New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has asked President Barack Obama to demand the return of Assata Shakur (pictured), who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper 41 years ago, from Cuba, the New York Times reports.
The New Jersey government and some federal officials have long wanted to get their hands on Shakur, a leader of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and has been living in Cuba under political asylum since her break from prison. Shakur, whose given name is Joanne Chesimard, was the first woman ever named to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Most Wanted Terrorist” list.
In response, a Change.org petition is asking Christie to pardon Shakur. The effort was started Saturday by Ayanna Smith of Washington, D.C., and has garnered nearly 20,000 of the required 80,017 names by 12 p.m. EST. Monday.
Christie’s demand came just two days after Obama announced that he would move to normalize relations with Cuba. The Republican governor wrote in a letter that Shakur, 67, should be returned to New Jersey before any further consideration is given to restoring diplomatic relations.
The New York Times writes:
“I do not share your view that restoring diplomatic relations without a clear commitment from the Cuban government of the steps they will take to reverse decades of human rights violations will result in a better and more just Cuba for its people,” Mr. Christie wrote.
The American government has said there may be about 70 people hiding in Cuba who are wanted by law enforcement in the United States. After President Obama’s announcement on Cuba, state officials in New Jersey rushed to announce their renewed hope that Ms. Chesimard, one of the most notorious fugitives, would be returned.
Smith, however, writes in her Change.org petition that she believes something sinister is afoot. Her arguments resemble today’s widespread debate about Blacks and the criminal justice system.
The Change.org petition states the trial was a jerry-built disaster:
According to the National Lawyers Guild, who represented Shakur in her final trial, the proceedings were plagued with constitutional violations, including an all-White jury of 15 people, including five jurors who had personal connections to state troopers. A state Assemblyman spoke to jurors while they were sequestered, urging them to convict.
“The judge cut funding for additional expert defense testimony after medical testimony demonstrated that Ms. Shakur—who had no gunpowder residues on her fingers, and whose fingerprints were not found on any weapon at the crime scene—was shot with her hands up and suffered injury to a critical nerve in her right arm, making it anatomically impossible for her to fire a weapon,” the Guild said in a statement.
The petition also alleges that Shakur’s escape represented a black eye to the FBI:
Moreover, evidence proved Shakur was targeted and framed by the covert and illegal FBI COINTELPRO program. The baby of J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO was designed to monitor, infiltrate and destroy social justice movements seen as a threat to national security, including civil rights and antiwar groups, the Black Power movement and the Young Lords. Some of the stated goals of the program in an FBI memo were to “prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups,” to “Prevent the RISE OF A ‘MESSIAH’ who could unify…the militant black nationalist movement,” to “Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to…both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy…,” and to “prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth.”
As a result, Black leadership was decimated, either assassinated — as in the case of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton — or thrown in prison with the key thrown away. Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba, was the last woman standing, so to speak….
In 1977, Shakur was convicted in the death of Foerster, a state trooper who was killed after he and another trooper stopped her and two others on the New Jersey Turnpike. The FBI claims that Shakur and two accomplices opened fire on the troopers. Trooper Foerster died and the other trooper was injured.
Should Christie grant Shakur a pardon or leave her alone in Cuba? Shakur has maintained her innocence and says she was the victim of a racist judicial system. Sound familiar? Further, the National Lawyers Guild, which represented Shakur in her final trial, said the activist was shot with her hands up. That was nearly 41 years before the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” rallying call of today’s social movement for justice for Blacks in the criminal justice system.