calling for a shift in power in America, and for racial and economic justice. Included on a short list of the many people who have made that call and were either criminalized, terrorized, killed or blacklisted are Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, Medgar Evers and Ida B. Wells.”

Not exactly a list of war criminals, is it?

However, there is one matter. As unfair as her trial was, Assata Shakur was indeed convicted of murder, and has escaped from prison. She is a refugee from “the king’s justice”.

There is, however, one simple solution to this matter. Assata Shakur and Donald Rumsfeld should both agree to lay it on the line. Each should submit to trial in the International Criminal Court. For Assata Shakur, this may be the opportunity that she and her supporters have awaited for decades – the only opportunity for a fair trial. For Rumsfeld, this may be the opportunity to finally gain either international approval for the U.S. actions in Iraq, or at least demonstrate that the United States will allow itself to be held accountable.This is what we call “killing two birds with one stone”.

It may also be the only way Assata Shakur will truly fly free.

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