Assata Shakur (born JoAnne Deborah Byron, July 16, 1947) is an activist who was found guilty in the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. Shakur was incarcerated in several prisons in the 70s. She escaped from U.S. prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba in political asylum since 1984. Shakur is the step-aunt/godmother of the late Tupac Shakur.
Assata: In Her Own Words
- My name is Assata ("she who struggles") Olugbala ( "for the people" ) Shakur ("the thankful one"), and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government's policy towards people of color. I am an ex political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984. I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO program. because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it the "greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.
- When George Washington was fighting for freedom in the Revolutionary War, he was fighting for the freedom of "whites only." Rich whites, at that. After the so-called Revolution, you couldn't vote unless you were a white man and you owned a plot of land. The Revolutionary War was led by some rich white boys who got tired of paying heavy taxes to the king. It didn't have anything at all to do with freedom, justice, and equality for all.
- p. 33
- Any Black person in amerika, if they are honest with themselves, has got to come to the conclusion that they don't know what it feels like to be Free.
- p. 60
- Once you're in prison, there are plenty of jobs, and, if you don't want to work, they beat you up and throw you in the hole. If every state had to pay workers to do the jobs prisoners are forced to do, the salaries would amount to billions. License plates alone would amount to millions. When Jimmy Carter was governor of Georgia, he brought a Black woman from prison to clean the statehouse and babysit Amy. Prisons are a profitable business. They are a way of legally perpetuating slavery. In every state, more and more prisons are being built and even more are on the drawing board. Who are they for? they certainly aren't planning to put white people in them. Prisons are part of this government's genocidal war against Black and Third World people.
- pp. 64-65
- White people's fear of Black people with guns will never cease to amaze me. Probably it's because they think about what they would do were they in our place. Especially the police, who have done so much dirt to Black people- their guilty conscience tells them to be afraid. When Black people seriously organize and take up arms to fight for our liberation, there will be a lot of white people who will drop dead from no other reason than their own guilt and fear.
- p. 65
- The more i watched how boys and girls behaved, the more i read and the more i thought about it, the more convinced i became that this behavior could be traced directly back to the plantation when slaves were encouraged to take the misery of their lives out on each other instead of on the master. The slavemasters taught us we were ugly, less than human, unintelligent, and many of us believed it. Black people became breeding animals: studs and mares. A Black woman was fair game for anyone at any time: the master or a visiting guest or any redneck who desired her. The slavemaster would order her to have sex with this stud, seven with that stud, for the purpose of increasing his stock. She was considered less than a woman. She was a cross between a whore and a workhorse. Black men internalized the white man’s opinion of Black women. And, if you ask me, a lot of us still act like we’re back on the plantation with massa pulling the strings.
- Ch.6, pp. 176-177
- I was getting tired of the streets. I was tired of being grown and i wanted to be a kid again.
- Ch. 6, p. 177
- There were a lot of communist groups on campus. I had no idea at the time that there were so many different kinds of communists and socialists. I had been so brainwashed i had thought that all communists were the same, that there were Marxists, Leninists, Maoists, Trotskyites, etc. Most of the so-called communists i met weren’t in any party at all but just related to the philosophy of communism. Most followed very different political lines and policies, and it was difficult for them to sit down and agree on the time of day, much less hatch up some “communist plot.”
- I was surprised to learn that there were all different types of capitalist countries and different types of communist countries. I had heard “communist bloc” and “behind the iron curtain” so much in the media, that i had naturally formed the impression that these countries were all the same. Although they are all socialist, East Germany, Bulgaria, Cuba, and North Korea are as different as night and day. All of them have different histories, different cultures, and different ways of applying the socialist theory, although they have the same economic and similar political systems. It has never ceased to amaze me how so many people can be tricked into hating people who have never done them any harm. You simply mention the word “communist” and a lot of these red, white, and blue fools are ready to kill.
- There was not a single liberation movement in Africa that was not fighting for socialism. In fact, there was not a single liberation movement in the whole world that was fighting for capitalism. The whole thing boiled down to a simple equation: anything that has any kind of value is made, mined, grown, produced, and processed by working people. So why shouldn’t working people collectively own that wealth? Why shouldn’t working people own and control their own resources? Capitalism meant that rich businessmen owned the wealth, while socialism meant that the people who made the wealth owned it.
- Only the news concerning Black people made any impact at all on me. And it seemed that each year the news got worse. The first of the really bad news that i remember was Montgomery, Alabama. That was when i first heard of Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give her seat to a white woman. The Black people boycotted the buses. It was a nasty struggle. Black people were harassed and attacked and, if i remember correctly, Martin Luther King’s house was bombed. Then came Little Rock. I can still remember those ugly, terrifying white mobs attacking those little children who were close to my own age. When the news about Little Rock came on, you could hear a pin drop at my house. We would all sit there horrified. Sometimes, afterward, somebody would say something, but usually, we would just sit there lost in our own thoughts. I guess there was nothing to say. And each year i would sit in front of that box, watching my people being attacked by white mobs, being bitten by dogs, beaten and water-hosed by police, arrested and murdered. Then the news seemed too real.
