Steph Deschamps / October 31, 2022
Victims of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the history of African-Americans, two men exonerated in 2021 after twenty years of prison each for the assassination in 1965 of Malcolm X will receive a total of 36 million dollars from the city and state of New York. The lawyer David Shanies, defender of Muhammad Aziz, 84, and the family of Khalil Islam, who died in 2009, confirmed Sunday evening in an email to AFP that an “injustice (had been) recognized today and a modest step taken to correct it.
The New York Times reported that the legal department of the New York City government had earlier revealed a financial restitution agreement with “Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam, who were wrongfully convicted of this crime”: the murder of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965, in the Audubon Ballroom, an entertainment venue in Harlem, a neighborhood in northern Manhattan. The two men, members of Malcolm X’s “Nation of Islam” movement, had been sentenced in 1966 to long prison terms and had spent 42 years between them — about 20 years each — for a murder they had never committed.
But last November 19, in a historic judicial coup, the Supreme Court of the State of New York had cleared them.
The justice system had even acknowledged its “failure” in having imprisoned two innocent people for the assassination of the icon of the black people’s cause in the 1960s in the United States. The disappearance of Malcolm X was a thunderclap in the painful history of African-Americans. A “tragedy (…) felt around the world and compounded by the fact that it led to the conviction and imprisonment of two innocent young black men in America,” denounced lawyer David Shanies.
He confirmed the figures of the New York Times: 26 million dollars paid by the city of New York and ten million dollars from the state of New York.
Muhammad Aziz, who was released in 1985, and Khalil Islam, who was released in 1987 and died in 2009 at the age of 74, have always maintained their innocence.
The third convict, Mujahid Abdul Halim, admitted at the time that he had shot Malcolm X, and cleared his two co-defendants, but in vain. Until the New York courts reopened the case in 2020.
Indeed, it was not until the February 2020 release of a documentary on Netflix (“Who Killed Malcolm X?”), renewing doubts about the presence of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam at the scene of the assassination. After months of investigation and review, then Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance joined with the two men’s lawyers and an organization, “The Innocence Project”, which fights against miscarriages of justice, to file a motion to quash in the New York Supreme Court.
And last November, live on television and to great applause, Attorney General Vance offered an “apology” from the U.S. judiciary for “decades of injustice” and “unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust.
In court, he “recognized the seriousness of this judicial error”, without dwelling on the rumors concerning the troubled role played at the time by the federal police (FBI) and that of New York.
At the time of his assassination, Malcolm X, 39 years old, a radical figure of the African-American cause, accused by his detractors of calling for violence and separatism, had left “Nation of Islam” and made a more consensual turn.
He was then threatened by members of his former movement and his home in New York had been the target of an attack a few days earlier.
The Netflix documentary is based on the thesis of a lay historian in Washington, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, defending the innocence of Mr. Aziz and Islam and that the third convict, who had admitted the facts, had acted with four other members of “Nation of Islam” from a mosque in Newark, New Jersey, near New York.
The murder of Malcolm X had shaken the United States, in the midst of political and social tensions in the 1960s, marked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and that in 1968 of the civil rights figure, Martin Luther King.