The legal team representing family members of the slain civil rights leader Malcolm X claims to have “new corroborating testimony” and evidence related to his assassination 58 years ago. Attorney Ben Crump, who is one of the lawyers for Malcolm X’s family members in a planned $100 million wrongful death suit, spoke with TPM about the case.
Crump announced the planned lawsuit on February 23. During that event, Crump indicated the suit was prompted by a 2021 investigation conducted by the Manhattan district attorney that led to the exoneration of two men who had been convicted of participating in Malcolm X’s killing. Crump explained to TPM that he knows there is “consequential new evidence” that was compiled as part of the district attorney probe — however, he also indicated that his team has further material beyond that.
“We think we have more corroborating evidence,” Crump said. “You will see shortly. We obviously can’t show our hand completely to the federal government, but we believe we’re going to have new corroborating testimony that gives the family even greater position to say that the government had actual evidence and exculpatory evidence that they did not disclose that would have given them access to justice much sooner than 58 years.”
Malcolm X was shot in Manhattan on February 21, 1965. At the time, he was one of the country’s most prominent civil rights activists. He was also at the center of a volatile mix of investigations, intrigue, and threats as a slew of government agencies tracked his work and as he feuded with leaders of the Nation of Islam, which he had broken away from roughly a year prior to his death.
Crump suggested his team had obtained some evidence from attorneys who worked with the two men who were falsely convicted of being involved in Malcolm X’s shooting. Lawyers for the men worked with the Manhattan district attorney on the 2021 investigation, which found the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department failed to disclose the presence of undercover officers at the scene of the crime and withheld exculpatory evidence.
“We’re working with the two attorneys who represented the exonerees,” Crump explained. “We got the benefit of a lot of the stuff they had.”
Along with recent findings and the exonerations, there have long been questions about Malcolm X’s death due to, among other things, witnesses reports that there were more participants in the crime than were arrested and the fact that relatively few efforts were made to investigate the crime at the scene.
At his initial press conference announcing the suit, Crump was accompanied by two of Malcolm X’s daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz and Qubilah Shabazz, who are participating in the suit and were present when their father was shot. During that event, Crump said he was providing “formal notice” of the suit to New York City and state agencies as well as multiple federal government agencies. Crump further said he believed Malcolm X’s killing was the result of a “conspiracy” that “included many, many individuals and many, many government entities … and many affiliates of those agencies.”
In his conversation with TPM, Crump declined to elaborate on his theory of the case.
“I can’t show my hand like that, but it’s all going to come out,” he said.
A potential obstacle to the suit is the statute of limitations. In New York, plaintiffs typically have two years to file a wrongful death suit. Crump, who has made a name for himself representing people in high profile cases of alleged injustice, explained that he plans to argue the revelations uncovered by the district attorney’s investigation showed the government was “intentionally hiding the evidence,” and that the discovery had effectively reset that clock.
“We’re arguing that, because of fraudulent concealment … you cannot say you should have brought it two years after he was assassinated,” Crump said.
Crump said it “will be up to a judge and a jury” to decide whether to give Malcolm X’s family a “day in court” on this basis.
This isn’t Crump’s first time taking on a historical case from the Civil Rights Era. In 2021, Crump announced that he was working with the family of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose tissue samples were taken without her consent and later used extensively in medical research, to seek compensation from pharmaceutical companies that profited from her body. Litigation related to that matter is ongoing. While Crump described Malcolm X’s case as a “unique situation” due to the “window” that he feels was created by the new investigation, he indicated he is considering taking up other cases from the era.
“There may be a few more that I’ll look at, but obviously, the law is what it is,” Crump said. “It’s very difficult to get past statutes of limitations and technicalities.”
Crump, who has become a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, suggested he feels obligated to pursue justice for a prior generation of activists.
“Shame on us if we don’t use our influence when it matters most,” said Crump. “Since I’ve been blessed with this influence, I’m going to do everything in my power to push the line every chance I get.”
Crump’s wrongful death suit comes after a half century of pain and questions for Malcolm X’s daughters. The attorney, who has received threats related to his own work on controversial cases, said the situation made him think of his own daughter.
“You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t,” Crump said. “I think about the torment these daughters must have endured living with this heavy burden of watching their father be shot 21 times and then always wanting justice, but justice always being out of their reach,” Crump said. “It is insult on top of injury. A, and so, you think about all children, and we’ve made these choices and by circumstance they also have to live with all of these critical things that happen when your father or your mother stands up for civil and human rights.”
Crump indicated the connection he sees between his own family and Malcolm X’s was pushing him as he worked on the suit.
“I would never want my children to have to endure what Malcolm’s children had to endure, but we know every day that it’s a possibility,” Crump said, adding, “That makes me want to fight even harder to get justice for Malcolm’s daughters.”