A store below the Palace bar in Mexico City, where Malcolm Shabazz was killed. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Malcolm Shabazz had everything going for him. He was 28 years old, handsome as hell and a remarkably charismatic public speaker. He was an activist, an organizer and a proud father. He also had the blessing of being the grandson of Malcolm X.
Malcolm Shabazz had everything going against him. He was a young black man with a criminal record in the age of the New Jim Crow. He proudly allied himself with countries resisting US occupation and influence. He spoke to audiences across the earth, earning the unwanted attention of the Department of Homeland Security. He was treated with persecution, scorn and incarceration instead of the utmost sympathy for his role in a fire that took his grandmother Dr. Betty Shabazz, when he was only 13. He also had the burden of being the grandson of Malcolm X.
Now Malcolm Shabazz is dead. He was in Mexico City to meet in solidarity with a labor organizer deported from the United States and ended up beaten to death outside of a bar. Details of how and why he was killed are extremely sketchy, and I am not writing this to add to that noise, except to say that I’ll trust a police report about the death of Malcolm X’s grandson around the time I grow a tail.
I’m more writing out of anger: anger that this young man, whom I was able to get to know after meeting at a panel on fatherhood, is having his character assassinated in death. For reasons it should have to answer for, USA Today chose to display a picture of him in handcuffs alongside a brief notice about his killing. The Huffington Post—and no, I won’t link to this garbage—provided no sense of who he was except to write that he “pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in 2002 and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Just months after his release in 2006, he was arrested again, this time for punching a hole in a store window.”
With very few exceptions, not a single piece has what you would expect in a typical obituary: remembrances of loved ones and colleagues to give a three-dimensional portrait of someone’s life. The grandson of Malcolm X can only be seen in one dimension. That dimension, as the Associated Press wrote, was just that he “led a troubled life.”
There is no question Malcolm Shabazz had troubles. As he himself said, “Considering what I’ve been through, it’s a miracle that I’ve been able to hold it together. I’m just trying to find my way… Some of the things I’ve been through, the average person would have cracked.”