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Malcolm X’s family’s wrongful death lawsuit weakens faith in US government

Malcolm X’s family’s wrongful death lawsuit weakens faith in US government

Malcolm X’s family’s wrongful death lawsuit weakens faith in US government
April 28
13:17 2023

The identities of the culprits behind the late Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965 have long been subject to conspiracy and speculation.

As of Feb. 22, the civil rights leader’s family is suing several government agencies, including the New York Police Department, FBI and CIA, for playing an illicit part in his murder. Should Malcolm X’s daughters, Qubilah and Ilyasah Shabazz, win their $100 million lawsuit, the United States government would forever be an obstacle to future and past social change.

The Shabazz family may be up against one of the most powerful organizations in the world, but their lawsuit is far from unreasonable. After Malcolm X’s assassination, three members of his rival organization, the Nation of Islam, were convicted for his murder and sentenced.

On paper, the three convicts were the true perpetrators, but when two of the convicted men were released in 2021 after a reinvestigation of the case found the FBI had withheld important documents from the defense and prosecution, the entire story behind Malcolm X’s assassination became questionable.

Nearly 60 years after the crime, the Shabazz family’s lawsuit could reaffirm what American skeptics have been saying all along – the federal government has no interest in social change that would threaten the existing hierarchy. Before his assassination, Malcolm X had been spied on for decades. The lawsuit forces us all to ask the question: If the FBI killed Malcolm X and got away with it, what does that mean for modern-day social justice organizations? 

U.S. government agencies aren’t strangers to lawsuits from citizens wronged during the civil rights era. The Socialist Workers Party in the Young Socialist Association sued the FBI in 1973 for “illegal acts of blacklisting, harassment, electronic surveillance, burglary, mail tampering and terrorism” and won five years later. The court case brought to light multiple violations the FBI committed against the two organizations, including poison pen letters, wiretapping and sabotage.

The SWP and YSA’s experiences weren’t isolated incidents. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Program had harassed and even assassinated citizens deemed “subversive” between 1956 and 1971.

Just four years after Malcolm X’s assassination, the Chicago Police Department assassinated Fred Hampton, a young leader of the Chicago Black Panthers whose following of Black Americans, Appalachian whites, and the working class threatened the FBI. It was later found that a FBI-employed spy was instructed to help Chicago PD kill Hampton in his own home. J Edgar Hoover, the FBI director at the time, told agents in a series of directives to prevent the rise of a “messiah” that would mobilize the civil rights movement, no matter what. 

COINTELPRO spent a significant amount of its resources harassing and illegally spying on civil rights leaders. COINTELPRO’s white hate division also targeted the Ku Klux Klan, which resulted in the gradual demise of the white supremacist group in the early ’70s.  

The FBI had spied on Malcolm X for a decade before his assassination. They knew where he lived, where he went and what he did on a daily basis – they could have killed him at any time. It wasn’t until Malcolm X was in his prime, at the peak of his influence after breaking away from the Nation of Islam, that he was struck down.

If the federal government did order Malcolm X’s assassination, it would mean that activist organizations near achieving their goals or garnering influence to challenge the status quo could eventually be thwarted by U.S. government agents. It would set in stone that our First Amendment rights are conditional, and that things can never really change unless our government condones it. Compared to the might of a full-blown superpower, do we stand a chance? 

It’s easy to fall into the assumption that these cases of government-sanctioned violence and violation of civil rights are a thing of the past and that even if the FBI, CIA and NYPD lose the lawsuit, it isn’t indicative of how contemporary policing institutions act when faced with civil unrest.

The FBI’s era of wiretapping, spying, infiltrating and sabotaging didn’t end with COINTELPRO’s dissolution in 1971. During the nationwide protests demanding an end to police brutality in 2020, the FBI infiltrated activist organizations by planting a hired felon in racial justice demonstrations. Michael Adam Windecker II, who was charged with felony menacing with a weapon in 2001, was paid tens of thousands of dollars by the FBI to entice organizers to commit felonies. 

In a national system created to be resistant to change, wide-scale radical movements would likely fizzle out without dedication, time, funds and skills that the average American just doesn’t have. The only feasible option is to turn to grassroots organizing, and creating change within our communities little by little.

Featured Illustration by Makayla Sanchez

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Hana Musa

Hana Musa

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