Has fancied for itself the time and energy to do what? Wait. Hold up. There's a Quotīdiē in here.
There were lights and sirens, gunshots firing
Cover your eyes as I describe a scene so violent
Seemed like a bad dream, she, laid in a blood puddle
Blood bubbled in her chest, cold air brushed against open flesh
No room to rest, Pain consumed each breath
Shot twice with her hands up
Police questioned but shot before she answered
One panther lost his life, the other ran for his
Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her
Comprehension she was beyond
Trying to hold on
To life. she thought she’d live with no arm
That’s what it felt like, got to the hospital, eyes held tight
They moved her room to room-she could tell by the light
Handcuffed tight to the bed, through her skin it bit
Put guns to her head, every word she got hit
"Who shot the trooper?" they asked her
Putting mace in her eyes, threatened to blast her
Her mind raced till things got still
Opened her eyes, realized she’s next to her best friend who got killed
She got chills. They told her: that’s where she would be next
Hurt mixed wit anger—survival was a reflex
They lied and denied visits from her lawyer
But she was building as they tried to destroy her
If it wasn’t for this German nurse they would have served her worse
I read this sister’s story, knew that it deserved a verse
I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All this shit so we could be free, so dig it, y’all.
[SNIP the verse about further abuse and imprisonment of Assata]
From North Carolina her grandmother would bring
News that she had had a dream
Her dreams always meant what they needed them to mean
What made them real was the action in between
She dreamt that Assata was free in their old house in Queens
The fact that they always came true was the thing
Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldn't have done
Medical evidence shown she couldn't have shot the gun
It’s time for her to see the sun from the other side
Time for her daughter to be by her mother’s side
Time for this beautiful woman to become soft again
Time for her to breathe, and not be told how or when
She untangled the chains and escaped the pain
How she broke out of prison I could never explain
And even to this day they try to get to her
But she’s free with political asylum in Cuba.
—Common—"A Song for Assata", "Like Water For Chocolate"
I'm a bit ashamed that I'm only now hearing that on May 2, 2005 a $1 million bounty was placed on the head of Assata Shakur, and that she was added to the FBI's Domestic Terrorist List, alongside Osama bin Laden (how dare they trivialize in this way the atrocities that bin Laden committed in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and New York City, among other places)? I suppose I'm more a slave to mainstream media than I'd thought.
As I listened to Common's heart-wrenching song over and over again this morning, I found myself in tears. America has to varying extent venerated Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, despite the fact that they were technically criminals in their time (peace to César Chávez who astonishes me with how much he accomplished acting entirely within the law). We accept the justness of their challenge to lawfulness because of what we have distilled from their struggle—Basic civil rights enjoyed by Black Americans—Basic civil rights for people such as me who can safely come to a country that has through most of its history shown people of my ethnicity nothing but savagery and violence. I'm grateful, and not just to the big names of the struggle, but also to the many who suffered horrifically in the name of freedom, and whose lesser fame has not spared them continuing injustice.
The personal story of Assata Shakur (see her home page and autobiography), like that of most of the Black Panthers, makes for dreadful reading. These people paid a high price for being part of a pincer movement that shamed and threatened America into civility (and no, I do not believe that either the shame from the non-violent movement or the threat from the militant movement would have been as effective alone). I accept a lot of the past horror of what they endured (easy for me, who didn't personally suffer this) as inevitable loss in battle, as much as I view the extensive casualties of the Colonies' minutemen during the Revolutionary war. But for me to witness the recent action of a U.S. regime, in 2005 against one of the hapless combatants in the battle for for civil rights is entirely unbearable. We are in the midst of a loudly proclaimed war on terrorism which we the Americans of African descent are supposed to heartily endorse, and the Justice Department sees fit to address its resources towards settling old white supremacist scores? Unbearable.
There has been plenty of injustice of all variety to go around in the U.S., and abroad in recent years, and in some respects this resumed persecution is just another story to be swallowed up in the ennui of the American public. It would almost be better if people came off their couches to cheer these abominations. At least we would recognize our times as a genuine struggle over the character of civilization rather than the reign of an arrogant cadre that recognizes opportunity in a population gorged and jaded propter panem et circenses.
It is furthermore intolerable to be so completely shamed by the vicious and autocratic regime of Fidel Castro. Assata Shakur ran to Cuba as one of the only places where she could find some escape from U.S. persecution. There was an unfortunate strain of communism that ran through the Black Panther Party, but this is no more remarkable, for example, than the fact that such a Communist strain ran through Jewish intellectuals in the mid 20th century. Intellect frustrated by oppression and alienation often drifts towards communist ideals. Only a vision of utopia sustains hope reared in ghetto soil. As oppression and alienation decrease, it becomes easier to see the evils of Communism. It is important to point this out because people are already conflating the campaign against Shakur with the campaign against her present benefactors. We perjure ourselves when we fling slogans and sanctions at the cause of freedom in Cuba while showing nothing but contempt for the freedom of one of our own in that very country, who has already suffered at our hands so much more than she could possibly deserve.
I urge anyone moved by curiosity of what I've written to learn more about this story. Look at both sides of the story. I certainly did. I'm no knee-jerk anti-establishment polemicist. This matter says as much about America (whether or not you support the actions of the Justice Department) as do the other handful of stories our media has deemed worthy of presenting to you.