Assata Shakur is a member of the Black Panthers and an activist. She is also an escaped convict and has been linked to the Black Liberation Army (BLA). She was accused of various crimes between 1971 and 1973, and became the subject of a police hunt that reached across several states (Christol, Gysin, & Mulvey, 2001). In 1973 she was part of a New Jersey Turnpike shootout where she was wounded along with a trooper. Another trooper and a BLA member were killed in that altercation. Between then and 1977, Shakur was indicted in relation to six other crimes, including armed robbery, murder and attempted murder, kidnapping, and robbing a bank (Christol, Gysin, & Mulvey, 2001). Three charges were dismissed, and she was acquitted on the other three charges. Then she was convicted in 1977 on eight felony counts including first-degree murder for the New Jersey Turnpike shootout. She went to prison, and many human rights groups complained about the way she was allegedly treated there. She escaped in 1979 (Christol, Gysin, & Mulvey, 2001; Shakur, 1999).
Since 1984 she has been in Cuba and has political asylum there. In 2005 the FBI offered $1 million for information leading to her capture, because the agency lists her as a "domestic terrorist." There have been attempts to have her extradited from Cuba, but nothing has worked so far. Despite the criminal past she has and the violent nature of a large majority of her life, she seems to be iconic to some. She is the step-Aunt of the late Tupac Shakur, and her life has been portrayed in many ways through song and film, as well as in literature (Shakur, 1999). Her autobiography is far from the only thing written about her, because she has been involved in so much racially-charged tension in her life. Some of it may have been justified, but other parts of it have led her to become a convicted criminal and someone whom the FBI wants to capture and return to a life behind bars in the United States.
The main themes that emerge from the book address civil rights and related matters such as segregation and police brutality. During her life, Shakur was subjected to all of those concerns and more, so it only makes sense that she would discuss them in her autobiography. As a child and young adult she was frequently in trouble and looking to find herself. She had run-ins with others, but nothing was too serious until she got involved with the Black Panther Party (Shakur, 1999). At that time, she moved into an activist role that was much more serious than what she had done in the past. Many people today have the mistaken opinion that women took a back seat to men in these kinds of activist parties, but that is the not the case. Many women held very strong beliefs about equal right, civil rights, and discrimination, so it was only natural for them to move forward into the roles of leaders and those who made their voices heard. That is important to note, because it deeply affected the course of Shakur's life. She began to participate in the Panthers' rallies and protests, bringing her into the spotlight (Shakur, 1999).
While being in the spotlight can have its perks, it also causes people to get noticed in ways they might not enjoy. That came for Shakur in the form of arrests and other problems with the police. Because the Black Panthers caused violence and seemed to draw violence to them, the police were against those who belonged to that party, as well as those who belonged to the BLA. Overall, being black appeared to be something close to a crime during a time when segregation was still strong. Even though people could not "legally" discriminate against black people or segregate them from the white people and other races in the United States, it still often happened. Something being illegal and something not happening anymore are far from the same thing. Shakur saw the injustice, as did her fellow members of the Black Panthers and the BLA. She spoke out, and in that speaking out there was violence. These were not quiet protests, but they were designed to make others aware of the plight of black people in this country and how they were being treated.
The political ideas held by Shakur and by the Black Panthers and the BLA were a large part of what attracted so much police attention. Equality was the order of the day, and it was clear to those who were being discriminated against that the politicians should do more to protect them and allow them to be on equal footing with everyone else. Equal rights and civil rights were the kinds of thing for which Shakur was fighting. During the time she was active with the Black Panthers and the BLA, there were also accusations of police brutality with which society was dealing (Christol, Gysin, & Mulvey, 2001; Shakur, 1999). The concern was that police officers were harming blacks and any other races that were not white, and that police officers were profiling people who were not white in order to see how they could arrest or otherwise punish them for "crimes" that they may not have even committed. The idea that police would fabricate crimes or that they would beat someone up and say it was self-defense was not a new one, but it really came to light within the black community during Shakur's time there.
Another thing Shakur wanted to bring to light was the history of black people, so that others could be better educated about what they had been through and how they were still not being treated in a way that was fair and acceptable to most of society. Naturally there will always be differing opinions about what is considered to be fair treatment of any group of people, but that does not mean that there should not be questions about that treatment. In order to determine if the majority of people think the treatment is fair and just, the actual treatment has to be brought to light and showcased clearly. Only then is it possible for people to really understand what has been done to another group of people who are not like them. This is worth consideration, because black people are often still the victims of oppression in some cases and some parts of the country and the world. The legality of the issue matters, but there is more than legality at stake.
The civil rights movement was very highly charged within the black community, and race relations struggled and floundered along for some time before things settled down (Shakur, 1999). During the times of highest tension, groups like the BLA and the Black Panthers were easily noticed by the police and by others who thought they might become (or were becoming) trouble for society (Christol, Gysin, & Mulvey, 2001). The Black Panthers and other groups are still in existence, they are just not as vocal as they were in the past. Still, the civil rights for which Shakur and others fought were improved but not completely changed or transformed by the fighting and protesting that took place. There is more work that should be done. Only time will tell whether that work will take place, or whether there will be something else that will come to the forefront and polarize society to get it moving in a different direction.
The main strength of this book was the fact that it was very raw. It was clear what Shakur was fighting for and what she believed, and it was clear that she was going to stand up for those beliefs. Whether her anger was misplaced or whether her beliefs were accurate is not up for debate. She had the courage of her convictions and she wanted to make a difference and to move civil rights forward for the black community. Unfortunately, in doing that she became a criminal and was imprisoned. She could not leave Cuba and return to the U.S., because there would be no freedom for her at that point. She has freedom now, but not the same kind she would have if she would have remained in the United States and avoided breaking the law. Activists often get themselves arrested, but usually not to the level and extent of Shakur. Most of them are arrested for picketing, and perhaps for trespassing and/or resisting arrest. Her charges were much more serious and her lifestyle much more violent than most of the activists that one hears about in the news today.
The book had few weaknesses in the way it was written and created. The only real concern is the actual subject matter and whether it is something that people would like to read. There is the seriousness of her crimes to consider, and many people are fascinated by crime stories -…