Updated Nov 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Two men exonerated in Malcolm X killing

Photo of a mural showing Malcolm X and MLK speaking
A London mural of Malcom X (left) and Martin Luther King Jr. pays tribute to George Floyd. Photo: Thabo Jaiyesimi/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two men convicted of killing Malcolm X were exonerated on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Driving the news: This news follows the announcement on Wednesday from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr that both men neared exoneration after spending decades in prison for a murder they did not commit.

  • "I apologize on behalf of our nation's law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee the equal protection of the law," Vance said in his remarks.

Why it matters: The Black civil rights leader's assassination was one of the most high-profile murders in the civil rights era. He led the Black Power movement and faced multiple death threats as one of the most prominent African Americans at the time.

Details: Malcolm X died on Feb. 21, 1965, after three men opened fire in New York’s Audubon Ballroom as he was about to speak. Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam maintained their innocence but spent decades in prison following convictions in 1966.

  • Vance's office launched a review after the Netflix documentary miniseries "Who Killed Malcolm X?" revealed new information about the case, per the Guardian.
  • The 22-month investigation, conducted in tandem with the two men's lawyers, found that the FBI, New York Police Department and prosecutors withheld evidence that would have likely led to acquittals, the New York Times reports.
  • The review did not identify who is believed to have actually murdered Malcolm X.
  • Aziz, 83, was released in 1985 while Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Russ Contreras: Scholars and civil rights advocates have long said men charged with killing Malcolm X, later known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, were wrongly convicted.

  • Some have alleged police and federal agents played a role in his death.
  • Malcolm X's killing came at a time when the FBI was monitoring civil rights leaders and actively trying to get the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself or catch him in a personal scandal. So the convictions never had the confidence of some Black activists.

What they're saying: “The event that has brought us to court today should never have occurred,” Aziz told the court according to AP.

  • "This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities," Vance said in an interview with the Times on Wednesday. "These men did not get the justice that they deserved."
  • "And at a time when racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system are once again the focus of a national protest movement, it reveals a bitter truth: that two of the people convicted of killing Malcolm X — Black Muslim men hastily arrested and tried on shaky evidence — were themselves victims of the very discrimination and injustice that he denounced in language that has echoed across the decades," the Times notes.
  • "This wasn’t a mere oversight," Deborah Francois, a lawyer for the men, told the Times. "This was a product of extreme and gross official misconduct."
  • “I hope this doesn’t end the discussion,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “For millions and millions of Americans, we still need to know who killed Malcolm X and who ordered it,” according to AP.
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