- p. 73
- I remember how i felt in those days. I wanted to be an amerikan just like any other amerikan. I wanted a piece of amerika's apple pie. Believed we could get our freedom just by appealing to the consciences of white people. I believed that the North was really interested in integration and civil rights and equal rights. I used to go around saying, "our country," "our president," "our government." When the national anthem was played or the pledge of allegiance spoken, i stood at attention and felt proud. I don't know what in the hell i was feeling proud about, but i felt the juice of patriotism running through my blood. Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.
- Chapter 8, p. 139
- I believed that integration was really the solution to our problems. I believed that if white people could go to school with us, live next to us, they would see that we were really good people and would stop being prejudiced against us. I believed that amerika was really a good country, like my teachers said in school, "the greatest country on the face of the earth." I grew up believing that stuff. Really believing it. And, now, twenty-odd years later, it seems like a bad joke.
- We're taught at such an early age to be against the communists, yet most of us don't have the faintest idea what communism is. Only a fool lets somebody tell them who the enemy is.
- p. 152
- The schools we go to are reflections of the society that created them. Nobody is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free. Schools in amerika are interested in brainwashing people with amerikanism, giving them a little bit of education, and training them in skills needed to fill the position the capitalist system requires. As long as we expect amerika's schools to educate us, we will remain ignorant.
- p. 181
- Every day out in the streets now, i remind myself that black people in amerika are oppressed. It's necessary that I do that. People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be accurately aware of being a slave.
- Too many people in the u.s. support death and destruction without being aware of it. They indirectly support the killing of people without ever having to look at the corpses.
- p. 268
- How much we had all gone through. Our fight had started on a slave ship years before we were born. Venceremos, my favorite word in Spanish, crossed my mind. Ten million people had stood up to the monster. Ten million people only ninety miles away. We were here together in their land, my small little family, holding each other after so long. There was no doubt about it, our people would one day be free. The cowboys and bandits didn't own the world.
- pp. 274
- Anytime you're talking about a ladder, you're talking about a top and a bottom , an upper class and a lower class, a rich class and a poor class. As long as you've got a system with a top and a bottom, Black people are always going to wind up at the bottom, because we're the easiest to discriminate against.
- p. 190
- When we were sitting in this courtroom, during the jury selection proves, i listened to Judge Thompson tell you about the amerikan system of justice. He talked about the presumption of innocence; he talked about equality and justice. His words were like a beautiful dream in a beautiful world. But i have been awaiting trial for two and one half years. And justice, in my eyesight has not been the amerikan dream. It has been the amerikan nightmare. There was a time when I wanted to believe that there was justice in this country. But reality crashed through and shattered all my daydreams. While awaiting trial i have earned a Ph.D. in justice, or rather, the lack of it.
- p. 166
- Judge Bachman's having a fit," Ray said. "I hear the FBI is going to conduct an investigation to determine how you got pregnant."
"Well, they better not try to come 'round me asking no questions," i told them. "I'll tell them that this baby was sent by the Black creator to liberate Black people. I'll tell 'em that this is the new Black messiah, conceived in a holy way, come to lead our people to freedom and justice and to create a new black nation."
- p. 123
To My People (July 4, 1973)
Shakur, Assata (1999). Assata An Autobiography. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books. p. 75. ISBN 9781613745618.
Shakur, Assata. "To My People By Assata Shakur (written while in prison)". Articles/letters. 4 July 1973. http://www.assatashakur.org/mypeople.htm
- Black brothers, Black sisters, i want you to know that i love you and i hope that somewhere in your hearts you have love for me. My name is Assata Shakur (slave name joanne chesimard), and i am a revolutionary. A Black revolutionary. By that i mean that i have declared war on all forces that have raped our women, castrated our men, and kept our babies empty-bellied.
- I have declared war on the rich who prosper on our poverty, the politicians who lie to us with smiling faces, and all the mindless, heart-less robots who protect them and their property.
- I am a Black revolutionary, and, as such, i am a victim of all the wrath, hatred, and slander that amerika is capable of. Like all other Black revolutionaries, amerika is trying to lynch me.
- I am a Black revolutionary woman, and because of this i have been charged with and accused of every alleged crime in which a woman was believed to have participated. The alleged crimes in which only men were supposedly involved, i have been accused of planning. They have plastered pictures alleged to be me in post offices, airports, hotels, police cars, subways, banks, television, and newspapers. They have offered over fifty thousand dollars in rewards for my capture and they have issued orders to shoot on sight and shoot to kill.
- I am a Black revolutionary, and, by definition, that makes me a part of the Black Liberation Army. The pigs have used their newspapers and TVs to paint the Black Liberation Army as vicious, brutal, mad-dog criminals. They have called us gangsters and gun molls and have compared us to such characters as john dillinger and ma barker. It should be clear, it must be clear to anyone who can think, see, or hear, that we are the victims. The victims and not the criminals.
