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Letter to President Obama Concerning Assata Shakur

"We ask that the FBI be directed to publicly produce documentation to support these claims, and that until and unless this is done, its officials be directed to withdraw these assertions. The FBI’s accompanying actions should also be immediately withdrawn for the following additional reasons."

Friday, May 10, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:

We write to urge you to overrule the FBI’s decision to put Assata Shakur, aka Joanne Chesimard, on the “Most Wanted Terrorists List, with $1 Million FBI Reward Offered for Information Leading to Her Capture and Return,” as phrased by the FBI’s May 2, 2013 announcement. This $1 million combines with the $1 million bounty already offered by New Jersey. We know of no support for the claims by the FBI in making that announcement that Ms. Shakur has used her asylum in Cuba to "promote" "terrorist ideology” and espouse "terrorism." We ask that the FBI be directed to publicly produce documentation to support these claims, and that until and unless this is done, its officials be directed to withdraw these assertions. The FBI’s accompanying actions should also be immediately withdrawn for the following additional reasons.

President Obama, commenting on the Boston Marathon bombings last month, you declared "Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror." This is consistent with the generally accepted view of terrorism as "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence against civilians for the purpose of intimidation or coercion or changing government policy." There is no evidence that Ms. Shakur has taken part in any violence or threats of violence against civilians to intimidate or coerce changes in government policies. Going back 40 years, the May 1973 incident, which led to her only criminal convictions, was initiated by the New Jersey State Police. They pulled the vehicle she was in off the highway based on an allegedly defective tail light. This type of police action was consistent with tactics used to harass Black people generally, particularly Black males; and, sometimes provoke incidents particularly against members of Black militant organizations during that period. The loss of life on both sides ensuing from that stop was clearly regrettable; and, we do not intend to retry here her controversial trial and conviction before an all white jury. We know that there were serious questions of fairness sufficient to draw international attention and for Ms. Shakur to be granted political asylum in Cuba nearly 35 years ago, although Cuba has returned some others wanted by U.S authorities.

We believe putting Ms. Shakur’s name on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorist List,” and increasing the $1 million bounty to a total of $2 million, 40 years after the fact, only makes sense in light of recent press reports regarding your administration’s consideration to take Cuba off the U.S. list of nations that allegedly sponsor terrorism – a designation which is so unfounded that it has become an embarrassment to our country. Opponents of steps towards normalization with Cuba have seized on this aged and disputed case in what we view as a transparent attempt to recast this history into today’s fears, using Assata Shakur as a pawn in their political maneuvering.

The FBI’s participation in this political maneuvering by joining with New Jersey to offer a $2 million bounty is a dangerous act, encouraging someone to try to kidnap her, breaking Cuban law as well as being a violation of International Law. Should the offer be taken seriously by someone, the foreseeable result would be bloodshed, if not also a major international incident. The FBI’s stated rationale for these actions is also regrettable and dangerous because it equates radical beliefs favoring fundamental social and economic change, with “terrorism.” These serve to intimidate and chill others who dare to speak out against United States’ domestic and international policies. In this regard, these actions directly undermine the protections given all citizens under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Finally, this decision continues to racialize the United States criminal punishment system, a system that since the enslavement of African peoples has targeted Africans and African Americans for harsher punishments than those given particularly to similarly situated whites. The accusation of terrorism has fallen prey to this continuing travesty of making the color of “crime,” now the color of “terrorism,” black. One needs only recall the early reports of who was suspected of the Boston Marathon bombing to support this conclusion: the first reports were of a darker-skinned male, possibly African American. This message scrolled continuously on CNN for a number of hours and then “African American male” was deleted, leaving darker skinned male. But the alleged perpetrators were far from “darker skinned.” In conclusion, we ask that you stand behind the statements made by Attorney General Holder when he became the Attorney General in 2009 in addressing assistant United States attorneys and make these statements applicable to the FBI: “Your job is in every case, every decision you make, to do the right thing. Anybody who asks you to do something other than that is to be ignored.” The FBI’s recent actions are far from the “right thing” for this country and we urge you to reverse them.

