REFLECTIONS: Malcolm Lateef Shabazz, stands next to a painting of his late grandfather at the Sentinel offices. Shabazz was slain on May 9 after he was apparently beaten to death. He was 28 years old. MALCOLM ALI PHOTO
Police in Mexico make Arrests in Case as Angelenos Remember “Lil” Malcolm
Funeral services for Malcolm Lateef Shabazz, grandson of human rights leader Malcolm X, was held at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 17, at the Oakland-based Islamic Center of Northern California. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the 28-year old Shabazz suffered blunt-force injuries during a fight on May 9 at The Palace Bar in the tourist area known as Plaza Garibaldi, located in the heart of Mexico City. The owner of the bar reportedly demanded payment from Shabazz for an inflated bar tab including music and “female companionship,” and when Shabazz refused to pay he was allegedly beaten and thrown from the second-floor establishment. He died from his injuries on May 10 at a hospital in Mexico City.
Police have arrested two men, Manuel Alejandro Perez de Jesus and David Hernandez Cruz, in connection with the crime. The pair are said to work at the bar and police are currently searching for three additional suspects.
Shabazz’s death is the latest in a long line of tragedies to befall the family of the 1960s Black Nationalist icon and former spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X was murdered at the age of 39 as he addressed a meeting of his Organization of Afro-American Unity Feb. 19, 1965, at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, New York City. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925, his parents, Earl and Louise Little, had been organizers for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association in Canada, Nebraska and Michigan where the elder Little was murdered. According to Malcolm X’s autobiography, his father was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan who placed his badly beaten body in the path of an oncoming streetcar. His mother, widowed at the age of 40 with six small children, who endured years of poverty and racism as well as the trauma of her husband’s violent death, would eventually be committed to a mental institution.
Malcolm X married Betty X. Sanders in 1958 and the couple would go on to have six children – all girls – together. Shabazz is the son of Qubilah Shabazz, the second oldest daughter of the couple.
In 1996, at the age of 12, the young Shabazz set a fire in his grandmother Betty’s apartment where he had been staying. She died from her wounds and Shabazz was convicted of manslaughter and arson in her death. He was sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile detention but ended up being released after four years. At the age of 18, he would be returned to prison for an attempted robbery and was released after serving three and a half years.
In an effort to turn his life around, Shabazz travelled to Mecca, in Saudia Arabia in 2010, making the Islamic pilgrimage called Hajj that is considered mandatory for all Muslims. Since that time, Shabazz had travelled extensively throughout the world and the continental United States. He also lived in Damascus, Syria for a year, and accompanied former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to Tripoli, Libya, in 2011 where he met and spoke alongside former president Mu’ammar al Qaddafi. Earlier in 2013, Shabazz had been scheduled to travel to Iran to attend a conference on “Hollywoodism” but was unable to do so, he said, because of FBI harassment of him. Shabazz had accused U.S. intelligence agencies of harassment on more than one occasion because of his efforts to speak to youth across the country about his grandfather’s legacy and what he called the “current struggles of his generation.”
Locally, the news of Shabazz’s murder was met with a mix of shock, sadness, and also anger.
“I feel angry, and that we let [Big] Malcolm down,” said Bro. Billion, who works with Blaction 365, which engages in various campaigns aimed towards Black unity and empowerment. “I first met Lil Malcolm around 2010. He was redeeming himself, and dealing with a lot from what he had gone through, and I think some of us could have, or should have played a role that could have prevented [his murder]; but exactly what, I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like he should be gone,” Bro. Billion said.
Afia Khalia, a local artist and activist, met Malcolm Shabazz in late 2011, when she performed a spoken word piece just prior to a talk he was giving in Leimert Park. “I was surprised by how humble he was,” she said. “When he smiled, I saw his grandfather in him – he has Malcolm’s smile. It kinda just took me for a minute, like wow, seeing his grandfather’s face through his,” said Khalia.
Khalia expressed a sense of “disbelief, shock” at Shabazz’s passing, saying that she had received a series of text messages alerting her to the incident that happened in Mexico City, and that her first thoughts were to send a text to Shabazz. “I “Facebooked” him too, hoping he would let me know that he was okay. I never heard from him,” Khalia said. “I’m saddened and hurt to know that he was in pain.”
Prior to traveling to Mexico, Shabazz’s last trip to Los Angeles was in November where he spoke at Chuco’s Justice Center. Located on the cusp of Inglewood and South L.A., the Center is the home of the Youth Justice Coalition which seeks to end the over-incarceration of Black and Brown youth in local, state and federal institutions, and the Free LA High School, which is an alternative school for youth who have been removed from traditional high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Gloria Gonzalez, a 17-year old enrolled at the school, was one of scores of students who turned out to hear Shabazz speak.
“It was Malcolm X’s grandson and I was pretty positive that he was going to be pretty wise and have a lot of wisdom to share,” said Gonzalez. “I’m pretty amazed and blown away that he wasn’t brainwashed; he knew the government wasn’t fair, and that Obama is a puppet, and things like that.”
Gonzalez says she felt Shabazz’s honesty and sincerity came through in his presentation and in his mingling with the students. “He wasn’t acting like, ‘I’m amazing I’m Malcolm’s grandson – he was a regular, average guy. He wasn’t trying to be all uptight.”
Ana Exiga, a 21-year old who heard that Shabazz would be speaking at the center, attended because she “felt like it was an opportunity for me and other youth to get know what he has done, and for us to relate to some of the struggles he had gone through.”
Exiga says that Shabazz’s presentation inspired her to continue her activism. “I thought it was pretty powerful; at one point I felt like I didn’t want to organize anymore, but hearing him speak about prisons and incarceration, it made me feel like this is why I need to continue organizing. To give up, it would be kind of like selling out my community, in a way,” Exiga said.
Emilio Lacques, one of the staff organizers with the Youth Justice Coalition, says that he was thankful and inspired by Shabazz’s talk. “I think that he really humanized himself and his family, because we tend to see these leaders as more than human, as legends; but to see Malcolm’s grandson as just another guy who has experienced a lot of the struggles our youth of color have faced, that was really important to see that,” said Lacques.
“It shows a lot about Lil Malcolm’s character that, despite all of his struggles in life, he dedicated himself to working to inspire youth.”