NEW YORK — Mos Def and Talib Kweli got together on Wednesday (May 25) not for another Black Star album, but to raise awareness about exiled political activist Assata Shakur.
They gathered at City Hall with R&B singer/musician Martin Luther and City Councilman Charles Barron to demand the federal government drop the $1 million bounty on Shakur's head and remove her from the domestic terrorist watch list.
A former member of the Black Panther Party, Shakur was involved in a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, where one state trooper and one Black Panther were killed. Shakur, born JoAnne Chesimard, and her companion, Sundiata Acoli, were convicted of both murders.
While Acoli remains behind bars, Shakur escaped from a maximum-security prison in 1979. Resurfacing in Cuba, she received political asylum in 1986 and has remained there since. The bounty on Shakur had been $150,000, but the government raised it on May 2, the 32nd anniversary of the shootout.
"It's long overdue for her to receive clemency and come home," Barron said. "I'm infuriated that a bounty has been put on her, placing her life in danger. She is a hero to our community."
Kweli, who called meeting Shakur in Cuba "a wonderful experience," said, "It seems the government wants to rally people behind causes that don't really have any merit. Assata is not a threat. She is someone who was falsely accused and has political asylum. They've put this new bounty on her head, and it's a shameful example of the government taking advantage of its position and trying to police the world."
Though Mos shared that he's been "in the studio with some people" working on his upcoming album, The Undeniable Free Flaco, he remained focused on Shakur, the subject of Common's "A Song for Assata" from Like Water for Chocolate.
"People can believe what they want, but the truth is what it is," he said. "And the facts surrounding her case are indisputable and well-known. People should be more aware of what's going on with her case and the true motivation behind her persecution. It's a very dangerous time for all Americans when any voice of dissent is this hotly hunted down, and when anyone's life is reduced to 125 pounds of money and they're trying to stand up for us and our people. Everybody needs to be concerned."
On her Web site, Shakur says she and her companions were pulled over by racist troopers who shot at their car even though they were complying with the officers' orders. She claims she did not receive a fair trial and that she fled prison for fear of being murdered there.
An FBI spokesperson was unavailable for comment.