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New Details Point to FBI, NYPD Conspiracy 59 Years After Malcolm X Assassination

Civil rights attorneys call on New York City Mayor Eric Adams to support the release of key evidence in the case.

On the 59th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, two former security guards are speaking out for the first time about how they were falsely arrested by the New York Police Department as part of a conspiracy to remove his protection before he was killed. We hear from Khaleel Sayyed, 81, who says he was detained on trumped-up charges just days before Malcolm X was fatally shot, and we speak with Ben Crump and Flint Taylor, two civil rights attorneys who are working with the family. They are calling on New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, to support the release of key evidence in the case. We are “trying to peel back the layers to finally, after 59 years, get some measure of justice for Malcolm X’s family,” says Crump. Taylor also places the assassination in the context of police and the FBI targeting Black civil rights leaders through COINTELPRO, such as Fred Hampton, which he helped expose in a landmark case in Chicago.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: It was 59 years ago this week that civil rights leader Malcolm X was assassinated, February 21st, 1965, as he stood at the podium before a crowd here in New York in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. His wife, Betty Shabazz, pregnant with twins, and his four daughters were in the ballroom looking on. As Malcolm began speaking, a man shouted, accusing another of picking his pocket, creating a disturbance. A smoke bomb was thrown. Amidst the confusion, three gunmen at the front of the hall opened fire. Malcolm was hit 17 times in the ensuing hail of bullets. He died on the stage as chaos erupted.

On Wednesday night, at what is now the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Center in Washington Heights, Malcolm’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz recalled that horrifying day.

ILYASAH SHABAZZ: My parents’ young lives were filled with joys, and they were filled with challenges. And one week before my father’s assassination, our family home was targeted. A firebomb was thrown into the nursery where my sisters and I slept as babies. History records that we escaped unharmed. Yet, a mere seven days later, my family witnessed the unimaginable. Our father was gunned down as he prepared to speak right here in that location. My pregnant mother placed her body over my three sisters and me to protect us from gunfire and to shield us from the terror before our eyes.

AMY GOODMAN: Malcolm X’s daughter Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz, speaking last night at the former Audubon Ballroom, now the Malcolm and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center, during a commemoration marking the 59th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Malcolm X often began his speeches, including the one that was cut short by that hail of bullets, by addressing everyone in the room. This a speech he gave in 1964 at the Audubon Ballroom.

MALCOLM X: As-salamu alaykum. Mr. Moderator, our distinguished guests, brothers and sisters, our friends and our enemies, everybody who’s here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, 59 years after Malcolm X’s assassination this week, two former members of his security team have come forward for the first time to reveal details of their entrapment and imprisonment by New York police just days before he was killed. Yesterday, one of the two men and family members of Malcolm X appeared at a press conference. This is 81-year-old Khaleel Sultarn Sayyed.

KHALEEL SULTARN SAYYED: From its creation in 1964 to 1965, I attended public events organized by the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the OAAU, founded by el-Hajj Malik Shabazz, Malcolm X. It was widely known by my acquaintances that I had deep fondness for Malcolm X, as I spoke frequently with respect for Malcolm X, and I always made an effort to attend his speeches.

In or about January 1965, I attended public events — I’m sorry. On or about January 1965, I was introduced to Raymond A. Wood. I only interacted with Wood on approximately two occasions. Robert Collier, a new acquaintance, told me that he wanted to introduce me to his friend, who had some ideas. This friend was Raymond Wood. When Collier introduced me to Wood, I had only known Collier for two or three months. Collier would invite — also invited Walter Bowe to attend. Since Wood was undercover, I had no idea he worked for law enforcement. I later found out Wood was an undercover police agent — or, I’m sorry, Wood was an undercover police officer from the New York City Police Department in the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations.

The idea Wood introduced was a conspiracy to destroy national monuments, specifically the Statue of Liberty. Those at the meeting laughed, so I assumed Wood was not serious about this idea. I said very little at the meeting. In the weeks leading up to my wrongful arrest and incarceration, I never heard the idea again.

I was asked by a close follower of Malcolm X to serve as security at Malcolm X’s home after it was firebombed on February 14th, 1965. I was offered this opportunity because it was widely known that I respected Malcolm X and was interested in the OAAU. It was a small group of individuals who were asked to serve as security for Malcolm X’s home, only two or three individuals per shift. I would always have made myself available to serve as security for Malcolm X, as I had — I would always have made myself available to serve as Malcolm X’s security, had I not been wrongfully arrested. It was widely known that Malcolm X’s life was frequently in danger and under constant threat.

