Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, has re-emerged in the headlines after years of exile because the state of New Jersey raised the bounty on her head to $2 million while the FBI just decided to put the 65-year-old fugitive on its Most Wanted Terrorist list—the first woman to make the list of top terrorists.
Shakur, the step-aunt of rapper Tupac Shakur (her brother was Tupac’s stepfather), for decades has been a despised figure in law enforcement circles, where she is seen as a dangerous cop-killer and terrorist. But to many blacks Shakur is a hero for standing up to law enforcement while she was a leader of the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s and for her forceful writings and commentary on the conditions of black people after she fled to Cuba sometime around 1984. She has been the subject of films, documentaries and rap songs over the years.
The FBI already had been offering a reward of $1 million for information leading to the capture of Shakur, who was convicted of killing a New Jersey State Trooper during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973 and who became an underground legend in 1979 after she made a daring escape from prison—with the help of accomplices who took two guards hostage—and fled to Cuba, where she has been living in exile the last 30 years. The FBI and the New Jersey State Police announced today that the state of New Jersey was adding an additional $1 million bounty on the anniversary of the slaying of Trooper Werner Foerster.
Shakur left the Black Panther Party because she felt they weren’t educated enough on black history and joined the Black Liberation Army, which was even more radical than the Panthers. She became a well-known target of law enforcement and the subject of surveillance and stakeouts after she became wanted in connection with a string of felonies, including bank robberies in New York.
On May 2, 1973, Shakur was the front-seat passenger in a Pontiac LeMans heading south on the New Jersey Turnpike with other members of the BLA, an organization that advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government and the killing of police officers because of racist treatment of African Americans. There were many facts disputed at her trial, but the Pontiac was pulled over when Trooper James Harper spotted a broken taillight. They were stopped about 200 yards from state police headquarters, then in East Brunswick. Soon, Trooper Werner Foerster arrived as backup.
Shortly after the stop, the prosecution claimed Shakur opened fire with a 9mm pistol, hitting Harper in the shoulder, and then squeezed off two more shots at Foerster as she scrambled out of the car. After Harper shot Chesimard twice, she collapsed to the ground.
After Harper ran to headquarters for help, somebody fired two shots into Foerster’s skull. Shakur and an accomplice were arrested five miles down the turnpike.
After she was convicted of Foerster’s murder, carrying a mandatory life sentence, Shakur said the jury was “racist” and had “convicted a woman with her hands up.”