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Thanks to a Netflix documentary, the so-called "murderers" of Malcolm X are rehabilitated

Over fifty-five years.

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Thanks to a Netflix documentary, the so-called "murderers" of Malcolm X are rehabilitated

Over fifty-five years. This is the time it took to rectify this "serious miscarriage of justice", in the words of the judge. Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam spent twenty years in prison for the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, the black leader. Last year, they were finally cleared, and the city and state of New York have just announced that they will pay them $36 million in damages. It comes too late for Khalil Islam, who died in 2009. Aziz is 84 years old.

Why did justice take so long, when Malcolm X was a great figure in his time? This brilliant and charismatic autodidact had then made himself known as the spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist group. He opposes the leaders of the civil rights movement like Martin Luther King, supporters of integration. He advocates racial separation, refuses non-violence and urges his brothers to defend their civil rights "by all means necessary".

The FBI sees him as a dangerous agitator, but Malcolm X also has other enemies. In 1964, he left the Nation of Islam after a public break with its leader, Elijah Muhammad, whom he blamed for his adulterous affairs. His positions have also moderated, which earned him to be accused of traitor by his former comrades and threatened with death. He narrowly escapes a bomb attack. A few days later, on February 21, 1965, he was shot down by three men while delivering a speech, north of Manhattan. He died at age 39 in front of his pregnant wife and daughters. One of the assailants, Mujahid Abdul Halim, was arrested on the spot, Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam the following days, after a botched police investigation.

Malcolm X in L'Express of March 1, 1965.

L'Express

At the trial, despite the contradictory statements of the witnesses, the absence of clues and especially the testimony of Halim who denies their involvement in the murder, the two men are sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1977, Halim confessed the names of his four accomplices. But the police ignore his testimony. The assassination of Malcolm X does not arouse the same passion as that of JFK. For years, historians, journalists and amateur detectives struggled to reopen the investigation. In vain. The FBI refuses to release key documents. "Their conviction should have been overturned a long time ago," said Peter Goldman, the author of a biography of Malcolm X who tried to exculpate them. "But nobody wants to reopen this rotten file", he continues, and certainly not "the federal agencies, who do not want to recognize their mistake".

We have to wait until 2020 and a documentary on Netflix called Who Killed Malcolm X? for justice to move. After its broadcast, the Manhattan prosecutor relaunches the investigation. It demonstrates that the FBI, the prosecutors and the New York police concealed certain facts which would have probably led to the acquittal of Khalil Islam and Muhammad Aziz. Last year, after being cleared, the latter said: "This is all the result of a corrupt system to the core and which remains far too familiar for black people in 2021."

Since 1989, 3,250 people have been exonerated after miscarriages of justice in the United States, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. 53% are African American. The failures of justice cost the taxpayer a fortune. In 2014, New York City alone paid $41 million to five men wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park. Last May, she paid $7 million to an individual who spent 23 years behind bars. According to a study by Jeffrey Gutman, a professor at George Washington University, cities and states have paid nearly $ 3 billion in repairs from 1989 to 2021.

Half a century later, Malcolm X and his message of "black pride" remains an inspiration to African Americans. But many questions about his murder are still unsolved: why the police did not protect him while he was being watched by the FBI? And who ordered his assassination?

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