Price on her Head

2 November marks the day in 1979 that African-American activist Assata Shakur escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey.

Shakur, a New York City native, earned her GED and attended the Borough of Manhattan Community College and the City College of New York.

In 1972, the FBI described Shakur as the “revolutionary mother hen” of the Black Liberation Army.

In May of 1973, Shakur was traveling as a passenger in a car with two others. The vehicle was stopped by NJ State Troopers. Gunshots were exchanged, killing one of the Troopers.

Shakur testified that a Trooper shot her after she raised her arms to comply with his demand to do so. She said that the second shot hit her in the back as she turned to avoid it, and that she fell onto the road for the duration of the gunfight before crawling back into the backseat of the Pontiac—which the driver took 5 miles down the road and parked. She testified that she had remained in the car until State Troopers dragged her onto the road. A key element of Shakur’s defense was medical testimony meant to demonstrate that she was shot with her hands up and that she would have been subsequently unable to fire a weapon. A neurologist testified that the median nerve in Shakur’s right arm was severed by the second bullet, making her unable to pull a trigger.

Between 1973 and 1977, in New York and New Jersey, Shakur was indicted ten times, resulting in seven different criminal trials. Of these trials, three resulted in acquittals, one in a hung jury, one in a change of venue, one in a mistrial, and one in a conviction; three indictments were dismissed without trial.

After her escape, she arrived in Cuba in 1984 where her request for political asylum was granted.

The FBI has offered a $1 million reward for her capture, which was matched by the New Jersey State Attorney General.