The FBI’s Murderous Targeting of the Shakurs


On May 2, the FBI held a press conference announcing that they were putting the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List: Joanne Chesimard, better known as Assata Shakur. Few knew that the rap icon Tupac Shakur maintained a similar social justice agenda as his godmother Assata. Evidence supports that U.S. intelligence targeted Tupac Shakur using many similar tactics that they used against Assata, Tupac’s Panther leader mother Afeni, and Tupac’s extended family of Black Liberation leaders.

The Shakur family was involved in many black leftist movements. Abbah Shakur worked with Marcus Garvey’s UNIA and was a close associate of Malcolm X. Abbah’s son Lumumba Shakur started the Harlem Black Panthers. Lumumba’s brother, Zayd, was a Minister of Information for the Bronx Black Panthers, before he was chased underground and co-founded the Black Liberation Army. Lumumba’s wife, Tupac’s mother Afeni, helped lead the Harlem Black Panthers. 

The undercover intelligence agent who first arrived at Malcolm X’s body, Gene Roberts, infiltrated and helped frame the New York Panthers as part of the FBI’s Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) against leftists activists. The New York Panthers, dubbed The New York 21, were jailed for two years before they were acquitted in 1971. (Lumumba divorced Afeni when she got pregnant with Tupac while out on bail.)

The FBI had stepped up its COINTELPRO tactics around the time of the New York 21 trial. One of their tactics involved what was dubbed an “East Coast versus West Coast Panther War.” The FBI created fake letters and sent them between Afeni’s New York Panthers and Huey Newton’s Oakland National Panther Office.

Bronx Black Panther Joanne Chesimard, in fear for her own life after having fellow activists framed and killed, followed her close friend Zayd underground. Out of respect for Zayd and the Shakur family, she changed her name to Assata Shakur while in hiding in 1971. 

That same year, Afeni named her new son Tupac Amaru Shakur after the last Incan leader and raised him to be a “black prince of the revolution.” Afeni named her close comrade, Los Angeles Panther leader Geronimo Pratt (later changed to Ji Jaga), Tupac’s godfather, Assata was named Tupac’s godmother—Tupac grew up calling her Auntie Assata. By the mid-1970s, Afeni had moved in with Lumumba’s adopted brother Mutulu. Mutulu was assistant director of Lincoln Detox in the Bronx and a co-founding member of the national activist group, the Republic of New Afrika.

Targeting Assata 

The FBI started a propaganda campaign against Assata Shakur, calling her “the revolutionary mother hen” of the Black Liberation Army. They accused the BLA of murdering a number of New York City police officers (most of these accusations came with little evidence and few valid convictions). The FBI conducted a nationwide manhunt for Assata in 1972. Posters with her face appeared in police precincts and banks that cited her involvement in serious criminal activities, putting her on the FBI’s most wanted list; and to all levels of police she became a shoot-to-kill target.

In May 1973, New Jersey police pulled over Zayd and Assata Shakur’s car. Police fatally shot Zayd, while wounding Assata and former Panther 21 member Sundiata Acoli. Shots from one of the three killed a police officer. Assata said that police proceeded to beat her at the scene and torture her in a hospital. She said that in the hospital, she was only saved from more torture when a nurse intervened. But, she said, prison officials used torturous tactics on her thereafter.

New Jersey police charged Assata with killing the police officer. The case didn’t reach trial for four years because prosecutors brought Assata to trial six times for alleged involvement in a half dozen other major criminal actions from 1971 to 1973. They failed to gain a conviction at any of those hearings. 

By 1976, Assata’s trial lawyer, Stanley Cohen, reported several breakthroughs in her case. He was found dead from a physical attack soon after with all his papers stolen.   

At the trial, William Kunstler, Lennox Hinds, her Aunt Evelyn Williams, and Assata’s other lawyers presented tests and medical experts to prove her innocence in court. For example, Assata’s fingers tested negative for gun residue. That test and doctors’ findings supported that police shot Assata while she was in a seated position with her hands raised. They said the bullet immediately severed a median nerve that wouldn’t have allowed Assata to pull a gun trigger. Nonetheless, prosecutors won a conviction against her for killing the police officer. 

In 1979, Assata Shakur escaped from prison. Mutulu Shakur, Silvia Baraldini, former Panther Sekou Odinga and Weather Underground member Marilyn Buck were charged with helping Assata’s prison break. Mutulu was also charged with “conspiracy” involvement in a Brinks Bank robbery and went into hiding. Several days before Mutulu was captured in Louisiana in 1986, Lumumba was found dead nearby. Despite the judge finding the FBI using illegal COINTELPRO actions against Mutulu, he and Odinga are still serving as political prisoners. 

Early Police Attacks

While Tupac was still in his late teens, the New Afrikan Panthers elected him as their national chair, according to his business manager. By the age of 20, Tupac left his Panther leadership, realizing he could add money and influence to his activism as a rapper. Police attacks ensued. First, police choked Tupac unconscious and pounded his head against the curb several days after his MTV video debut in 1991. 

