*THIS POST INCLUDES SPOILERS* I hate myself for even typing this given the subject matter yet here we are.
Today is the 55th anniversary of the assassination of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz aka Malcolm X. This is no celebration. Let’s start by stating the obvious. Malcolm X was one of the greatest minds ever. PERIODT. We truly were not worthy of such a prolific being whose light shone so bright that people rather see it dimmed than face the realities of what was being illuminated.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem by members of the Nation of Islam (NOI), that much is true. The who, why, and how is where it gets sketchy.
That is where this six-part Netflix documentary Who Killed Malcolm X comes in. The series follows activist, historian, (and tour guide?) Abdur Rahman Muhammad, and his obsession with investigating the detail surrounding the assassination of Malcolm X. While starting off strong, the series quickly shifted into a quasi-irresponsible “who dun it” based on circumstantial evidence used to justify assigning guilt on whom the documentary series felt should be known as Malcolm’s killer…not his killers. In addition, there are statements from a NOI scholar, who declined involvement with the documentary, who refer to it as lies and “nonsense“. More on that later.
Though Muhammad was only five when Malcolm X was killed, he was never satisfied with the “official story” of who killed Malcolm X. The New York Police Department (NYPD) arrested three members of the NOI in connection with Malcolm’s murder: Thomas Hagan aka Talmadge Hayer, who was shot by one of Malcolm’s bodyguards and the one you see being dragged in archival footage.
Two others were arrested for Malcolm’s murder. Their names were Thomas 15X Johnson and Norman 3X Butler. They have always maintained their innocence, however it was common knowledge that were known adversaries of Malcolm X, on behalf of the NOI. In fact, they had alibis who could place them somewhere else when the assassination happen. The documentary lays out the police botching the investigation from the beginning, ignoring the fact that they were originally looking for five assassins, but closed their case after the three were arrested. Talmadge Hayer even testified in court, and in an affidavit, that Thomas 15X Johnson and Norman 3X Butler were innocent. Talmadge even went on record to name the other four members of Mosque 25 in Newark, NJ who he stated were involved in Malcolm’s murder: Benjamin Thomas, Leon Davis, William X, and Wilbur Kinly.
Malcolm’s fearlessness, courage, confidence, and honesty made him a target within the NOI and NYPD. One saw him as a traitor. The other as a threat. Both had vested interesting in assassinating Malcolm. Malcolm’s murder was driven by jealousy and insecurity of upending the status quo. The NOI wanted to operate its businesses, despite its blatant hypocrisy and corruption against its own teachings, unchecked. The FBI and NYPD did not want Malcolm inspiring Black people to rise up against the oppressive system of white supremacy that they had benefited from for hundreds of years.
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The assassination of Malcolm X is one filled with complexity, convolution, confusion, conspiracy, and cowards. Its a tale of how the system put brother against brother, in order to kill two birds with with one stone: the NOI and Malcolm X. They used the NOI as puppets to do its dirty work and keep their hands clean and it worked.
The documentary series examines the role of J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELLPRO, the NYPD, and its secret division BOSS (Bureau of Special Services and Investigation), both who had undercover agents inflitrate the NOI and Malcolm’s close circle to sow discord within both factions. Not only that, but the series also examines the lack of police presence at the Audubon Ballroom the day Malcolm died. The NYPD was fully aware that Malcolm had received death threats. They knew that his house had been firebombed a week prior. There should have been at least two dozen officers there, not two. Malcolm’s security was limited due to him not being affiliated with the NOI so he was literally an open target. Not to mention, his head of security, Gene Roberts, was also an informant, hired by the NYPD to spy on Malcolm. Ain’t that about a bitch. In the end, thanks to distrust, greed, and manipulation, it ended up being our own taking Malcolm’s life.
