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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.

Go deeper

DOJ opens civil rights probe into suburban New York police force

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke. Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Friday announced it has opened a civil rights investigation into the Mount Vernon Police Department in Westchester County, New York, following allegations of discriminatory policing.

Why it matters: This is the Biden administration's fourth DOJ-led civil rights probe into policing practices with previous investigations launched in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix.

LatCrits: How Latinos shaped Critical Race Theory

Photo illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios. Photos: Courtesy of Richard Delgado and Margaret Montoya.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines systemic racism in the U.S. legal system. Richard Delgado, the son of a Mexican immigrant, helped develop the framework five decades ago.

Why it matters: CRT is under attack by some conservatives who falsely claim the graduate school-level concepts are being taught in elementary and high schools. But not only is CRT routinely misunderstood, the Latino contributions to the field also are overlooked.

Axios AM Deep Dive: Pandemic eating

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A food revolution began pre-pandemic and COVID has only accelerated that. See how America's food industry is transforming, from farm to your table.