House bill would release Tupac surveillance records

Fans of Tupac Shakur may soon learn more about the influential rapper’s death, thanks to legislation proposed in the House last week.

The Tupac Amaru Shakur Records Collection Act of 2005 would require all federal, state and local agencies to release the files they have that pertain to the life and death of Shakur, including those obtained through surveillance and government operations. The bill was put forward on Nov. 2 by Rep. Cynthia McKinne, D-Ga., who previously drafted similar legislation for the records of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Tupac Shakur was shot to death nearly 10 years ago in Las Vegas following a Mike Tyson boxing match. Las Vegas police never discovered the identities of Shakur’s killers.

According to McKinney spokesman John Judge, the bill has its origins in the Congressional Black Caucus, of which McKinney is a member. At the group’s annual legislative meeting, a brain trust was formed to discuss the FBI’s “COINTELPRO” operations against musicians and other prominent figures. Tupac’s mother Afeni Shakur was part of the brain trust and spoke to the other members as well.

COINTELPRO, short for Counter Intelligence Program, was an FBI program instituted in the 1950s to covertly disrupt radical political organizations in the United States. The program is also known to have targeted artists and musicians, as well as nonviolent political dissidents.

“It’s a series of things.” Judge said of COINTELPRO operations. “It combines surveillance, black bag operations, secret entrances and theft of materials or copying materials, phone taps and site surveillance.”

He continued, “In addition to that, there are active campaigns to disrupt and cause rifts in organizations even to the point of people killing each other.”

Though formal operations of COINTELPRO ceased in 1971, some believe that elements of the program still exist in the FBI today. It is these elements that are thought to be connected to Shakur’s 1996 death.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that has come out over the years about the surveillance of [Shakur],” Judge said. “Apparently there were people that were surveying him at the time of his murder that were never questioned by police, and the murder never got solved.”

The resulting legislation proposed by McKinney has its roots in the 1994 John F. Kennedy Records Collection Act, and is similar in wording to the Martin Luther King Jr. Records Collection Act that was put forward earlier this year.

The main difference between them comes in how the act goes about releasing these records. The Shakur Act is unique in that it employs a citizens’ advisory panel, which, according to the text of the bill, must be made up of “distinguished persons of high national professional reputation in their respective fields who are capable of exercising the objective judgment necessary to . [ensure and facilitate] the review, transmission to the public, and public disclosure of records related to the life and death of Tupac Shakur.”

The bill said that the panel must include at least three historians, three civil rights activists, three civil liberties experts and one member of Shakur’s immediate family.

The Shakur Act also has notable differences distinguishing it from the Freedom of Information Act, which established the normal process through which citizens request government documents that are within the public domain.

“It’s more thorough than the Freedom of Information Act, since it asks for foreign records, contractor records, state, local and court records,” Judge said. “It’s a different sort of legislation.”

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