Please reply to:

Law Office of Arthur Heitzer
633 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1410
Milwaukee, WI 53203 USA
414-273-1040, ex. 12; fax 414-273-4859


Rabab Abdulhadi
Vanessa Agard-Fones
Adjoa A. Aiyetoro
Cathy Albisa
Abdul Alkalimat
Adisa A. Alkebulan
Bettina Aptheker
Iván Arenas
Anjali Arondekar
Sara Atlas
William Ayers
Paola Bacchetta
Ajamu Baraka
Fr. Luis Barrios
Ellen Barry
Susannah Bartlow
Crista Bell
Alisa Bierria
Martha Biondi
Carl Bloice
Lisa Brock
Prudence Brown
Margaret Burnham
Lucy Burns
Judith Butler
Linda Carty
Monica J. Casper
Frank Chapman
Piya Chatterjee
Patricia A. Clark
Cathy J. Cohen
Marjorie Cohn
Brittney C. Cooper
Dara Cooper
Gary L. Cozette
Kimberlé Crenshaw
Lisa Crooms-Robinson
Otis Cunningham
Rev. Dan Dale
Angela Y. Davis
Nicole Melanie Davis
Michael Dawson
Gina Dent
Cindy Domingo
Barbara Engel
Evalyn Tennant
Mireille Fanon-Mendes
Kenyon Farrow
Roderick Ferguson
Bill Fletcher
Rhone Fraser
H. Bruce Franklin
Jane Franklin
Regina Freer
Rosa Linda Fregoso
David Gespass
Angela Gilliam
Stephanie Gilmore
Pat Gleason
Danny Glover
Van Gosse
Jaime Grant
Herman Gray
Kia Green
Farah Griffin
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Jeff Haas
Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler
Sarah Haley
Rev. Dr. Lora. F. Hargrove
Cheryl Harris
Mark Harrison
Arthur Heitzer
Linda J. Holmes
Cheri Honkala
Byron Hurt
Rev. Dr. Nozomi Ikuta
Nicole Nicolette Ivy
Lynnette A. Jackson
Ricardo Jimenez
Joseph F. Jordan
Adam Juranishi
Robin D. G. Kelley
Alice Kim
Saul Landau
Rev. Phil Lawson
Lisa Yun Lee
Heidi R. Lewis
R. L’Heureux Lewis-
Tamura A Lomax
Ana Lopez
José E. López
Toussaint Losier
Wahneema Lubiano
Saba Mahmood
Graciano Matos, Sr
Tracye A. Matthews
Erica Meiners
Jodi Melamed
Bernadine Mellis
William Minter
Roberta Meet
Chandra Mohanty
Alejandro Luis Molina
S. Mandisa Moore
Michelle Morales
Premilla Nadasen
Mark Anthony Neal
Alondra Nelson
Prexy Nesbitt
Bruce D. Nestor
Camille Odeh
Cheryl Johnson-Odim
Cara Page
Iris Dawn Parker
Tianna S. Paschel
MaryLouise Patterson
Charles Payne
Ted Pearson
Imani Perry
Rev. Chris Pierson
Erin Polley
Gordon Quinn
Ahmad Rahman
Carlos Ivan Ramos
Inez Ramos
Barbara Ransby
Raka Ray
Shana L. Redmond
Ronald Reosti
Beth E. Richie
Omar Ricks
Lynn Roberts
Jamala Roders
Michael Rodriguez
Charo Mina Rojas
Jada Russell
Luis Sanabria
Melissa Santana
Ora Schub
Raquelle Seda
Azadeh N. Shahshahani
Aishah Shahidah Simmons
Gwendolyn Zoharah
Montague Simmons
Che Rhymefest Smith
Michael Steven Smith
Karen Sotiropoulos
Robyn C. Spencer
Pamela Sporn
Jill Stein
Neferti Tadiar
Heather Laine Talley
Salamishah Tillet
Leti Volpp
Alice Walker
Dan S. Wang
Eligan G. Ward
Sali Vickie Casanova-
Standish Willis
Dr. Jeremiah Wright
Charles Wynder, Jr.
Rebecca Zorach
Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
National Boricua Human Rights Network
National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL)
National Lawyers Guild

cc: Mr. Eric H. Holder