Lee Stranahan: We’re talking to Bryan Burrough. He’s the author of the great book “Days of Rage.” Now, you mention the Black Liberation Army and again, without getting into the politics of it, Assata Shakur has become a major focal point for a lot of people in the Black Lives Matter movement because the founders of Black Lives Matter, the three women who founded it, have stated that she’s one of their heroes. When I get into discussions with people about Assata Shakur, they’ll say, “Well, I think she was innocent” or whatever.
The thing I point out is that the Black Liberation Army, the group that she was part of, leave aside her specific case, that was a group that as you said the Black Liberation Army’s sole goal, basically, was to assassinate the police, correct? You talk about some of their history.
Bryan Burrough: Look, you don’t have to be a right-winger to know that that’s a true statement. The Black Liberation Army, of which Assata Shakur was the last and most infamous leader, existed to do one thing, which is what an awful lot of Black Panthers wanted to do and everyone in the BLA did, and that was kill cops. They did it rather successfully, it depends on who you say was in the BLA, but between 10 and 20 policemen between 1971 and 1974.
It was a group of individual cells, former Panthers who took it on themselves to start killing cops in San Francisco, in New York, and a little bit in Atlanta during one group that came down from New York. The group was, after several spectacular attacks including two on four New York policemen, killing two in May 1971 and then just one of the most horrific assassinations of cops in New York history in January 1972 of two cops shot down on a sidewalk in East Village.
The cops, and to some extent the FBI, launched a war against the BLA even as a lot of people in the mainstream media didn’t even think the BLA actually existed. They just thought it was a cop fantasy of black radicals. People just said, “Oh, this is spontaneous. This is just angry black people doing what the times demand.” They didn’t necessarily believe that this was a coordinated underground as, in fact, this book, “Days of Rage,” displays that it clearly was.
We interviewed a lot of people who were in the BLA and had a lot of contemporaneous documents, anyway. By 1973, the group was down to its last, lets say, 15 or so members in New York. They were harried, they were running from flat to flat in the Bronx, in Queens, in Brooklyn, and there was one last spasm of violence. BLA attacks on the police in New York in 1973. People injured and killed on both sides. Then, of course, famously Assata Shakur, who was the de facto leader of the group at that point.
Again, a pretty small group, 10 to 20 black radicals, attempted to flee New York with two of her people. She was pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike where a shootout ensued, killing one of her people, killing one of the cops. She was of course injured, arrested, “captured” they would say, and put on a trial. She was put on trial six, seven, eight times and almost always found innocent until she was convicted of her involvement in that shooting.