On or about February 16, 1965, five days before Malcolm X’s assassination, I was detained and arrested by the New York City Police Department related to the Wood’s conspiracy. I was shocked to hear the New York Police Department accusing me of conspiracy to destroy the Statue of Liberty. I lost 18 months of my young life for a crime I did not commit. I was only 22 years old at the time of my arrest. I spent four years as a student at Howard University working toward a degree in electrical engineering. I was helping my father during — I was helping my father in his store during a gap year in my studies, when I was arrested. As a result my detention, I never graduated from Howard University.

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

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was 81-year-old Khaleel Sultarn Sayyed, speaking Wednesday alongside our next two guests, who are fighting for justice for Malcolm X’s family to expose the depth of the government’s involvement in the assassination of the civil rights icon, both the NYPD and the FBI. We’re joined now by Ben Crump, civil rights attorney, and Flint Taylor, lawyer and co-founder of the People’s Law Office in Chicago.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Ben Crump, let’s begin with you. Can you put that testimony in context? I was there last year for the 58th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination, when you also held a news conference revealing new information. Talk about this year and the significance of what these two men had to say.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Thank you so much, Amy.

It is quite significant when you consider last year Mustafa Hassan, who was shown in photographs in The New York Times was present in the Audubon theater the day Malcolm X was assassinated — in fact, he was the one who was seen grabbing one of the assailants as he tries to escape after shooting Malcolm X. And his testimony was very riveting, because he said there was no presence of uniformed New York police officers, and they came up after all the chaos after Malcolm had been shot, and the first thing he heard them say, “Is he with us? Is he one of us?” as if even NYPD knew there were undercover police officers in the Audubon theater that day, and they didn’t know what they had done in the theater that day.

And now this year, we have two additional witnesses, who have never before spoken, come and offer new evidence. These were members of Malcolm X’s security team: Walter Bowe, who is now 93 years old, who was a charter member of the OAAU with Malcolm X, as well as Khaleel Sayyed, who we just heard from. And both of these individuals were framed by Ray Wood, who, unbeknownst to them, was an undercover police officer working with BOSSI and the FBI. And he —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what BOSSI is.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: It’s the Bureau of Special Services, that was specifically targeted to infiltrate Black organizations. They infiltrated the Black Panthers, CORE, as well as Malcolm X’s organization and the Nation of Islam there in the city of New York. They were an arm, if you would have, like a little brother to the FBI there in New York. And so, what they were doing, we believe, was carrying out the deeds at the behest of J. Edgar Hoover at the very top.

And these young men, just as other individuals have been wrongfully convicted to cover up for the conspiracy to assassinate Malcolm X, they were arrested five days before Malcolm X was assassinated. They believe that their arrests had everything to do with Ray Wood and BOSSI and the FBI trying to be complicit, if you would, in Malcolm X’s assassination. And so, that’s why attorney Flint Taylor and I and Ray Hamlin and our legal team are trying to peel back the layers to finally, after 59 years, get some measure of justice for Malcolm X’s family.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ben Crump, could you explain what was the pretext for their arrests? Can you talk about the destroy the Statue of Liberty conspiracy?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Absolutely. So, this wasn’t the only time we saw the workings of Raymond Wood, this undercover New York police officer. He also used this to have the members of the Panther 21. Afeni Shakur, Tupac Shakur’s mother, was a member of the Panther 21. And they were all arrested under this pretense that they were endeavoring to bomb United States monuments — namely, the Statue of Liberty. Well, that’s the same exact thing that they said about Khaleel Sayyed and Walter Bowe, Malcolm X’s security members. They said that they were out to bomb the Statue of Liberty. I mean, you would think that they could come up with something new. But all of these Black self-determination organizations, they would infiltrate them and try to say, “Oh, they were conspiring to bomb the Statue of Liberty, so we have to arrest them.” And so, that’s exactly what they did to Panther 21, and it’s exactly what they did to Malcolm X’s security detail. They came up with a bogus theory and had them convicted of crimes that was orchestrated by undercover police officers.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Ben Crump, can you talk about the man who was in the Audubon Ballroom with a long gun under his trench coat, the one who was set free?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Certainly. As attorney Flint Taylor from the People’s Law Office in Chicago, who has joined our legal team to get justice for Malcolm X’s family, articulated, Bradley, this individual, who we know from the files that have been revealed, had a shotgun and was one of the killers of Malcolm X, yet he was not arrested. He was able to leave the Audubon Ballroom free. And they arrested two innocent people, we believe, to cover up for those individuals who they knew were responsible for Malcolm X’s death.

And this Bradley fellow was then, four years later, arrested for a bank robbery, he and his accomplice. His accomplice was in prison for 25 years, but yet Bradley was allowed to escape — walk away out the jail scot-free. And so, you know that they have something connected with this Bradley character, if he continues to commit major crimes, federal crimes, and yet the government lets him walk scot-free, as if he has something that they are connected, to say that he will have no culpability for his dastardly deeds.

