In 1984—seven years after she was controversially convicted of killing a police officer during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike and five years after she escaped a life sentence in prison—political activist Assata Shakur surfaced in Cuba, where she was granted asylum.
Nearly three decades later, the New York Post reports that New Jersey governor Chris Christie is hoping to force Cuba to send her back. He wrote a letter to Port Authority, the body that regulates transportation in New York and New Jersey, urging the chairman not to reopen direct flights between his state’s Newark Liberty International Airport and Havana until Shakur is behind bars.
“It is unacceptable to me to me as governor to have any flights between New Jersey and Cuba until and unless convicted cop killer and escaped fugitive Joanne Chesimard is returned to New Jersey to face justice,” the Republican presidential hopeful wrote, using Shakur’s married name. “I will not tolerate rewarding the Cuban government for continuing to harbor a fugitive.” He also sent the letter to officials at the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.
But Cuban officials say that the recent thawing between the two countries does not mean that Shakur will be sent back to the United States. As Gustavo Machin, the deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Yahoo in March: “I can say [extradition] is off the table. … We consider that a politically motivated case against that lady.”
Newark Airport is not currently one of the 19 airports approved for flights directly to Cuba, but Port Authority chairman John Degnan told The Wall Street Journal that United Airlines has expressed interested in opening the route. Degnan also commented on Christie’s request: “I take the strongly expressed views of the governor very seriously and will commence a review immediately by which this application is proceeding,” he said. “I think the governor has raised serious and legitimate concerns about this.”
Shakur has consistently maintained her innocence, and prosecutors were never able to prove that she fired the gun that killed New Jersey State trooper Werner Foerster.