Meaning: Malcolm X’s legacy continues to haunt the United States criminal justice system

Spurred on by decades of efforts by historians and further accelerated by the highly acclaimed 2019 Netflix documentary series, “Who Killed Malcolm X,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reopened the investigation into Malcolm X’s assassination attempt on February 21, 1965. I participated in this film as historical analyst in the air.

Two of the men found guilty in 1966, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam (formerly Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson) have now been acquitted. Aziz, 83, was released on probation in 1985, while Islam, who was released in 1987, died in 2009 at the age of 74.

According to The New York Times, the 22-month-long investigation – conducted jointly by the Manhattan DA’s office and lawyers for Aziz and Islam – revealed that after Malcolm X’s killing, the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld evidence that would likely have led a jury to find the accused innocent. ,

Aziz, Islam and a third man – Mujahid Abdul Halim (known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan) – were convicted. For years, Aziz and Islam said they were innocent; Halim said he participated in the assassination, but confirmed the innocence of the other two men during the trial and after. According to New York Times, the recent investigation revealed FBI documents, including information that implicated others and not Aziz and Islam.

Prosecutor notes show they failed to disclose that undercover officers were present at the time of the shooting. Police files also showed a local reporter being called in the morning where the shooting indicated that Malcolm X would be killed. Investigators also interviewed a living witness who supported an alibi for Aziz. Overall, the Times reported, the re-examination found that if this additional material had been shown to a jury, it could very well have led to acquittals.

Cyrus Vance, the outgoing Manhattan DA, publicly apologized. “This points to the truth that law enforcement throughout history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” Vance told the Times. “These men did not get the justice they deserved.”
On Thursday, the New York Supreme Court’s administrative judge, Ellen Biben, approved the proposal to renounce the beliefs of Aziz and Islam and expressed regret for the “serious legal disturbances in this case.” Vance apologized in court for “serious, unacceptable violations of the law and public trust” and said: “We can not recover what was taken away from these men and their families, but by correcting the records we may be able to begin to restore it. believe.”
Muhammad Aziz, in the middle, poses for pictures outside the courthouse in New York with members of his family after his conviction for the murder of Malcolm X was abandoned on Thursday, November 18th.
In Aziz ‘case, this exemption means that he will have witnessed some kind of gross justice in his own lifetime. For Islam, these concessions have come too late. Their exemptions join a wave of recent events that illustrate how U.S. racial history is being rewritten and how the past continues to inform the present. For example, Louisiana is the governor ready to give a posthumous pardon to Homer Plessy, convicted of boarding a train that is only too white, and the black plaintiff in the 1896 landmark Supreme Court case that ratified “separately but equally” as constitutionally permitted.

These exemptions are particularly relevant now, not only because they represent yet another case of black defendants receiving unfair treatment before the judiciary, but because they reformulate history at a time when the failures of this system continue to resonate through national politics in USA.

Knowing the fuller truth about his death allows us to see Malcolm X in a new light. Malcolm’s activism sharpened racial differences in the criminal justice system from first-hand personal experiences. Malcolm X represents one of the most important black working class activists and organizers in American history. It is important that Malcolm became an avid captive rights activist.

Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, seen here in 1965, have now been acquitted.

These new revelations about the corrupt investigation of his death help us to better understand why Malcolm in life emerged as a relentless critic of the judicial system’s mistreatment of black America. A former prisoner himself – who became a religious leader, political organizer and public intellectual – used Malcolm’s Ministry of Nation of Islam (NOI) to restore the lost promise of dozens of black men and women in post-war America.

After his release on parole from a Massachusetts prison in August 1952, Malcolm shared his story as a former prisoner with anyone who would listen. He never forgot his time in prison or the inmates who served as mentors, students, counselors, and inspiration for his later activism.
And Malcolm fearlessly continued to confront police violence during his years as an activist. 1957 police bag by NOI member Johnson Hinton helped cement Malcolm’s local legend after forcing the NYPD to provide medical care to the battered Hinton.
Why we need to know the truth about Malcolm X
Malcolm’s arrival on stage with a battalion of NOI members changed minds and hearts in Harlem. Five years later, police killings of Ronald Stokes, an NOI member whom Malcolm considered a friend in Los Angeles, inspired a crusade against law enforcement violence that found NOI’s national representative create coalitions with civil rights leaders to condemn police brutality.

Malcolm’s greatest legacy is still his ability to speak the truth to power. His activism resonates across generations and can be seen in the Black Lives Matter movement as well as efforts to end penal systems by investing in historically disadvantaged people.

The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 is still one of the most traumatic events of the 1960s. The case remains unsolved, a reflection of not only a racially biased justice system, but also a criminal negligence. For 56 years, the assassination of one of the most influential political leaders in American history has been an open wound because of what Deborah Francois, a lawyer for Aziz and Islam, described to the Times as “extreme and gross official offense.”
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This astonishing fact calls into question the integrity of some of the fundamental institutions of our democracy. The right to a fair trial, presumption of innocence, and an investigation led by ethical servants in public trust is sacred – but in large parts of this nation, sadly absent then – and for some now.

The struggle for black dignity and citizenship, to which Malcolm dedicated his entire life, continues. The lawyers and staff of the Innocence Project, the filmmakers and the team behind “Who Killed Malcolm X?” documentary, the scientific work of the late historian Manning Marable, the late journalist Les Payne and Tamara Payne all contributed to this result.

Crucial to any understanding of what actually happened to Malcolm X is his public breakup with NOI and conflict with its leader, Elijah Muhammad, over what Malcolm saw as his former mentor’s hypocrisy over marital infidelity and other transgressions. Malcolm was aware of his life with rumors that NOI was a threat to him. “I live like a man who is already dead,” He told journalists at the time.

For decades, learned activists and members of society have spoken out against the imprisonment of Aziz and Islam as a gross violation of justice. It was this and probably much more.

And despite the welcome results of these decades of work and nearly two years of investigation on top of that, we still have more questions than answers when it comes to Malcolm X’s assassination. Why did law enforcement withhold evidence to convict Aziz and Islam? What role did the FBI and NYPD play? Why did it take 56 years to persuade Manhattan DA’s office to re-examine?

Malcolm X’s legacy continues to haunt the US criminal justice system in ways that are both sober and hopeful. The exemptions of Aziz and Islam represent a continuation of Malcolm’s struggle. Malcolm called America in so many ways against the racial and political bill that it continues to experience. The lawsuits against the white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and against Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin shed light on both how far we have come since the civil rights era and the considerable distance we have to travel to achieve racism under law, not just in theory, but in practice.


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