Joanne Chesimard/Assata Shakur was a member and leader of the cop-killing Black Liberation Army. In 1973 she participated in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in which Trooper Werner Foerster was murdered and Trooper James Harper seriously injured. In 1977, she was convicted of the first-degree murder of Foerster and of seven other felonies related to the shootout.
Chesimard escaped from prison in New Jersey and has been on the lam since 1979. She is believed to be holed up in Havana, in the sheltering arms of the Communists who run the asylum and the asylum operation. Last year the FBI made Chesimard the first woman to be named to the Most Wanted Terrorists list. She has had a substantial reward out on her capture for several years.
Now the local angle. Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison is a fan of hers. In 2000 Ellison gave a speech supporting cop killer wannabe Kathleen Soliah/Sara Jane Olson at the National Lawyers Guild Minnesota chapter fundraiser for Soliah/Olson in St. Paul. Ellison sought Soliah/Olson’s release from custody.
Ellison also spoke favorably of cop killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Chesimard. In a 2006 Star Tribune column on Ellison, my friend Kathy Kersten quoted from Ellison’s speech. (Kathy’s column is no longer accessible online but I excerpted it in this post.) Kathy gave us Ellison’s prayer for Chesimard/Shakur:
“I am praying that Castro does not get to the point where he has to really barter with these guys over here because they’re going to get Assata Shakur, they’re going to get a whole lot of other people,” he told the crowd. “I hope the Cuba[n] people can stick to it, because the freedom of some good decent people depends on it.”
When Kathy sought out Ellison for her column in 2006, he declined to comment on his current view of Soliah/Olson and Chesimard/Shakur. He’s just that kind of guy.
Today the AP reports “Cuba signals that extradition of US fugitives off the table.” From Ellison’s 2000 perspective, anyway, so far, so good. For the time being he can put this in the category of answered prayers.