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The announcement that a $1 million bounty has been placed on the head of exiled freedom fighter Assata Shakur sends a clear, unmistakable message that the U.S. government will stop at nothing to perpetuate the systemic denial of the most basic human rights of African people born and/or residing in the Americas. The National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) demands that the U.S. government immediately withdraw the bounty offer, and permanently cease its pursuit of Assata Shakur as such is both illegal and unjustifiable under international human rights laws.

NCBL takes the ongoing attacks on Assata Shakur personally. NCBL lawyers served on Shakur’s legal team during her trial on charges that she killed a New Jersey State Trooper. When NCBL pioneer Lennox Hinds dared to tell the truth about the racist nature of the trial proceedings, bar officials brought disciplinary charges against him. The travesty of the prosecution and ongoing persecution of Shakur is demonstrated best by Shakur’s own account of the events in question. In 1998, she stated:

“...On May 2, 1973 I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a ‘faulty tail light.’ Sundiata Acoli got out of the car to determine why we were stopped. Zayd and I remained in the car. State trooper Harper then came to the car, opened the door and began to question us. Because we were black, and riding in a car with Vermont license plates, he claimed he became ‘suspicious.’ He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told us to put our hands up in the air, in front of us, where he could see them. I complied and in a split second, there was a sound that came from outside the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once with my arms held up in the air, and then  once again from the back. Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, trooper Werner Foerster was killed, and even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot and killed Zayd Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder law, I was charged with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was my closest friend and comrade, and charged in the death of trooper Forester. Never in my life have I felt such grief...”

Notwithstanding the fact that defense lawyers presented objective medical and other evidence that substantiated Shakur’s account of the events in question, she was nevertheless convicted by an all-white jury. Her sentence was life imprisonment plus 33 years. She escaped from prison, and has lived in exile in Cuba since 1979. The attempts by New Jersey and Federal officials to capture her have been relentless since that time.

Assata Shakur’s failure to find justice within the U.S. system compels NCBL to analyze her circumstances according to international law standards. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in various of its Articles that everyone is entitled to: freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and exile; freedom from torture, and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment; the right to a presumption of innocence at trial; and the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Assata Shakur has been flagrantly and continuously denied each of these rights and others by a U.S. government that, as Shakur herself has observed, is hellbent on making an example of her in much the same way slave owners of an earlier era hunted down runaway Africans, and returned them to the plantation for purposes of public torture.

NCBL will direct inquiries to officials involved in this matter, and otherwise begin an investigation into the facts and circumstances that led to these events. NCBL will, according to its obligation to the African World, make public all of its findings.

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June 2 2005
Issue 140

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