Born in Flushing, Queens, she grew up in New York City and Wilmington, North Carolina. After she ran away from home several times, her aunt, who would later act as one of her lawyers, took her in. She became involved in political activism at Borough of Manhattan Community College and City College of New York. After graduation, she began using the name Assata Shakur, and briefly joined the Black Panther Party. She then joined the Black Liberation Army, a loosely-knit offshoot of the Black Panthers which led an armed struggle against the US government through tactics such as robbing banks and killing police officers and drug dealers.