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Lauren Davis/ MEDILL

Activists protest outside the Dirksen Federal Building on Thursday for the rights of Assata Shakur.

Chicagoans protest for rights of 1st woman added to FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list

by Lauren M. Davis
May 9, 2013

Black leaders and activists gathered outside the Dirksen Federal Building on Thursday yelling “Hands off Assata!” to protest the placement of Assata Shakur, convicted of a police murder in the ’70s, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Kamm Howard, co-chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, delivered a letter to Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk requesting their support.

The letter read, “We call for your defense of freedom and the right to dissent by stridently urging the Justice Dept to remove Assata Shakur from any governmental terrorism list and cease all pursuit of her -- removing any and all bounties for her life.”

Shakur, now 65, whose birth name is Joanne Deborah Chesimard, was convicted in 1977 for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster on May 2, 1973.

Shakur, known for her involvement in the Black Panther Party, escaped a New Jersey prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba in the early ’80s.

According to a statement released Tuesday by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, headquartered in New York City, she was designated a terrorist under the Patriot Act in 2005 and on the 40th anniversary of Foerster’s death last week, Shakur became the first woman to be elevated to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.

The state of New Jersey announced last week that it was adding $1 million to the FBI's standing $1 million reward for Shakur's capture.

The statement reads, “These actions by the FBI are a continuation of the government’s efforts to intimidate and stifle political dissent.”

After the protest, Howard, echoing the sentiments of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, said, “We are asking the senators to defend the right of political dissent in this country.”

Clyde Banks, president of Division 429 of the Universal Negro Improvement Association-African Communities League, said that Shakur is “an avid lecturer and they don’t want her out talking.”

Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, a 40-year-old artist from Nigeria, held a picket sign throughout the hour-long protest.

“I’m here because I am Assata Shakur," she said. "I am an African person who believes that we need to hold up our political prisoners and hold up those people who fight for our freedoms.”

The protest at the Federal Building was one of many across the country Thursday.