Late prominent Black leader Malcolm X’s family will file a wrongful death lawsuit against the New York Police Department, the CIA, the FBI and the state of New York for their alleged role in the assassination of Malcolm X.
The $100 million wrongful death lawsuit accuses the government agencies of “fraudulent concealment of evidence” surrounding the murdered civil rights icon’s death.
“We will seek justice for a man, a very young man, who gave his life for human rights,” said his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz during a press conference announcing the lawsuit on Tuesday.
The lawsuit comes a little over three months after New York settled lawsuits filed by two men wrongfully convicted of murdering the Muslim leader and on the 58th anniversary of his death.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, said the exonerated men’s lawsuit that claimed the FBI, NYPD and the New York district attorney “fraudulently concealed” evidence made way for Malcolm X’s daughters to “seek legal redress.”
“Based on the government’s admission that they concealed evidence involving the assassination of Malcolm X, the truth of what happened and who was involved has always been critical,” Crump said Tuesday.
Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan on February 21, 1965. Crump and his co-counsel Ray Hamlin argue that the leader’s daughters were traumatized after seeing their father shot 21 times by a group of men. Malcolm left behind six daughters. His daughter Malikah Shabazz died in November 2021.
Rumors that the Nation of Islam was planning to kill Malcolm X were well known at the time of his death after he had a falling out with its leader, Elijah Muhammad.
Malcolm X — who was born Malcolm Little — had been the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam and by far its most prominent figure. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Muhammad warned Malcolm to avoid making any incendiary public statements about Kennedy’s death. But days later, Malcom nevertheless spoke his mind when asked about the assassination by a reporter.
“President Kennedy never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon,” he replied. “Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad.”
The Nation of Islam reportedly responded by silencing Malcolm for 90 days, which led to a split that became irrevocable.
He would go on to leave the Nation of Islam and open his own mosque, changing his name to El-Hajj Malik Shabazz while adopting orthodox Sunni Islam. While some blamed his death on his former organization, a rumor of the government assassinating Shabazz was also a theory.
The Shabazz family home was firebombed just one week before his death, and the family often received death threats due to his civil rights work. The 39-year-old leader believed he would be assassinated by someone one day and once said, “I live like a man who is dead already.”
Former Thomas Hagan Nation of Islam member Talmadge Hayer, also known as Mujahid Abdul Halim, confessed to killing Malcolm X in 1966, according to the Washington Post. Hayer shot the leader in the chest as he spoke at the Audubon Ballroom after a smoke bomb went off in the crowd and distracted his security detail.
Hayer was caught at the scene after being shot by a security guard, but at least two others got away. Khalil Islam and Muhammad A. Aziz were later arrested and convicted.
However, Hayer had long maintained that the two other men were innocent. Both men were convicted despite having had alibis for the night Shabazz was killed, and prosecutors presented no physical evidence at their trial. Islam was released in 1987 after serving 20 years, and Aziz was released on parole in 1985. Islam died in 2009.
A documentary on Netflix in 2020 called “Who Killed Malcolm X?” prompted Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and the Innocence Project to review Islam and Aziz’s convictions. Malcolm X scholar Abdur-Rahman Muhammad and investigative journalist Les Payne suggested that the murderers were actually two members of a Newark mosque, not Islam and Aziz, who would have been recognized.
Three of the civil rights leader’s daughters told CBS in 2021 that they have evidence that proves the FBI conspired with the NYPD to kill Malcolm X. The proof is reportedly a 2011 letter from former NYPD officer Raymond Wood.
Wood admitted that he “participated in actions that, in hindsight, were deplorable and detrimental to the advancement of my own Black people. Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts.”
Wood said that his supervisors at the NYPD coerced him to entrap and arrest several of the leader’s security detail in the days before the murder so they wouldn’t be able to protect Shabazz, referring to him as “the target.”
“It was my assignment to draw the two men into a felonious federal crime so that they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away from managing Malcolm X’s door security on February 21, 1965,” he wrote. “At that time, I was not aware that Malcolm X was the target.”
Wood’s cousin Reginald Wood told the Atlanta Black Star that his cousin tried to quit the force, but the authorities threatened him with charges of alcohol and drug trafficking to force him to comply out of self-preservation.
“It’s explosive,” said Reginald Wood. “He said that he was forced to betray his own people. He tried to get out, and they tried to pin drug trafficking and alcohol trafficking charges on him.”
A judge dismissed the convictions of Islam and Aziz in 2021, and they were both later exonerated. Aziz, 84, and the estate of Islam won a $36 million award against New York for their wrongful conviction after they filed a lawsuit. The judge ruled that the NYPD and FBI withheld exculpatory evidence from the men’s attorneys.
Crump said the family’s wrongful death lawsuit is “based on these new revelations that have now finally been substantiated.”
“And the rhetorical question is this. If the government compensated the two gentlemen that were wrongfully convicted for the assassination of Malcolm X with tens of millions of dollars, then what is to be the compensation for the daughters who suffered the most from the assassination of Malcolm X?” Crump said.
The attorneys plan to take depositions of witnesses who are still alive 58 years later. Shabazz hopes the lawsuit will lead to some long-awaited answers for her family and closure.
“For years, our family has fought for the truth to come to light concerning his murder. And we’d like our father to receive the justice that he deserves,” she said. “The truth about the circumstances leading to the death of our father is important not only to his family but to many followers, many admirers. Many who look to him for guidance or love.”