It is easy to look at this as one of the most egregious acts of “Black-On-Black” violence, but that would mean one was grasping at low-hanging fruit. Black-on-black crime exists when the systems that police it work tirelessly to turn us against each other for fear of what real unity would mean to the status quo. COINTELPRO existed for this very purpose, which means the Federal Government and NYPD’s hands are also bloodied with Malcolm’s blood for making puppets out of the NOI.
The first three episodes of the documentary were hard-hitting. It was a slow burn, building from Malcolm’s role within the NOI, his censuring, departure, and role as the Black American ambassador. Muhammad travels to New York to interview members of the NOI with firsthand knowledge of what led to Malcolm’s death. And to be very clear, Malcolm knew his time was limited. He knew he had enemies coming from both sides and lacked the protection to stop it.
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Anthony V. Bouza, one of the retired NYPD detective who worked on the case, and interviewed in this documentary, said that Malcolm was a thug and that his life did not deserve saving. He said that towards the end, knowing Malcolm’s life was being threatened, they offered Malcolm police protection knowing he would refuse it. They knew Malcolm did not trust the police and wanted it documented that the offer was made. They were also aware that the NOI was targeting Malcolm because they stoked the flames through their informants. Bouza also states that the NYPD did not have the resources to protect Malcolm X 24/7 which is ironic considering they had the resources to have him under surveillance him 24/7.
The documentary notes that there were NINE informants in Audubon Ballroom that day. Only one was identified, Gene Roberts. None testified.
Malcolm never had a chance. His life, and death, did not matter. No physical evidence was collected from the crime scene. In fact, the series states that the crime scene was cleaned up for a dance was held in the Audubon Ballroom later that night.
The lecture he stood at when he was shot, riddled with bullets, was never processed and was left stored in the basement of the Audubon Ballroom for DECADES.
By the fourth episode, I felt the tides change. The direction of the documentary took a turn. As mentioned before, Talmadge Hayer named four other accomplices in the murder of Malcolm X. One was William X or William X Bradley. The coroner’s report for Malcolm’s death stated that while there were three separate shooters, the shooter who fired the sawed-off shotgun fired the fatal blows. By that measure, Muhammad switched his focus to find the person who was holding the shotgun and listed them as the killer. Wait, huh? And that is when I started to get irritated.
First, let me state that I am by no means claiming innocence of William Bradley. Based on the responses in the documentary, people’s reluctance to talk about him, oh and the mountains of evidence against him, he seems complicit, even though he maintained his innocence. Bradley should have been brought to justice and their were numerous ignored opportunities to do so. What I found irresponsible of the documentary is that it shifted from finding Malcolm’s killers (plural) to finding Malcolm’s killer, as if finding the other three accomplices wasn’t as important because they didn’t fire the fatal shot. Muhammad became laser focused Bradley to the point that the documentary began feeling like a personal hit piece against Bradley, removing any onus from the others who were involved.
In episode four, Muhammad begins to make his case against Bradley. First, the episode goes into details about Malcolm leaving the NOI in March 1964 and the enemies he began to make within the NOI for that choice. The NOI even evicted Malcolm from his home. There are few of those interviewed who try and present Malcolm as someone craving attention and power and was intentionally agitating the NOI because of it. I call bullshit. It was never about power for Malcolm. It was always about respect. He never claimed the title of the #2 within the NOI because that was not his aim. His aim was to spread the word and uplift our people. The NOI chose to believe the word of its leader Elijah Muhammad and turned their backs on Malcolm. Even Muhammad Ali turned his back on Malcolm and Malcolm is the main reason Ali even got involved with the NOI. It was a sort of institutionalized brainwashing where members believe Elijah Muhammad could do no wrong. Bradley, a lieutenant of Mosque 25 who was named by Hayer as one of the shooters, was never investigated. He almost seemed protected by the Feds and the NOI community. Bradley is named as the shooter who fired the shotgun, killing Malcolm X, based on eyewitness accounts.
