Democratic presidential forum honors NJ’s most wanted fugitive
A Democratic presidential forum on Monday paid tribute to New Jersey's most wanted fugitive — just the latest example of convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard being celebrated by mainstream figures and organizations.
The forum, which was attended by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., began with a chant quoting Chesimard, who was identified by the name she now goes by — Assata Shakur.
The chant was led by Jamal Watkins, NAACP vice president of civic engagement, who referred to Shakur as "a leader."
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and respect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains," Watkins and the crowd at the We The People 2019 Summit in Washington, D.C., said. The candidates — Booker, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y. — were not on stage during the chant.
Shakur has been living in Cuba ever since she broke out of New Jersey's women's prison in 1979. She had been sentenced to life in prison in 1974 after being convicted of first-degree murder in connection to the 1977 shooting death of Trooper Werner Foerster on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick. Chesimard was in a vehicle that troopers had pulled over after identifying them as bank robbery suspects. During a struggle, one of the men took Foerster's gun and shot him.
Shakur, who was a black separatist, has long been held up in some circles as a civil rights icon who was persecuted by the criminal justice system.
Booker's position on Shakur is not clear. By contrast, New Jersey's senior U.S. senator has long sided with the State Police in demanding that Cuba stop harboring the fugitive. In 2013, Bob Menendez supported the FBI's move to include Chesimard on its list of 25 most wanted terrorists.
In February, JetBlue apologized for including a poster of Shakur in a Black History Month display at LaGuardia Airport.
In 2017, the Women's March account on Twitter celebrated Shakur's birthday, although the organization did not back down after criticism.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email him.