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Malcolm X's family is suing the CIA, FBI and NYPD

Ilyasah Shabazz (C), daughter of African-American activist Malcolm X, speaks alongside civil rights attorney Ben Crump (L) and co-counsel Ray Hamlin (R) during a press conference in New York on February 21, at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, formerly known as the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was shot dead at 39 on Feb. 21, 1965.
AFP via Getty Images
Ilyasah Shabazz (C), daughter of African-American activist Malcolm X, speaks alongside civil rights attorney Ben Crump (L) and co-counsel Ray Hamlin (R) during a press conference in New York on February 21, at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, formerly known as the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was shot dead at 39 on Feb. 21, 1965.

Updated February 24, 2023 at 2:04 PM ET

At a press conference on Tuesday, Malcolm X's third daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, along with civil rights attorney Ben Crump, announced plans to file a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the NYPD, the FBI, the CIA, and other government agencies.

"When I think of the challenges that my mother suffered, witnessing the assassination of her husband, I think now is the best time that we have to seek justice for a man who gave his life for human rights," said Shabazz in an interview with Morning Edition's Leila Fadel.

"We'd like our father to receive the justice that he deserves."

Malcolm X holds up a paper for the crowd to see during a Black Muslim rally in New York City on Aug. 6, 1963.
/ AP
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AP
Malcolm X holds up a paper for the crowd to see during a Black Muslim rally in New York City on Aug. 6, 1963.

This week marks the 58th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader. Decades of questions remain about what really happened at the Audubon Ballroom in Upper Manhattan after several men shot 39-year-old Malcolm 21 times at a rally.

Crump claims the agencies fraudulently concealed evidence from the family. He says pursuing legal action is not just about holding those who pulled the trigger accountable, but all the entities that conspired to make it happen.

"The government had factual and exculpatory information that they kept from the gentlemen who were wrongly convicted, and more importantly from his family," Crump said in the same interview with Fadel.

The two men Crump mentioned, Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, were exonerated in 2021 after being wrongly convicted of the 1965 assassination.

He poses the question: "The city [New York City] and the state paid tens of millions of dollars to the two gentlemen who were wrongfully convicted... What is due to those who suffered the most?"

Shabazz says this case is about painting an accurate history and preserving her father's legacy. She laments that the circumstances leading to his death are unresolved and that the trauma that happened in the ballroom all those years ago still stings.

Crump compares the circumstances surrounding Malcom X's death to other black liberation leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, citing the surveillance of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

The families of King and Hampton were both compensated following successful lawsuits.

"They [the government] were afraid of the rise of a Black messiah," said Crump.

News of the pending lawsuit follows the release of a letter, allegedly written by late NYPD officer Raymond Wood before he died in 2020. The letter states that he participated in a plot to kill Malcolm by infiltrating his organization and luring his security team into committing criminal acts so that they could be arrested days before the assassination.

He wrote: "I participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to my own Black people."

The FBI has yet to make a public statement on the matter. NPR reached out to the CIA and the NYPD and both declined to comment

Shabazz, now 60, was just two years old when she witnessed her father's murder. She watched with three of her sisters and pregnant mother Betty Shabazz as one of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement unfolded.

The excerpts include some quotes from the interview with Ilyasah Shabazz that were not aired in the broadcast version.


Interview excerpts

On why the family is pursuing legal action

We think the truth about the circumstances leading to the death of our father is important. When we look at that letter that he wrote from hajj, it's our hope that litigation of this case will provide some unanswered questions and that the legacy of Malcolm X is appropriated. We want justice served for our father.

As I wrote in Growing Up X in 2004, certainly there were government agencies involved in the assassination of our father... Hoover said stop the rise of a Black messiah... I think that what we'll discover is that Malcolm was in fact a brilliant man. He wasn't all of these descriptives that are often written about him.

I just want the history books to be accurately reflected. The legacy that is there now is so inaccurate.

On witnessing her father's assassination

LF: Now, you were also there [the assassination] that day. You were very young, two years old, right?

That's right. My oldest sister, Attallah, was six years old. My sister Qubilah was four. All of us were there, and my mother was pregnant with our youngest sisters — the twins.

On Malcolm X's enduring legacy

When I think about my mother, she safeguarded her husband's legacy for the remainder of her life and I think of the challenges she endured raising her six daughters... and now people are discovering the truth about Malcolm.

Malcolm had a profound reaction to injustice; he had a lot of faith; he worked so hard for the advancement of human rights and it's the reason why his message is still sought after because he spoke the truth, and we know that truth is timeless.

This interview with Ilyasah Shabazz and Ben Crump was edited for air by Olivia Hampton. Majd Al-Waheidi edited it for digital. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Shelby Hawkins
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