Assata Shakur: An open letter to the media (1998)

Assata Shakur | 1/2/2015, 5:17 p.m.
My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left ...
Assata Shakur

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 James 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, then once again from the back.

Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, State Trooper Werner Foerster was killed, and even though 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 Foerster. Never in my life have I felt such grief. Shakur had vowed to protect me and to help me to get to a safe place, and it was clear that he had lost his life trying to protect both me and Acoli. Although he was also unarmed, and the gun that killed trooper Foerster was found under Shakur’s leg, Acoli, who was captured later, was also charged with both deaths.

Neither Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial. We were both convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison.

In 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison and knowing that I would never receive any justice, I was liberated from prison, aided by committed comrades who understood the depths of the injustices in my case, who were also extremely fearful for my life.

The U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the U.S. revealed, “The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the public’s perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through ‘friendly’ news contacts.” This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today.

Dec. 24, 1997, New Jersey called a press conference to announce that New Jersey State Police had written a letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to intervene on their behalf and to aid in having me extradited back to New Jersey. The New Jersey State Police refused to make their letter public. Knowing that they had probably totally distorted the facts and attempted to get the pope to do the devils work in the name of religion, I decided to write the pope to inform him about the reality of “justice” for Black people in the state of New Jersey and in the United States.