The Manhattan district attorney’s office acknowledged on Wednesday “the wrongful convictions” of Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, who each spent more than 20 years in prison for allegations of being involved in the assassination of Malcolm X, an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a widely popular figure during the civil rights movement.
The District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. told the New York Times that the FBI and police had withheld evidence that would have likely resulted in their acquittal.
He apologized on behalf of law enforcement, which he said had failed the families of the two men.
“This points to the truth that law enforcement over history has often failed to live up to its responsibilities,” Vance told the Times, admitting that the two men “did not get the justice that they deserved.”
Aziz, 83, was released in 1985. Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009 at age 74.
Malcolm X, an outspoken Muslim advocate of Black rights, was 39 when he was gunned down, as he was prepared to give a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, on February 21, 1965.
Earlier this year, new evidence emerged suggesting that the New York Police Department and the FBI had been behind the assassination.
Azikiwe said, “The exoneration of these two men is long overdue. Anyone who has read in detail the transcripts of the 1966 trial of three men arrested and tried in the assassination would know that Talmadge Hayer, who was captured by Malcolm X’s (El Hajj Malik Shabazz) followers at the scene of the crime in New York City on Feb. 21, 1965, confessed during the hearings that he was guilty.”
“He also said that the other two on trial, Butler and Johnson, had not been involved. Nearly fifteen years later, Hayer, in an interview with journalist Tony Brown, gave up the names of the other four men involved in the assassination. Yet nothing was done by the New York police, the prosecutors or the United States Justice Department. The FBI had this information since the day of the assassination because there were nine of their informants in the Audubon Ballroom where the killing of Malcolm took place. One of the main assassins lived in Newark, New Jersey, until his death just three years ago,” he explained.
“Consequently, the FBI, the New York police and others were co-conspirators in the assassination. This exoneration further proves that the US government was involved all along in the circumstances surrounding Malcolm’s martyrdom,” he stated.
“Malcolm and his wife, Betty Shabazz, were victims of the Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Their daughters and other descendants are due substantial reparations for their decades of pain and suffering,” the journalist concluded.