Where There is Oppression, There Will Be Resistance: On Assata Shakur

Assata Olugbala Shakur was born JoAnne Deborah Byron 67 years ago today. The meaning of her chosen name, Assata Olugbala, reflects her life and legacy: she who struggles for the people. 

As a young woman she joined the Black Panther Party in the late 60s and participated in community service programs such as free breakfast for impoverished black youth and services to end drug addiction amongst women. She became involved with the Black Liberation Army in response to the FBI's counter-intelligence program COINTELPRO that targeted the Panther's community activism.
“The Black Liberation Army is not an organization: It goes beyond that. It is a concept, a people’s movement, an idea. The idea of a Black Liberation Army emerged from conditions in Black communities: conditions of poverty, indecent housing, massive unemployment, poor medical care and inferior education," Shakur wrote in her autobiography. "The idea came about because Black people are not free or equal in this country. Because 90 percent of the men and women in this country’s prisons are Black and Third World. Because 10-year-old children are shot down in our streets. Because dope has saturated our communities, preying on the disillusionment and frustration of our children. The concept of the BLA arose because of the political, social and economic oppression of Black people in this country. And where there is oppression, there will be resistance.”

Shakur was convicted of killing a state trooper in 1977, despite evidence of her innocence. She escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba since. In 2014 she was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List, proving that the fear mongering tactics of the COINTELPRO days have hardly changed. 

Special agent Aaron Ford of the FBI has said of Shakur, "While living openly and freely in Cuba, she continues to maintain and promote her terrorist ideology. She provides anti-U.S.-government speeches, espousing the Black Liberation Army's message of revolution and terrorism." In essence, Shakur was placed on a list of most wanted terrorists for speaking and writing, not usually considered terroristic activities. 

“I am a 20th century escaped slave,” wrote Shakur. “Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the U.S. government’s policy towards people of color. I was convicted by – I don’t even want to call it a trial; it was lynching, by an all-white jury. I had nothing but contempt for the system of justice under which I was tried.”

Shakur's words and her story are made all the more poignant given the current climate of criminal justice and blackness in America. With police acting as jury and executioner in cases of minor infractions, or simply the crime of being black, it seems little has changed since the 1970s.

Naadeyah Haseeb is a writer living in Raleigh, NC and an editorial assistant at For Harriet. You can find her on Twitter @sothisisnaddy or email her at naadeyah.haseeb@forharriet.com