Joanne Chesimard, who goes by the name Assata Shakur, has been added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list — exactly 40 years after she killed a cop in New Jersey, according to the FBI’s official website. Here’s what you should know about the infamous fugitive and her new status as a top terrorist.
1. She is the First Woman to be on the Terrorist List
The FBI added Chesimard to the list of the Most Wanted Terrorists, making her the first woman to be on it.
2. There’s Now a $2 Million Reward for Her Capture
Law enforcement announced that they would award $2 million for the capture of Chesimard — $1 million from New Jersey and the other half issued by the FBI. Placing her on the terrorist list allowed law enforcement to increase the reward.
3. She Killed a New Jersey Cop 40 Years Ago
It’s been 40 years since Joanne Chesimard shot New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster back in May 1973. Joanne Chesimard, Zayn Malik Shakur, and Sundiata Acoli were involved in a shootout at the New Jersey Turnpike when their vehicle was stopped for speeding by State Troopers James Harper and Werner Foerster. Different accounts of the event were given during the trial, where it was shown that after Harper asked for Zayn to step out of his vehicle, there was gunfire. Foerster was reportedly shot twice in the head with his own gun. Zayn was also killed in the gun fight, leaving Chesimard and Harper wounded.
4. She Was Sentenced to Life in Prison
Chesimard was sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Werner Foerster along with accomplice Acoli in 1977, according to The New York Times. She was also convicted of seven felonies during the shootout, which included assault on a police officer, illegal possession of a firearm, and armed robbery. Assata’s trial endured a change in venue and a mistrial, which was due to her pregnancy.
5. She Escaped From Prison and Fled to Cuba, Where She Remains
In 1979, members of the Black Liberation Army helped Chesimard break out of prison. She went into hiding and later fled to Cuba, where she has been located since 1984.
6. She Was a Member of the Black Panther Party
Chesimard was an active member of the Black Panther Party when she joined them after graduating from college. As a prominent member, Assata took charge, leading the Harlem division. Assata became part of the organization until she left due to the rough behavior of men in the party and for its lack of focus on black history.
7. She Was Also Part of the Black Liberation Army
Soon after she left the BPP, Chesimard joined the Black Liberation Army, fighting for independence for African Americans in the U.S. She changed her name from Joanne Chesimard to Assata Shakur after joining the group. In 1971, she joined the Republic of New Afrika, an organization aiming to create an independent black nation composed from states like Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina.
8. She is Welcomed and Sheltered in Cuba
After escaping from prison, Assata fled into Cuba in 1984, where she was granted political asylum. According to Essence, Cuba helped Assata with her living expenses and provided her shelter. Assata stayed in Cuba with her daughter, Kakuya, and published an autobiography in 1987 detailing her life without mentioning the turnpike shootout. She was regarded as a hero for her protests against racism, referring herself as a 20th century escaped slave. There were attempts to bring Assata from Cuba into U.S. custody, but to no avail. It was only in 2005 that the FBI classified her as a domestic terrorist and issued a reward of $1 million for the assistance in the capture of Assata, according to AllHipHop.
9. Assata Was the Step-Aunt of Tupac Shakur
Assata was a step-aunt and godmother to late hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur, the stepson of her brother Mutulu Shakur. Tupac’s parents Afeni and Billy were active members of the Black Panther Party.
10. She Had Other Charges Against Her
Other than the cop-killing charge, Assata previously faced counts of robbery, kidnapping, murder, and assault between 1973 and 1977 in New York. Assata was acquitted for the robberies that took place in Queens and The Bronx as well as the kidnapping of a bartender named James E. Freeman in Brooklyn. She was dismissed of charges she faced for an armed robbery at the Statler Hilton Hotel and the attempted murders of two police officers.