- It should also be clear to us by now who the real criminals are. Nixon and his crime partners have murdered hundreds of Third World brothers and sisters in Vietnam, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, and South Africa. As was proved by Watergate, the top law enforcement officials in this country are a lying bunch of criminals. The president, two attorney generals, the head of the fbi, the head of the cia, and half the white house staff have been implicated in the Watergate crimes.
- They call us murderers, but we did not murder over two hundred fifty unarmed Black men, women, and children, or wound thousands of others in the riots they provoked during the sixties. The rulers of this country have always considered their property more important than our lives. They call us murderers, but we were not responsible for the twenty-eight brother inmates and nine hostages murdered at attica. They call us murderers, but we did not murder and wound over thirty unarmed Black students at Jackson State—or Southern State, either.
- They call us murderers, but we did not murder Martin Luther King, Jr., Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, George Jackson, Nat Turner, James Chaney, and countless others. We did not murder, by shooting in the back, sixteen-year-old Rita Lloyd, eleven-year-old Rickie Bodden, or ten-year-old Clifford Glover. They call us murderers, but we do not control or enforce a system of racism and oppression that systematically murders Black and Third World people. Although Black people supposedly comprise about fifteen percent of the total amerikkkan population, at least sixty percent of murder victims are Black. For every pig that is killed in the so-called line of duty, there are at least fifty Black people murdered by the police.
- Black life expectancy is much lower than white and they do their best to kill us before we are even born. We are burned alive in fire-trap tenements. Our brothers and sisters OD daily from heroin and methadone. Our babies die from lead poisoning. Millions of Black people have died as a result of indecent medical care. This is murder. But they have got the gall to call us murderers.
- They call us kidnappers, yet Brother Clark Squires (who is accused, along with me, of murdering a new jersey state trooper) was kidnapped on April z, 1969, from our Black community and held on one million dollars' ransom in the New York Panther 21 conspiracy case. He was acquitted on May 13, 1971, along with all the others, of 156 counts of conspiracy by a jury that took less than two hours to deliberate. Brother Squires was innocent. Yet he was kidnapped from his community and family. Over two years of his life was stolen, but they call us kidnappers. We did not kidnap the thousands of Brothers and Sisters held captive in amerika's concentration camps. Ninety percent of the prison population in this country are Black and Third World people who can afford neither bail nor lawyers.
- They call us thieves and bandits. They say we steal. But it was not we who stole millions of Black people from the continent of Africa. We were robbed of our language, of our Gods, of our culture, of our human dignity, of our labor, and of our lives. They call us thieves, yet it is not.
- we who rip off billions of dollars every year through tax evasions, illegal price fixing, embezzlement, consumer fraud, bribes, kickbacks, and swindles. They call us bandits, yet every time most Black people pick up our paychecks we are being robbed. Every time we walk into a store in our neighborhood we are being held up. And every time we pay our rent the landlord sticks a gun into our ribs.
- They call us thieves, but we did not rob and murder millions of Indians by ripping off their homeland, then call ourselves pioneers. They call us bandits, but it is not we who are robbing Africa, Asia, and Latin America of their natural resources and freedom while the people who live there are sick and starving. The rulers of this country and their flunkies have committed some of the most brutal, vicious crimes in history. They are the bandits. They are the murderers. And they should be treated as such. These maniacs are not fit to judge me, Clark, or any other Black person on trial in amerika. Black people should and, inevitably, must determine our destinies.
- Every revolution in history has been accomplished by actions, al-though words are necessary. We must create shields that protect us and spears that penetrate our enemies. Black people must learn how to struggle by struggling. We must learn by our mistakes.
- I want to apologize to you, my Black brothers and sisters, for being on the new jersey turnpike. I should have known better. The turnpike is a checkpoint where Black people are stopped, searched, harassed, and assaulted. Revolutionaries must never be in too much of a hurry or make careless decisions. He who runs when the sun is sleeping will stumble many times.
- Every time a Black Freedom Fighter is murdered or captured, the pigs try to create the impression that they have quashed the movement, destroyed our forces, and put down the Black Revolution. The pigs also try to give the impression that five or ten guerrillas are responsible for every revolutionary action carried out in amerika. That is nonsense. That is absurd. Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions. Shaped by our oppression. We are being manufactured in droves in the ghetto streets, places like attica, san quentin, bedford hills, leavenworth, and sing sing. They are turning out thousands of us. Many jobless Black veterans and welfare mothers are joining our ranks. Brothers and sisters from all walks of life, who are tired of suffering passively, make up the BLA.
- There is, and always will be, until every Black man, woman, and child is free, a Black Liberation Army. The main function of the Black.
- Liberation Army at this time is to create good examples, to struggle for Black freedom, and to prepare for the future. We must defend ourselves and let no one disrespect us. We must gain our liberation by any means necessary.
- It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
- It is our duty to win.
- We must love each other and support each other.
- We have nothing to lose but our chains.