By Ken Olende
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Assata Shakur: fighting to end the system, not for a position within it

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Issue 2419
Assata Shakur

Assata Shakur

The FBI’s most wanted list of terrorists contains two non-Muslims.  

One is Assata Shakur, originally called Joanne Chesimard, escaped from a US prison in 1979 and has been on the run ever since.

Assata was a member of the Black Panthers and later the Black Liberation Army (BLA). She was convicted of killing a policeman during 1973, but denies the charge. After her escape she went to Cuba, where she still lives.

Half the chapters document her arrest, incarceration and desperate legal struggle against one charge after another. One was for a bank robbery, where the black woman filmed on CCTV was clearly not her.

These alternate with the story of how she grew up and was radicalised by a racist, exploitative society. The way she was kept in solitary and tortured remains shocking even in the age of Guantanamo Bay. Assata talks about growing up with class, race and gender oppression.

She details surviving an attempted rape and challenging the gross sexism in the movement at the time.

She talks about arguing for the end of the class system, not simply attempting to reposition black people within it, “It would burn me up every time somebody talked about black people climbing up the ladder of success,” she wrote.

“Anytime you’re talking about a ladder you’re talking about a top and a bottom…[and] Black people are always going to wind up at the bottom.”

Assata is candid about the decline of the Panthers and that the failure of open armed resistance led her towards a guerrilla strategy.

In truth, the BLA was a product of the decline of the movement. Without mass support, its cadres were soon isolated and defeated.

This gripping book says a lot about why racism is still such a central issue in US politics.


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