Wednesday, August 8, 2001

A soldier’s story

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Assata Shakur’s autobiography, Assata, is understandably biased. If you were an escaped political prisoner, living in self-imposed Cuban exile for the past 30 years for a crime you did not commit, your life story also might incorporate a few choice words in reference to the New York criminal justice system.

Racist pigs. Cracka dogs. Read the words and know that Shakur is not a racist. And she is not an escaped convict. However, she is convicted by her beliefs and probably freer than most freedom fighters ever will be. She also provides you with the facts necessary to decide whether you believe her story or that of the New York judicial system.

Shakur joined the New York Black Liberation Army to feed and nurture poor children. After picking up a newspaper one morning and finding herself on the front page, accused of bank robbery and declared a fugitive, she became a reluctant symbol of black people’s struggle for decency and dignity in this country during the ’60s and ’70s.

In Assata, Shakur intermittently tells two stories — one of her upbringing, another of her life as a revolutionary. It’s a good tactic that provides character insight and gives leverage to her account of the events that led to an escape from a New York prison and a subsequent flight to Cuba. Shakur’s life is rife with trumped-up charges of robbery and murder. Someone with blind faith in the American judicial system might believe that anyone facing so many charges has to be guilty. But a close look forces you to face the corruption and hatred that fueled cops and judges in racist hubs across America, and to perpetrate some of the dastardly deeds committed against people of color.

Assata Shakur is a study in strength, courage and constitution. She never wanted to lead; she wanted instead to help the movement operate smoothly. In doing so, her philosophy was tested by authorities and by her own people. She criticized the disorganization of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army just as quickly as she attacked American racism. She herself was criticized for advocating collaboration with nonblack organizations like the Chinese Red Army and attacked for arguing that no revolution was complete without involvement from oppressed people of all backgrounds.

Assata Shakur uses her story to describe not how courage feels, but how it behaves. Time, age and exile have not softened her philosophy. Hopefully, America will abort its own vanity and allow her to come home, free.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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