Death of Malcolm X: Who are the two men who will be exonerated?

It is a remarkable court decision that will take place in the United States in the case of the death of the black American leader, as controversial as it is mythical. Two of the three men convicted of the murder of Malcolm X, who was gunned down in New York on February 21, 1965, during a speech in Harlem, will be exonerated, the Manhattan prosecutor’s office has said. It is Muhammad Aziz (83 years old) and Khalil Islam, the latter died in 2009. Prosecutor Cyrus Vance announced the decision in the New York Times : “These men did not have the right to the justice they deserved (…). What we can do is recognize this mistake, the seriousness of this mistake. “The lawyer will file this November 18, 1966 a joint file to obtain the annulment of the convictions in 1966 of these two former activists. The Supreme Court will have to validate this request.

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Muhammad Aziz, alias Norman 3X Butler at the time and Khalil Islam, (Thomas 15X Johnson), – convicted at the time with a third man, Thomas Hagan, who had admitted his participation in the assassination -, were members of ” Nation of Islam “, the movement of which Malcolm X had been a figure but from which he had moved away, against a backdrop of growing tensions. Halim, the third man, confessed to the murder but firmly testified that the other two defendants were not involved. Despite this, the jury charged them.

The convicts were lieutenants in the Nation of Islam militia and worked at the Harlem mosque that Malcolm X had led before falling out with cult leader Elijah Muhammad. At the time of the assassination, Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were on bail, accused of beating and shooting a dissident, Benjamin Brown, who had set up a mosque in the Bronx.

The first, who served in the Navy, was a member of “Fruit of Islam”, the armed wing of The Nation of Islam. He converted to Sunni Islam and thus changed his name during his prison sentence. Always claiming his innocence, he was paroled in 1985. In early 1991, he was director of a branch of a drug rehabilitation program, then chief of security for the eastern region of the Nation of Islam. The second, also a convert, had managed to get rid of his heroin addiction by getting involved with Nation of Islam. He always maintained that he was not involved in the death of Malcolm X, while specifying that his assassination was inevitable.

Their convictions obviously had consequences on their personal relationships. Muhammad Aziz’s wife left him while Khalil Islam filed for divorce from his. Their children – six for Aziz, three for Islam – were all under ten when the two men were arrested and then jailed.

Netflix documentary revived the case

In February 2020, after the broadcast of a documentary on Netflix (Who Killed Malcolm X ?), again raising doubts about the guilt of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, Cyrus Vance asked his teams to reconsider the case. This judicial twist risks reinforcing the thesis of the murky role played by the FBI and the New York police at the time. In February 2021, a posthumous and accusatory letter from a police officer had been unveiled and the daughters of Malcolm X had already requested the reopening of the investigation.

The policeman claimed to have approached, at the request of his hierarchy, the entourage of Malcolm X and to have trapped two of his bodyguards, arrested only a few days before the assassination, to weaken the security around the black leader.

The 22-month investigation carried out jointly by the prosecutor’s office and the two men’s lawyers reveals that prosecutors“, the FBI and the New York Police “concealed crucial evidence which, if known, would likely have led to the acquittal of the two men“, Write the New York Times. “All of this should never have happened. These facts were and are the result of a corrupt process to the core, which remains all too familiar even in 2021“, reacted Muhammad Aziz.

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