2005-06-03 / Community

Sanders Rescinds Support For Cop Killer

By Howard Schwach


City Councilman James Sanders says that he is “moving off” his sponsorship of a bill that would give amnesty to a convicted New Jersey cop killer and allow her to return to the United States from Cuba, where she has been in exile for more than 20 years.

Sanders sparked some consternation in the Rockaway community this week when he joined City Councilman Charles Barron, an ex-Black Panther member, in a Council Resolution that urged that Joanne Chesimard, the convicted murderer, be given clemency and allowed to return safely to the United States despite a $1 million federal reward for her capture.

On May 2, 1973, New Jersey State Troopers James Harper and Werner Foerster were on routine patrol on the New Jersey Turnpike when they stopped a car with three occupants.

While they were questioning the driver, he and a female passenger in the car pulled out automatic weapons and began firing without warning.

Foerster was shot twice in the chest and Harper in the shoulder.

The female shooter, later identified as Chesimard, a Black Panther member, took Foerster’s gun and shot him twice in the head with the weapon.

Harper survived and the three were arrested shortly after the incident.

Chesimard was convicted in 1977 of the murder of the state trooper in addition to charges of assault, robbery and weapon’s charges. She was sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison.

On November 2, 1979, she was taken from her cell to meet with four people involved with her case. The four had smuggled guns into the prison and they took a correction officer hostage and escaped with Chesimard.

Chesimard evaded capture for several years and in 1986 she surfaced in Cuba, where she was granted asylum as a “political prisoner.”

She has remained there ever since, where, under the name of Assata Shakur, she has written several books and served as a college professor.

Sanders told The Wave after the story of his support for Chesimard broke in the daily papers that he was duped by Barron.

“I was told that the City Council bill was proposed only to guarantee Chesimard a fair trial if she voluntarily returns to the United States,” Sanders said. “It [the actual bill] was really far more than I anticipated and I immediately removed my name.”

When informed that Chesimard already had been convicted in a trial in 1977, Sanders said that he was not sure that the New Jersey trial was “fair,” given the tenor of the times.

Barron charged those who are opposed to his bill are “ignorant of history.”

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