Controversy In Milwaukee Focuses On Name Of Assata School

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Controversy In Milwaukee Focuses On Name Of Assata School

Premiere Date: 
July 4, 2013

Frederica Freyberg reports on a controversy over the name of a school in Milwaukee.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

And we are going to change gears now and close with kind of an unusual story. We say this is unusual because our reports generally answer questions rather than raise them. But the deeper we dug into this next story, the more questions were raised. It speaks to the old adage, what's in a name? For one public school in Milwaukee, we found out there's plenty, apparently. A controversy is brewing there over a school some worry was named after a woman who had just been put on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list.

Mike Crivello:

That person, any way you cut it, is a convicted cop killer.

Jasmine Washington:

She's what I would call a real hero and not the ones that we read in the textbooks at school.

Frederica Freyberg:

Two very divergent views on a woman whose aka is Assata Shakur, and whether she's a good role model for Milwaukee school children. Assata High School, near downtown Milwaukee is a small, so-called partner school for 113 students at risk for not graduating. It's privately and independently operated, but paid for by the public school district. Last school year, that cost was nearly a million dollars. According to this publication by a library scientist and former Milwaukee substitute teacher, Assata High School was named for Assata Shakur. The author recently died and we couldn’t independently verify his source of information, but he refers to the school's namesake as an African-American activist. Assata Shakur is a long-time activist. But she’s also just been named the first woman on the FBI's most wanted domestic terrorist list.  

Reporter:

The FBI is offering a reward of up to one million dollars for information directly leading to the arrest of a most wanted terrorist.

Frederica Freyberg:

According to the FBI, Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, is a “domestic terrorist” who murdered a law enforcement officer execution style. In 1973 New Jersey state trooper Werner Foester was shot to death during a traffic stop involving Assata Shakur and her associates. At the time, Shakur was a member of the Black Liberation Army and Black Panthers.

Assata Shakur:

Repression is one of the most frequent tools used by the United States government.

Frederica Freyberg:

Shakur was convicted of the murder but escaped from prison, and has been in exile in Cuba for 27 years.

Brian Verdin:

Even if Assata was in fact guilty of the crime she’s been alleged to have committed, she's certainly no terrorist.

Frederica Freyberg:

In activist circles, Assata Shakur has support as a victim of an overzealous justice system prejudiced against African-American activism. Sympathizers say she was unjustly imprisoned for taking on authority.

Jasmine Washington:

Someone who actually stood for what really goes on in the government, and she's a very, very strong woman, a very smart woman, intelligent.   The way she moves, everything she represents, is something that will be the perfect example of what every young black girl who want to be like.

Mike Crivello:

I think we have an issue.

Frederica Freyberg:

This Milwaukee police detective and union president says on a recent routine patrol an officer noted the name of the school. Police then called the school office and report that the person who answered verified it was named after Assata Shakur.

Carlotta Pritchett:

Well, I don't know who that person could have been.

Frederica Freyberg:

Assata principal, Carlotta Pritchett, would only conduct a phone interview. She say, anyone who says the school is named after Shakur is mistaken.

Carlotta Pritchett:

Her name is Assata Shakur and our school is named Assata. Our school is not named Assata Shakur. Our school is named Assata, and it's a Swahili African name.

Frederica Freyberg:

Milwaukee Public Schools offered only a statement echoing that saying, “The founders decided on this name specifically because the school was designated to be an Afro-Centric school.”

Mike Crivello:

They already confirmed who it was named after, and then quickly backed off. When I say quickly backed off, they hung up the phone. But their conversation included referring to the individual and reflecting on the fact that she was a civil rights activist.

Frederica Freyberg:

It's been the belief of Milwaukee Assata Shakur sympathizers that the school was named for the activist.  

Jasmine Washington:

I just know it was named after her. But I’ve never known anybody that went there or I haven't been there myself.

Frederica Freyberg:

The school wouldn't allow me in, but we could see a photo of Assata Shakur in the wall in the school’s entryway.

You believe it's okay to have her picture gracing the walls of your school.

Carlotta Pritchett:

I have no comments on that.

Frederica Freyberg:

As you know, she's been placed on the FBI's most wanted list as a terrorist.

Carlotta Pritchett:

Okay.

Frederica Freyberg:

Do you think that she's a good example for your students?

Carlotta Pritchett:

I have no comments on that, because that's not something that, you know, um, I've just, you know, even thought about. Because we have pictures of Benjamin Franklin. We have pictures of all different kinds of African-American people in our building.

Frederica Freyberg:

It's that particular African-American, however, the one on the FBI's most wanted list, the one whose photo welcomes students and staff at the front door of Assata School, that concerns Milwaukee police, police who believe whatever the official explanation, that the school is in fact named after Assata Shakur.

Mike Crivello:

As a citizen of the city of Milwaukee, as a father of children, as a police officer that has devoted a life to protecting the opportunities of children, it makes me very angry. It makes me very angry that a school in our city would be named after a cop killer.  

Frederica Freyberg:

Police detective and union chief Mike Crivello says he'd like to open a dialogue with the school about his concerns. Asked if she was interested in that, the school principal said, no. There's a petition circulating asking President Obama to remove Shakur from the FBI's most wanted terrorist list. There's also a total $2 million reward for her capture. 


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