Tupac’s manager, Tyehimba, confirmed that Tupac starting hiding his radical leftist politics behind a gangsta rap façade around this time in order to appeal to gangs and then politicize them. This was part of his Panther family’s work in extending peace truces between the Bloods and Crips that started in Los Angeles. Many of these gang members quit dealing drugs and got into community activism. 

In 1993, police watched as gunmen shot at Tupac at a public event. Instead of arresting the shooters, they only arrested Tupac and his stepbrother, Mutulu’s son Mopreme. This occurred in the California Bay area where FBI chief Richard Held still presided and was caught covering-up Newton’s murder. 

Attacks Increase 

U.S. intelligence-linked attacks continued against Tupac Shakur with witnesses saying that allegedly off-duty Atlanta cops ran up to Tupac’s car, broke his window with a gun, and shot at him in 1993. While Tupac grabbed a guard’s gun, shot back and hit them, he wasn’t found guilty as it also came out in court that the cops used a gun stolen from an evidence locker. A police officer said this is commonly known as a throwaway gun that could easily be discarded for an illegal police murder. 

A few weeks later in 1993, evidence supports that undercover agents set up a sexual abuse conviction that landed him in jail. Tupac’s New York trial lawyer for that case was Michael Tarif Warren, renowned for his work freeing the Central Park Five and as a European spokesperson for the Free Mumia campaign. Warren found strong evidence that Tupac’s codefendant, Haitian Jacques Agnant, was a police agent who had set up the situation as part of a frame-up. 

Murderous attacks on Tupac Shakur continued in New York. Gunmen went into a Times Square recording studio lobby and put two bullets in Tupac’s skull that miraculously missed his brain. A studio guard tried to give police a security video of the gunmen but police refused it, calling it a random mugging and halted their investigation. Similar to the divisive tactics used on the Panthers, people tried to convince Tupac that his friend and fellow rap star, Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace, had a connection to his Times Square shooting. The media-dubbed this feud the East versus West rap war. 

Death Row Cops Attack 

U.S. Intelligence had a number of undercover agents working in the music industry. For example, a high-level white police detective, Russell Poole, found dozens and dozens of his fellow cops at all levels of Death Row Records. One of Poole’s superiors said these cops could be seen as “covert agents.” 

Police reports found that Death Row was also involved in trafficking drugs and guns. Death Row’s Suge Knight and his moonlighting Los Angeles police employees further tried to end the Bloods versus Crips peace truce on which Tupac and his extended Panther family had worked. This was coordinated by Death Row’s head of security, “former” police officer Reggie Wright Jr. Wright’s father headed the Compton, California police department’s gang division. Compton was one of the first Los Angeles neighborhoods where the Bloods and Crips called peace truces and turned to activism. 

While Tupac had been in prison, corrections officers used Penal Coercion techniques on him. This and Death Row manipulations led Tupac to produce his most negative lyrics. Ten days before Tupac was fatally shot, he finalized his leaving of Death Row by firing his lawyer, Death Row founding owner Dave Kenner. One of Tupac’s bodyguards was FBI agent Kevin Hackie. After Tupac’s death, Hackie said he had documents proving that other FBI agents were in cars following Tupac when gunmen murdered him in Las Vegas. Las Vegas Sun police reporter Cathy Scott also said that the FBI presence was widely known.

Besides evidence supporting that Los Angeles police officers working for Death Row aided in Tupac’s murder, these undercover police agents appeared to have the goal of ending the gang peace truce. They did this through starting conflicts among gang members in Death Row. Part of the evidence around the FBI’s targeting of Tupac Shakur was a Justice Department worker saying Tupac had over 4,000 pages in his FBI file. While only 99 pages were released, CIA documents, court documents, hundreds of personal interviews and thousands of articles and books show how U.S. intelligence targeted him. 

The cover-up, through media censorship and many more killings, has appeared to go on even longer than his adult life. Since Tupac’s death, other linked murders included Tupac’s backup singer Yafeu Fula, the son of Bronx Black Panther cofounder Sekou Odinga, and Tupac’s business partner, Yasmynn Fula. Fula was the top witness to Tupac’s murder, saying he thought he could identify the shooter. 

Another murder linked to Tupac’s was Tupac’s former rap star friend, Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace. Police Detective Russell Poole was assigned to Biggie’s murder investigation and said that he found his fellow police officers murdered Biggie to cover up their murder of Tupac. They hoped to make it look like part of the East/West rap war.

Along with other linked murders, Tupac’s bodyguard in the car behind Tupac’s, Frank Alexander, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head on April 28, 2013, four days before the FBI announced they were putting Assata Shakur on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorist List. Alexander had co-produced the film, Tupac: Assassination, and a sequel released in 2009 that incriminated the Los Angeles Police officers working at Death Row. Police told the Huffington Post that the death is being investigated as a suicide, without giving an explanation of why they weren’t also investigating it as a possible homicide. 

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John Potash is the author of The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders. Potash did his graduate studies at Columbia University where he published an award-winning national social work school newspaper, Social Justice Action Quarterly. He has also published articles in Covert Action Quarterly, Z Magazine, The Baltimore Chronicle, The Baltimore City Paper, and Rock Creek Free Press. He has been interviewed on dozens of radio programs throughout the U.S. as well as programs in England and New Zealand.