Thursday, May 09, 2013

Jamilah King: Assata Shakur and a Brief History of the FBI’s Most Wanted Lists

May 8, 2013.
Shakur is the latest in a long list of black revolutionaries who have been among the FBI’s most sought after criminal suspects. Angela Davis famously made the list in 1970; H. Rap Brown got on it a year later in 1971; the Black Liberation Army’s Twymon Myers made the list in 1973, before being shot and killed by police; and the BLA’s Mutulu Shakur was added in 1982, until he was captured in 1986. Thanks to COINTELPRO, the FBI’s intensive countersurveillance program, leading black activists of the era were all but ensured to be targeted. “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country,” FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said in 1969, underscoring his contempt for radical black activists.

But Assata Shakur finds herself not in the company of these activists, but rather alongside Taliban and Hezbollah leaders on the agency’s most wanted terrorist list, which was formed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Take a look at the FBI’s profile of Shakur on its website, and this is what you will find: a list of 23 aliases, the FBI’s account of her conviction and escape, two birthdates, and a warning that Shakur “may wear her hair in a variety of styles and dress in African tribal clothing.” Noticeably, she is one of only two American-born people listed, the only woman, and the only person of African descent. Conspicuously missing from the list is any mention of the more than 1,000 white hate groups operating across the United States.
 Read the rest here.
Comment: I was more than just perplexed when I learned that the FBI had put Assata Shakur on its most wanted terrorist list.
Undated Picture of Shakur (Credit)

Why the sudden interest to raise her wanted profile?  And how has she suddenly become a terrorist threat after decades of living rather quietly in Cuba?

Who knows for sure hey?  But is it not interesting in race and gender terms that Shakur now owns the dubious distinction of being the first woman on the FBI's terrorist list for what are ostensibly criminal charges - one of which is a conviction for killing a police officer?

The transition from most wanted list to terrorist list remains baffling.  Keep in mind there are only 32 names on this list (not surprisingly 30 of them are Middle Eastern and Muslim.)

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that a slew of folks are asking questions about this development and its timing given the recent Boston bombing.

So, is Shakur a terrorist?

Even the fastidiously state-centric, The Washington Post, is asking the question in an article by Krissah Thompson entitled "Assata Shakur was convicted of murder. Is she a terrorist?" (May 9).  

The beacon of safe uncontroversial journalism, The Christian Science Monitor, has posted an article that raises the same question: See "Newest 'Most Wanted Terrorist': Should Assata Shakur make the list?" (May 4) by Peter Grier.

Does the answer lie in the fact that Shakur is a strident critic of the US who has consistently called for revolutionary change and that she has always maintained her conviction to be a set-up for her political views? 

Or is this a matter of the US using Shakur in an attempt to renew or reposition its hardline stance and animosity toward Cuba?

I think it is mostly the latter with a little of the former thrown in for the usual American paranoia: but you call it nonetheless.

See here for a repost of an open letter by Shakur (University of Texas dates letter to 1998) that discusses her political views.  Also ee AfroCubaWeb for more discussion on the US vs Cuba angle.



cosmicyoruba said...

I'm with Angela Davis when she says that she "can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today. Forty years ago seems like it was a long time ago. In the beginning of the 21st century, we’re still fighting around the very same issues — police violence, healthcare, education, people in prison." (see here).

The addition of Assata Shakur to the most wanted list seems to be a warning to the people, especially Black women, involved in the struggle against white supremacy and US state violence today.

Ridwan said...

Thank you Cosmicyoruba for your thoughtful comment.

I agree that Angela Davis is right. Not much has changed in 4 decades.

The struggle terrain is hardly different in race, class, and especially gender terms.

You and Davis are right to draw attention to the fact that this listing is a warning to black women in particular.

Any careful reading of whiteness will note that its history has been waged unevenly on the bodies of black women since the original evil/sin of African slavery.

Since then it has morphed/adapted but its guiding power premise remains intact.

For this reason black women are the most vulnerable population group in settler states; and the implications have a global reach.

There can, therefore, be no enduring peace as long as whiteness dominates the world.

If white people are to be agents of revolutionary change the first thing they need to do is to abandon being white and then to work to undo whiteness and its legacy everywhere.

Peace to you,