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Explained: Why Malcolm X’s family wants his murder probe reopened

Malcolm X’s family has recently released a letter purportedly written by a deceased undercover police officer, which alleges involvement of the NYPD and the FBI in the activist’s killing.   

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 23, 2021 8:06:01 am
Malcolm X, Malcolm X murder, Malcolm X murder FNI NYPD, Malcolm X family letter on his murder, Malcolm X murder probe, Nation of islam, express explained, indian expressMalcolm X rose to prominence in the United States in the 1950s as a spokesman of the Nation of Islam. (Photo: AP)

Family members and lawyers of Malcolm X, the late African American civil rights leader, have released what they claim is new evidence showing that the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were behind his assassination in 1965.

A letter attributed to a deceased undercover NYPD officer, which was released at a press conference on Saturday, is being cited as proof of the agencies’ involvement, and family members are asking that the Malcolm X murder investigation be reopened.

The assassination of Malcolm X

A firebrand civil rights activist and powerful orator, Malcolm X rose to prominence in the United States in the 1950s as a spokesman of the Nation of Islam, a political and religious movement that combined traditional Islam with Black nationalist ideas. X famously advocated the use of violence for self-protection, and criticised the non-violent approach adopted by other Black leaders such as Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1964, a year before he was killed, Malcolm X publicly separated from the Nation of Islam after becoming disillusioned with the group, and went on to adopt a more moderate stance on Black separatism, although continuing to champion Black unity and self-reliance.

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Then on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was killed at the Audubon Ballroom in New York, where he was about to deliver a speech. Three men who were members of the Nation of Islam were sent to life in prison after being convicted for the murder.

Days before his death, Malcolm X had said that members of the Nation of Islam were seeking to kill him, and a week before the assassination, his home in Queens had been firebombed.

Some historians, however, later contended that the wrong men were imprisoned – one of whom is now dead and two out on parole. In 2020, the office of the Manhattan district attorney said it would review the convictions.

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What the new letter says

The letter released on Saturday has been described as written by Raymond Wood, a former undercover NYPD officer, who says it was his responsibility that members of Malcolm X’s security team were arrested days before the leader was killed.

The letter was authorised for posthumous release by Wood’s cousin, and was released by three of Malcolm X’s daughters along with members of Wood’s family. Details regarding the timing and circumstances of Wood’s death were not provided.

According to Wood’s family, the letter alleges that the NYPD and the FBI covered up details of Malcolm X’s assassination in February 1965. Wood says in the letter that he was made to ensure that Malcolm X would have no door security on the day he was killed.

Wood alleges that NYPD superiors pressured him to lure two members of X’s security detail into committing crimes days before the murder, resulting in them being arrested. “Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts,” Wood says in the letter.

How authorities have responded

The NYPD said in a statement, “Several months ago, the Manhattan district attorney initiated a review of the investigation and prosecution that resulted in two convictions for the murder of Malcolm X. The NYPD has provided all available records relevant to that case to the district attorney. The department remains committed to assist with that review in any way.”

The FBI has not made any public comments since the release of the letter.

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