Chris Christie Demands Return of Assata Shakur From Cuba (Again)

Glomming onto the president’s recent trip, the embattled politician calls for Shakur’s extradition in the face of calls for his own resignation.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fields questions March 3, 2016, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fields questions March 3, 2016, at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Possibly in a quest to stay relevant after his failed presidential bid, or maybe to fend off calls for his resignation, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called on President Barack Obama to demand the extradition of Assata Shakur, a woman who, depending on your perspective, is either an activist hero and political prisoner or a convicted cop killer.

In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Record newspaper, the Republican governor wrote that the president’s recent trip to Cuba comes at the price of justice for the slain trooper, Werner Foerster, who died during a gunfight with Shakur and her compatriots on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973.

Many find this ironic because the good governor missed at least three funerals for New Jersey police officers while running for president, the most recent in March because he was out of state stumping for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Meanwhile, six New Jersey newspapers have called for Christie’s resignation.

In an op-ed entitled, “President Must Demand Return of Chesimard,” Christie, who called Shakur, born Joanne Chesimard, a “domestic terrorist” and a “cop killer,” wrote, “I urge the president to do what common sense and decency requires—that he demand the return of convicted murderer Joanne Chesimard, who stands remorseless and free after the cold-blooded, execution-style killing of a New Jersey State Trooper and the serious wounding of another.”

He concluded, “By our own democratic principles, Chesimard should not be free and must be returned home.”

Shakur, a former Black Panther, was convicted in 1977 in the death of Foerster but always maintained that police fired on the Panthers first execution-style. She was wounded in the shootout, and Black Liberation Army member Zayd Malik Shakur (rapper Tupac Shakur’s step-uncle) was also killed. Assata Shakur was sentenced to life in prison but escaped and traveled to Cuba, where Fidel Castro granted her political asylum in 1984.

After relations between the United States and Cuba opened up, many of Shakur’s supporters were afraid that the government would turn her over. Yet Cuba has maintained that this will not be the case.

Shakur is celebrated in many circles and was feted in the Public Enemy classic “Rebel Without a Pause”: “Hard, my calling card/Recorded and ordered, supporter of Chesimard.”

Today many Black Lives Matter activists can be seen donning  “Assata Taught Me” and “Hands Off Assata” T-shirts.