Muhammad goes on to claim that not only did Bradley fire the fatal shot, but that you can see him in the footage showing Talmadge being pulled from the mob by the police. In it, Bradley escaped in plain sight. The evidence was there the whole time. Police did nothing. And the community “knew” Bradley was involved in Malcolm’s killing and still protected him? It’s confusing. I don’t get it. No snitching even when it comes to Malcolm? It’s weird.
Episode five, aptly titled Shotgun Man.
The episode opens with pure speculation and conjecture. Granted, Bradley was definitely involved but the approach felt sloppy and haphazard. This episode actually identifies Bradley, with pictures and labels him as Malcolm’s killer (singular). It starts to feel real personal for Muhammad, a man who was five when Malcolm died, who is eager to come face to face with Bradley, and just Bradley, for answers. In THIS footage, you can see Bradley attempting to mob Talmadge Hayer, with the rest of the crowd, as if he is confronting one of Malcolm’s assassins, instead of being one of them. You can see him casually exit the scene just as quickly as he arrived. It was all an act. What we witnessed was his escape.
Muhammad learned that after Malcolm’s assassination, Bradley, aka Al Mustafa Shabbazz, transformed his life and became somewhat of a community leader. The New Jersey community knew who he was, knew what he was accused of. It was common knowledge that this man was responsible for killing Malcolm X. The documentary attempts to get very high profile individuals, including New Jersey senator and former Democratic Presidential Candidate, Cory Booker, on the record to state that he knew Bradley was the killer. While everyone acknowledged the rumors, no one would assign that guilt (side note: it did seem like Booker was lying about not knowing though. IJS)
This documentary’s tunnel vision approach with Bradley felt deceptive. We all want Malcolm’s killerS brought to justice…all of them. Why stop at Bradley? By Episode five, Muhammad tried to locate Bradley to confront him. He “needed” this face-to-face moment. Closure for him? Even though three others roamed free? Once Muhammad closed in on Bradley, he learned that Bradley had just died. So what did Muhammad do, what any sane person who is doing a documentary accusing a man of murdering one of the most influential people of our time….he attended this Bradley’s funeral. Not only that, he spied at the graveside burial, making note of the security presence and high-profile local leaders in attendance. At his funeral. SMH.
All throughout the series, people who Muhammad asked about Bradley’s involvement told him to leave it alone. By episode six, after already framing Bradley as “the shotgun man”, it was noted that he may have been an informant. The FBI hid documents listing him as a suspect and did not share with NYPD. And yet I am still baffled with why folks are turning the other cheek when it comes to protecting one of Malcolm’s killers. Make it make sense.
The series closed talking to Norman 3x Butler, aka Muhammad Abdul Aziz, who spent 20 years in jail for the crime, discussing the lives ruined and upended as a result of his being in jail for a crime he claims he did not commit. Muhammad asked for Butler’s permission to petition to have his case reopened in an effort to exonerate him. Butler reluctantly agreed. Since its airing, the Innocence Project has met with the Manhattan District Attorney (DA) to discuss the case. The DA’s office stated that it “has determined that the district attorney’s office will begin a preliminary review of the matter, which will inform the office regarding what further investigative steps may be undertaken.” The case is to be re-investigated by the team that exonerated the Central Park Five.
Victory, right? Not so fast.
NOI Scholar, Karl Evanzz, author of The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, who declined involvement with the documentary because of its inclusion of interviews with people he felt were “responsible for some of the most despicable lies ever cast on Malcolm X’s legacy”. Evanzz goes on to state that Muhammad, leading the investigation and named in the series as the TOP authority on all things dealing with the assassination of Malcolm X, is nothing short of a fan. Muhammad claimed Malcolm’s assassination changed the trajectory of his life. Muhammad was only five. Evanzz claims that while Muhammad is considered the “authority”, he hasn’t “written any books or lengthy articles about the assassination. He has only written one blog of note, and that was because a friend of his from Howard University led him to Bradley’s whereabouts. Everything else in the series is based on my books and the book (Conspiracys: Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X) by Zak Kondo.” I would like to note that Muhammad did work with “the late Columbia University Professor Manning Marable in 2005, researching Malcolm’s life and death for the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention.
