Lawyers for Malcolm X family say new statements implicate NYPD, feds in assassination

Fifty-nine years to the day after civil rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated in a New York ballroom, attorneys representing his family presented sworn statements from two men implicating federal agencies and the New York Police Department in a conspiracy to kill the civil rights leader.

At a press conference held Wednesday in New York, two former members of the slain icon’s security detail delivered statements saying undercover New York police officer Robert Wood lured them into discussion of an outlandish plan to destroy national monuments, including the Statue of Liberty. The security men were subsequently arrested and imprisoned five days before the 39-year-old activist was gunned down in New York’s Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965.

The purpose of the police conspiracy, the men allege, was to draw them away from Malcolm X's security detail and make the civil rights leader an easier assassination target for his enemies.

The conspiracy, said attorneys Ben Crump and G. Flint Taylor, involved the FBI, the NYPD and its department’s Bureau of Special Services and Investigations, known as BOSSI. The BOSSI unit operated until the mid-1980s.

“I believe that had I been present in the Audubon that day, I may have been able to prevent the government’s conspiracy to assassinate Malcolm X,” said Walter Bowe in a statement read by attorney Nabeha Shaer in the absence of Bowe, now in his 90s and said to be ailing. “It is my belief that Wood, the NYPD and BOSSI conspired deliberately to have me and members of Malcolm X’s known security detail arrested, preventing us from being present at the Ballroom and guaranteeing that the assassination of Malcolm X was successful.”

The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center: This site in New York's Washington Heights enclave includes the Audubon Ballroom, where the leader associated with the Nation of Islam and the Black Power movement was assassinated in 1965.
The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center: This site in New York's Washington Heights enclave includes the Audubon Ballroom, where the leader associated with the Nation of Islam and the Black Power movement was assassinated in 1965.

Khaleel Sayyed, 81, who at the time was a 22-year-old Howard University student and ardent admirer of Malcolm X, read a similar statement. He said he was part of a small group of men asked to help provide security after Malcolm X’s home was firebombed on Feb. 14, 1965.

“It was known that Malcolm X’s life was frequently in danger and under constant threat,” Sayyed said.

Sayyed said he was introduced to Wood by a friend and was present when the undercover officer proposed the idea of destroying the monuments.

“Those at the meeting laughed, so I assumed Wood was not serious about this idea,” Sayyed said. “In the weeks leading up to my wrongful arrest and incarceration, I never heard the idea again.”

But on Feb. 16, 1965, Sayyed said, he was taken into custody in connection with the alleged plot. He spent 18 months in prison, he said at the press conference

“I believe I was detained in this conspiracy by the NYPD, BOSSI and the FBI in order to ensure that Malcolm X’s planned assassination would be successful,” he said. “Had I not been arrested, I would have attended his speech and could have served as part of his security detail.”

Film, letter prompt exonerations and calls to reopen case

In February 2021, family members of the slain civil rights leader called for a reinvestigation after the unveiling of a letter allegedly written by Wood on his deathbed saying he'd been coerced into luring members of the security team into criminal activity to lay the groundwork for their arrests days before the assassination.

“It was my assignment to draw the two men into a felonious federal crime so that they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away from managing Malcolm X’s door security,” Wood allegedly wrote.

Wood, who died in November 2020 of stomach cancer, allegedly said in the letter that he participated in actions “that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to the advancement of my own Black people.”

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced his office would revisit the case following release of a 2020 Netflix documentary miniseries exploring the assassination.

In November 2021, New York judge Ellen Biben dismissed convictions for Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam, two of the three men convicted of the killing and both of whom continued to maintain their innocence for the approximately two decades they spent in prison. The city and state of New York later settled lawsuits on their behalf for a combined $36 million.

Mujahid Abdul Halim, the third man arrested in the killing, had run on stage and repeatedly shot Malcolm X, according to court filings. Other gunmen fled, but one of the civil rights leader's bodyguards shot Halim in the leg , allowing him to be apprehended.

In court, Halim confessed to the crime but maintained that neither Aziz nor Islam were involved. No physical evidence tied either to the killing or the crime scene. Halim was paroled in 2010 after serving more than four decades in prison. In court records, Halim said he decided to kill Malcolm X because he had “gone against the leader of the Nation of Islam.”

On Wednesday, Crump, flanked by members of Malcolm X’s family, said requests to New York and federal agencies for surveillance and other records related to the case have repeatedly been stonewalled. But the statements from Bowe and Sayyed, he said, show there’s more to the story than those departments will admit.

“At some point they’re going to have to come clean with the citizens, with the family,” Crump said. “We’re going to get justice for Malcolm X. They can continue to try to sweep it under the rug, but we will refuse to go away.”

Legal effort adds notable firepower

Among those attending Wednesday’s press conference was Malcolm X's daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, who at 2 years old was present with her mother when her 39-year-old father was shot 21 times while addressing a crowd at the ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965.

Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz, regarded the body of her late husband before the casket was closed after funeral services at the Faith Temple of God in Christ on Feb. 27, 1965, in Harlem.
Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz, regarded the body of her late husband before the casket was closed after funeral services at the Faith Temple of God in Christ on Feb. 27, 1965, in Harlem.

Crump also announced that his team had been joined by civil rights attorney G. Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office of Chicago, who has been involved in numerous high-profile cases involving law enforcement. Among them is a 2015 Chicago case that won reparations for survivors of police torture. Another is a $1.8 million judgment in a U.S. Court of Appeals case in which the court determined the evidence supported allegations of a conspiracy among Chicago police, the Cook County State’s Attorney and the FBI against members of the Black Panthers in the 1970s.

Crump said it’s been four months since the team submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. Department of Justice for materials and surveillance records related to the case “that we know are in their possession based on the exoneration of individuals wrongfully convicted for killing Malcolm X.”

“We are now expected, as of last week, to wait 78 months for any requested material,” he said. “They keep coming up with excuses . . . We’re going to get to the truth, one way or the other. We will leave no stone unturned.”

Sayyed said his belief in the civil rights activist’s message ultimately put him in harm’s way as a trusted member of the leader’s security team.

“It was widely known by my acquaintances that I had deep respect for Malcolm X, as I frequently spoke with respect for him and always made an effort to attend his speeches,” he said.

Sayyed said he was working at his father’s store during a gap year of his college education when the events of early 1965 took place.

“As a result of my detention I never graduated from Howard,” he said. “I lost 18 months of my young life for a crime I did not commit.”

'Innocent men went to prison'

Taylor said the group was calling on New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former New York police captain, to help bring about justice by urging his former department to turn over documents related to the case.

“This is a case that has festered for 59 years, and it’s time for that to end,” Taylor said.

Neither the New York Police Department or the FBI were immediately available for response to the press conference.

Crump and Taylor said that if the New York and federal agencies had nothing to do with the assassination, release of the records shouldn’t be an issue. Instead, they believe the documents will reveal the agencies’ complicity.

“How long is it going to take for you to come clean?” Crump asked. Referring to Sayyed and Bowe, he added: “These individuals’ lives were changed because of this conspiracy. Innocent men went to prison just so they could cover up their dastardly deeds.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Malcolm X: New statements fuel conspiracy claims in 1965 assassination