The family of civil rights leader Malcolm X announced on the anniversary of his 1965 assassination that they intend to sue U.S. government entities including the FBI, CIA and New York Police Department for $100 million, alleging they played a part in his death. Attorneys detailed the forthcoming lawsuit at a news conference Tuesday, at the same Manhattan location where the religious and civil rights leader was shot and killed 58 years ago.“We want justice served for our father,” said one of his daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz, an administrator of Malcolm X’s estate. She spoke at the news conference alongside her sister Qubilah.
The circumstances surrounding Malcolm X’s death have long been shrouded in mystery. Two men who were convicted of murdering activist were exonerated in 2021 after serving decades in prison and the New York District Attorney admitted that the case against them was flawed, and that law enforcement at the time withheld evidence.The move renewed public interest in the case and fueled long-held conspiracy theories about the possible culpability of law enforcement, particularly of the New York Police Department.
Ilyasah Shabazz took the first steps required under New York law by anyone planning to sue the state, filing notices of claim that said government entities at the federal and local level in New York “conspired with each other and with other individuals and acted, and failed to act, in such a way as to bring about the wrongful death of Malcolm X,” according to the Associated Press.
At the news conference, civil rights attorney Ben Crump appeared to put an even finer point on it. Asked directly by a journalist if he thought government agencies were involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Malcolm X, Crump replied: “That is what we are alleging, yes.”
Malcolm X was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965, when he was just 39. He was shot while preparing to give a speech at the Audubon Ballroom. A bodyguard shot one of the assailants trying to flee the scene, Talmadge Hayer, and captured him.Hayer, who goes by Mujahid Abdul Halim, later confessed to killing Malcolm X. He spent 45 years in prison and was released on parole in 2010. However, Hayer long insisted that the two other men who were arrested and jailed for the crime, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, both members of the Nation of Islam, were innocent.
Hayer told authorities in 1977 that he planned the killing with four different men because they were incensed by Malcolm X’s public feud with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.After decades in prison, Aziz, who previously went by the name of Norman ‘‘3X’’ Butler, was paroled in 1985. Islam, who went by Thomas ‘‘15X’’ Johnson, was paroled in 1987.They were the subject of a Netflix documentary, “Who Killed Malcolm X?,” that came out the same year as the New York district attorney began to reinvestigate the case. Following a review of the available evidence from the case, the New York District Attorney’s Office recommended that the two men’s first-degree murder convictions be vacated.
The office also acknowledged law enforcement failings in the case. It said the FBI and NYPD did not honor their obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to prosecutors and the accused including “information that implicated other suspects; that identified witnesses who failed to identify defendant Islam; and that revealed witnesses to be FBI informants.”
It said FBI records suggested “that information was deliberately withheld.”
Last October, Aziz and the estate of Khalil Islam received a $36 million settlement from the city of New York. The city’s Law Department said in a statement at the time that it agreed with former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s conclusion that the men had been wrongfully convicted.
Crump said Tuesday that the city’s settlement and the District Attorney’s conclusions made it possible to build a case for wrongful death against authorities involved in the 1965 investigation and gave “Malcolm’s daughters an opportunity to seek legal redress, finally.”
“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 asked.
Attorney Ray Hamlin, whom Crump identified as his co-counsel, said that family members of Malcolm X involved in the prospective lawsuit include his daughters Ilyasah, Qubilah, Gamilah and Malaak Shabazz as well as the daughter of Malikah Shabazz, another of Malcolm X’s daughters who died in 2021.
Speaking briefly from the podium during Tuesday’s news conference, Ilyasah Shabazz who was in the room when Malcolm X was assassinated described her father as man who “gave his life for human rights.”
“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, for love,” Shabazz said.