Wednesday, December 31, 2008
What does the Obama Presidency mean for Assata Shakur?
As president elect Barack Obama prepares to take office early in January 2009, a great number of urgent issues face his country.
Ranging from the war in Iraq to the current economic crisis, there are a broad number of issues that are on the agenda Obama will inherit from George W Bush.
One that has seems to have slipped through the public agenda is one that has been outsanding for more than 30 years: that of Assata Shakur.
For the unitiated, Assata Shakur is an aunt of the late rapper Tupac Shakur who is currently partaking of asylum in Cuba, where she has been since 1984 when she escaped from prison.
Between 1971 and 1973, Shakur faced criminal charges on seven separate occasions. Through the first six she was repeatedly exhonerated -- or, at the very least, found not guilty.
However, on 2 May 1973, Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey turnpike in which a state trooper was killed and another wounded. Shakur was also wounded in the incident.
Despite the fact that testimony given by two of the surviving officers contradicted the recorded radio calls of the officers from the scene, and despite the fact that Shakur herself never so much as laid hands on a weapon during the incident, Shakur was charged with several crimes, including both first- and second-degree murder.
Under the circumstances of the matter, an accessory charge would have been dubious enough. But in a trial conducted before an all-white jury, in which defense councel were cited for contempt numerous times -- alll under dubious reasoning -- Shakur was found guilty.
In 1984, Shakur escaped from prison and fled to Cuba where she was granted political asylum.
Considering the expectations that many African Americans have with blacks in positions of political power -- a phenomenon that Barack Obama described himself in Dreams From My Father -- many of Shakur's supporters in the United States will likely be expecting that Obama make Shakur the recipient of his first presidential pardon.
Considering the predictions of a warming in relations between the United States and Cuba upon Obama taking office, a pardon for Shakur could be a very real possibility -- if it appears on the Presidential agenda at all.
Granting such a pardon would certainly cement Obama's credibility with some of his celebrity supporters -- particularly individuals such as Chuck D and Common.
However, it would also give Republicans -- who jumped all over his associations with Bill Ayers (and rightfully so) -- all kinds of ammunition to use against him in a future election. Perhaps even something as damaging as the Willie Horton ad was to Michael Dukakis.
That alone may be enough to dissuade Obama from pardoning Shakur.
Despite the expectations of many of his supporters, Obama may not necessarily keep his hands off Assata Shakur.