Film Screening/Discussion: She Who Struggles for the People and is Thankful
She Who Struggles for the People and is Thankful
Assata Shakur and Us
Casey Butcher, Casey Johanna, Lehna Huie, Sophia Dawson
People's Video Network | 55 minutes | 1998 | Cuba
Forty years ago Assata Olugbala Shakur, long a subject of the FBI's infamous Counter Intelligence Program due to her elevated political consciousness and formidable organizing skill, was targeted for assassination by NJ State Troopers. They shot her twice while her hands were raised above her head. "I was left on the ground to die, and when I did not, I was taken to a local hospital where I was threatened, beaten and tortured." She was subsequently charged with the murder of one of her would-be assassins–State Trooper Werner Foerster–who died, along with one of Assata's comrades–Zayd Malik Shakur–in a gun battle initiated by the police. A kangaroo court was set up to convict her. As a result, even though all evidence pointed to her innocence, Ms. Shakur was sentenced to life in prison.
"In 1979, I was able to escape with the aid of my fellow comrades. I saw this as a necessary step, not only because I was innocent of the charges against me, but because I knew that in the racist legal system of the United States, I would receive no justice. I was also afraid that I would be murdered in prison. I later arrived in Cuba where I am currently living in exile as a political refugee."
On May 2, the FBI added Assata Shakur to its list of most wanted terrorists, the first woman and second US citizen to receive such dubious distinction. The US Justice Department simultaneously doubled the reward for her capture and return to $2 million. Despite her legal refugee status granted by the sovereign nation of Cuba, in direct defiance of international law, the US is demanding Shakur's extradition.
Joseph Lowndes writes, "[B]y elevating this 40-year-old case to top priority, Obama's Justice Department is actively memorializing the struggle for black freedom of that era, but in a way that offers us a criminalized, even militarized interpretation of it. How we understand the past has bearing on our political present, and making Shakur, a symbol of black militancy of the 1960s and '70s, into a high-level national security threat serves to criminalize the greatest movement for democracy in the 20th century."
In her preface to Assata: An Autobiography, Angela Davis provides us with further framing:
"In an open letter to the Pope, Assata asks a question that should concern all of us: 'Why, I wonder, do I warrant such attention? What do I represent that is such a threat?' We would all do well to seriously ponder her questions. Why, indeed, was she constructed by the government and mass media as a consummate enemy in the 1970s, only to reemerge [forty years later] as a singular target of [the State]? What has she been made to represent? What ideological work has this representation performed?"
We call a community gathering to share Assata's story and discuss its meaning and pertinence for us today, as we follow in her footsteps and build for a better tomorrow.
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