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Today, the FBI announced that it was adding Joanne Chesimard—also known as Assata Shakur—to its Most Wanted Terrorist list. It is the 40th anniversary of her crime, killing NJ State Trooper Werner Foerster.
Special Agent Aaron Ford, in charge of the Newark division, said, "Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution-style... We want the public to know that we will not rest until this fugitive is brought to justice." And" NJ State Police Lieutenant Mike Rinaldi added, This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago. Bringing Joanne Chesimard back here to face justice is still a top priority."
Here's how the FBI describes the incident:
On May 2, 1973, Chesimard and a pair of accomplices were stopped by two troopers for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. At the time, Chesimard—a member of the violent revolutionary activist organization known as the Black Liberation Army—was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery.
Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One officer was wounded, and his partner—Trooper Foerster—was shot and killed at point-blank range. One of Chesimard’s accomplices was killed in the shoot-out and the other was arrested and remains in jail.
Chesimard had fled but was caught in 1977 and convicted of murder. Two years later, she escaped in dramatic fashion. In 1979, the NY Times reported that she "escaped from Clinton Correctional Institution for Women after three male visitors drew handguns, kidnapped two guards and seized a prison minibus in order to drive out of the grounds to two getaway cars. They left the guards handcuffed but unharmed."
It's believed the people who helped her escape were part of the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground. Her 1979 trial lawyer, William Kunstler, said at the time, "I was very happy that she escaped because I thought she was unfairly tried." Her appeal lawyer, Evelyn Williams, told the NY Times that Chesimard "has been extremely depressed since early summer" and felt prison officials were trying to "incapacitate her."
Chesimard surfaced in Cuba in 1984 and was granted asylum (Fidel Castro called her conviction and charges against her a "lie"). On the AssataShakur website, she writes:
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 "greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.
The FBI added that the reward for Chesimard's capture was now doubled to $2 million. Ford said, "We would be naïve to think there’s not some communication between her and some of those people she used to run around with today." The Star-Ledger points out, "Officials did not say whether they hope someone in Cuba will capture her and forcibly return her to the United States, but they did offer that the reward is available to anyone, in any country."