“Joanne Chesimard, a cold-blooded cop killer, convicted by a jury of her peers, in what is without question the fairest and most just criminal justice system in the world…She is now, according to an official of the Cuban government, persecuted.”
-NJ Governor Chris Christie
Cheismard, more widely known as Assata Shakur, is the first woman to ever be placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. A prominent activist during the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Shakur was convicted of the assault and murder of NJ State Trooper Werner Foerster and sentenced to life imprisonment by an all-white jury. It is critical to note that this directly contradicts Christie’s claim that she was tried by a “jury of her peers”. Her jury was comprised of fifteen Whites, five of whom had direct ties to State Troopers.
Due to the profound history of racial injustice in this country, especially when it comes to a justice system that continues to unfairly deal with African Americans, that could not be further from the truth. This is demonstrated with the recent decision of predominately white grand jury not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, despite explicit video evidence that proves that he used illegal force on Garner, who did not physically or verbally threaten him. The dangerous narrative that portrays all cops as heroes and all Blacks as violent criminals has greatly contributed to the current state of affairs in this country.
It is widely known that the FBI has taken hostile measures towards Black civil rights organizations and leaders throughout history. During the 1960s and 1970s, its infamous Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) targeted the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army (of which Shakur was a member), among others. It infiltrated these groups and framed and murdered their members in order to destroy any chance of them achieving their ultimate mission of racial equality.
It is clear when one looks at the facts of Assata Shakur’s case that she is not unquestionably guilty; for Christie to state that the U.S. criminal justice system is “without question the fairest and most just” reflects a severe lack of knowledge. Although America represents 5 percent of the global population, it houses around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners; it also has the largest incarceration rate in the world. For a country that is supposed to be the pinnacle of justice and democracy, something is clearly wrong.
Now that we have reopened relations with Cuba, a country that has provided Shakur refuge for nearly 30 years, many desire for her to be extradited here. Why? So that she can be used as an example of what occurs when one dares to attempt to change an racist, oppressive system.
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