And that’s why we want these files. We want these files to see what connections, to see who were those undercover agents that were in the Audubon Ballroom the day Malcolm X was assassinated. And the reality is this here. It’s 59 years later. Who are they trying to protect? What person’s life will be put in danger 59 years later? They continue to offer us excuse after excuse after excuse every time we get FOIAs for the information. They even went so far as to tell us that one of the reasons they can’t give us the information that we request on the surveillance of Malcolm X and the documentation that they have on Malcolm X is because Malcolm X is potentially still alive.

AMY GOODMAN: Is potentially still alive? Let’s bring Flint Taylor in right now. You stood there in the Audubon Ballroom, the site where Malcolm X was gunned down 59 years ago this week, yesterday with the family of Malcolm X, with Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz, with Ben Crump. But you’re actually based in Chicago. And if you can talk about why it is possible, almost 60 years later, all of these documents do not become public, and the experience you have back in Chicago trying to get information on another leader, the Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, when they were gunned down in 1969?

FLINT TAYLOR: Good morning. Thank you for having me on.

Yes, it was a very powerful experience standing there, for the first time for me, in that ballroom. And as you may know, I stood in the blood of Fred Hampton the morning that he was assassinated 55 years ago. And, of course, that had a similarly powerful effect on me and the people in the People’s Law Office at that time. And that started us on a 13-year battle to find out the truth and to change the narrative of what happened to Fred Hampton, the young, 21-year-old, very articulate, very powerful, very charismatic leader, young Black Panther leader.

And, of course, at first, they talked about it as a shootout. And as we got into the litigation and as the community raised the case in the public eye over years, we were able to fight to get evidence that was covered up, by the FBI predominantly, that there was this COINTELPRO program, Counterintelligence Program, a super-secret program that was targeting the Black Panthers, attempting to destroy the Black Panthers at that time — it came from Hoover in Washington — and that it also claimed as part of its program dealing with what they call messiahs, who would bring together and lead the Black liberation movement. And they cited to Malcolm X as one of those messiahs.

So, there’s evidence that is starting to come out about Malcolm X. That piece existed back then. But what’s coming out now, as attorney Crump has mentioned, is this file on William Bradley, an FBI file, and a statement straight from Hoover that said there were nine informants, FBI informants, in the ballroom, and that at all costs they should not let those informants be known, and at all costs not let it be known what they might have been doing, and whether they were working, of course, for COINTELPRO, because we know that what the FBI was doing was trying to foment the split between the Nation of Islam and Malcolm and his organization. So, you put this evidence together, and you demand more evidence about Bradley, about those informants, about BOSSI’s role. And BOSSI seems to be kind of a junior FBI COINTELPRO program in New York. I shouldn’t say “seems to be,” but was. And so, that’s where we stand.

And that’s one of the reasons that attorney Crump asked me and my office to come in, because we fought this case, similar case, an assassination case, that had in it the FBI covered up the Chicago police informants. Of course, the main informant in our case in Chicago was William O’Neal, who set up the assassination of Fred Hampton. So those same questions come up here. And after Cyrus Vance revealed the tip of the iceberg with regard to the FBI files that had been suppressed and the BOSSI files that had been destroyed, that’s when attorney Crump and, of course, the family and now the People’s Law Office have become involved.

And we feel that it’s not only a civil case for justice, but that it’s a human rights case. And it’s not only a case that has significance in New York, not only significance nationally, but it has international significance. And I think attorney Crump and I are both calling on the mayor of the city of New York and the federal government for transparency, for giving us these files and for, in fact, all these years later, making reparations. And that’s what it is. It’s reparations, not unlike the reparations that we fought for and obtained in Chicago for the survivors of police torture. It’s reparations to the family. It’s reparations to the community of New York and nationally, in terms of justice and in terms of compensation.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Crump, let’s end with you. Flint just mentioned the mayor of New York, right? Eric Adams is a former police officer. Have you spoken with him? Is he joining the call for the documents, both in BOSSI and the New York Police Department and the FBI, to be opened, more than a half a century after Malcolm X’s assassination?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: At this time, we are unaware if he will join us in that call for transparency. I know that in past conversations, Ilyasah and myself have felt assured that New York Police Department would — I’m sorry, the city leadership in New York would do the right thing here and help Malcolm X’s family finally get justice. Now, with attorney Flint Taylor and I and our legal team, we have put the ball squarely in their court to be able to tell us if they’re going to be on the right side of history 59 years later. Will they give up their records?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ben Crump, we’re going to leave it there. We’re going to ask you to stay for a few minutes so we can ask about the Houston police shooting of Eboni Pouncy, an amazing story, with video just revealed, and we’ll post it at democracynow.org. Ben Crump, civil rights attorney. Flint Taylor, co-founder of People’s Law Office of Chicago. To see all our coverage of the Malcolm X assassination, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks for joining us.

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