Now while Evanzz does acknowledge the evidence/footage that shows Bradley trying to help Talmadge Hayer escape, but states that what the documentary leaves out is Norman 3X Butler attempting to view Malcolm’s body after he had been shot. Which should be impossible if Norman 3X Bulter was not there…like he claimed.
Below are stills of William Bradley pretending to go after Talmadge Hayer.
Here are the shots allegedly of Norman 3X Butler at the Audubon Ballroom the day of Malcolm’s assassination
Evanzz claims that Talmadge Hayer’s 1977 affidavit is a work of fiction, corroborated by another prominent member, Benjamin Goodman aka Benjamin Karim, Malcolm’s top aide and the one who introduced Malcolm right before he was murdered. Karim stated in the affidavit that Butler and Johnson couldn’t possible be at the Audubon Ballroom but also states that he was not an eyewitness to the murder. So how can both exist? Karim writes in his book Remembering Malcolm disbelief at “how Betty Shabazz or anybody else was able to positively identify the suspects Butler and Johnson and thus place them at the scene. Especially Butler. That Sunday morning, the very day of the [assassination], Butler had been in the hospital to have work done on his knee.” Two things: A) we should believe you over sister Betty who was an eyewitness? B), Butler’s doctor testified that he had not seen Butler for the injury to his knew until four days AFTER Malcolm’s assassination. It is speculated that this injury was a result of falling over people at the Audubon Ballroom, which would make sense given the timeline.
Evanzz acknowledges that scholars claim that the gentleman in the photos, who Evanzz identifies as Butler, is a doppelganger which he calls bullshit on considering that Butler was photographed in the exact same tweed coat and hat. He feels that Butler’s name should not be cleared. Thomas 15 X Johnson was the only one falsely accused as he was actually ordered by his doctor to stay home due to an injury he sustained…the same excuse Norman 3X Butler try to use, which made them look like idiots.
I wanted to make sure that ArkMedia (Production company involved with the documentary) didn’t fall for the bull patties about Butler being innocent of the assassination. Despite this cautionary advice, ArkMedia chose to ignore the only positive proof that Butler was not at home with an injured leg at the time of the assassination. No, he was right there on the front row killing Malcolm X. – Karl Evanzz, NOI Scholar
The documentary also leaves out the role of Minister Louis Farrakhan, who admitted his role in fanning the flames with rhetoric against Malcolm within members of the NOI.
Thomas 15X Johnson, possibly the only truly “innocent” man involved, died in 2009. Butler is 81.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Queen Betty Shabazz. The footage of her in the end of the series was heartbreaking. There is footage of her being bombarded with questions from reporters pertaining to Malcolm’s death. She just stares and the reporters are unrelenting in their questions, as if they have no sympathy that this woman just lost her husband, her provider, and the father of her children. I wanted to fight them for her. She was a woman of grace, class, and poise. She deserved better.
I also found it interesting that Malcolm was broke when he was killed. He had $150 to his name. His home was just firebombed. He had no resources and no allies and yet he continued, undeterred, because he knew he was fighting for something greater than himself.
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In the end, I came away from this documentary series with more questions than answers. What I know for certain is that a great man’s life was cut short. Malcolm X was only 39 years old when his life was tragically taken. We will never get to the bottom of who actually killed Malcolm X because of the number of bloody hands involved. Whether it be the shooter who fired the fatal shot, the NOI, the NYPD, the FBI, those who managed to slip under the radar, or those who protected those involved from shift justice, the death of Malcolm X is shared among all parties. Every person who turned a blind eye has blood on their hands too. How these people can sleep at night is beyond me.
There is no upside to the death of Malcolm X. Luckily, he left us the blueprint to continue his work. Now its up to us. Are we prepared to get uncomfortable?
Rest in power, King el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.
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