Malcolm X was speaking at an Organization of Afro-American Unity event at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, when a group of men suddenly rushed to the podium and fatally shot him several times. Three Nation of Islam members were held responsible for the shooting and convicted in 1966. Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, the second oldest of Malcolm X’s daughters, was four and a half years old when the shooting occurred. She was there and watched as her father bled to death.
Nearly 30 years after the incident, Shabazz was arrested in Minneapolis on Federal charges of trying to hire a hitman to kill Louis Farrakhan, minister of the Nation of Islam. Shabazz believed that Farrakhan was responsible for her father’s assassination. Farrakhan, who was Malcolm X’s Muslim disciple before turning rival, had said at the time that he had no role in Malcolm X’s murder.
But Shabazz had heard her mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz, say that she believed Farrakhan had been involved in the murder. “This is an extraordinary case,” David L. Lillehaug, United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota, said in January 1995 while announcing the arrest and indictment of Shabazz.
At the time of the arrest, reports said that if convicted, Shabazz could be sentenced to 90 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines. Shabazz’s arrest shocked almost everyone but her mother stood by her. Betty told the Associated Press her daughter was framed. “It is unfortunate that anyone would do that to a young woman,” she said. “And it says how quick people are and how they will do anything to get their political ends.”
Malcolm X’s death shocked the world considering he was such a charismatic leader. He had become known as a champion of human rights from the moment he split with the Nation of Islam (NOI) following ideological differences between him and NOI leader Elijah Muhammad.
During his last days, Malcolm X had told his wife, Betty, that he is likely to die violently. He had advised her on how to live and take care of their daughters in his absence. Betty paid attention, and after her husband’s murder, she moved from Queens with her family to Mount Vernon, New York, and made sure her children did not see photographs of their father’s body after his killing. She sent her girls to good schools and urged them to imbibe values of truth, non-violence, peace and simplicity in their lives. Despite this, the family continued to endure misfortune.
Shabazz was indicted on nine counts of using the telephones and traveling across state lines to arrange the assassination of Farrakhan, who lives in Chicago, the New York Times reported. Officials said Shabazz started discussing the plot over the telephone in July 1994 with a person in St. Paul. Two months after that discussion, prosecutors said she moved from her home in New York to Minnesota where she made a partial payment for Farrakhan’s murder.
History reported that Michael Fitzpatrick, a high-school classmate of Shabazz, claimed that she called him and asked him to kill Farrakhan, adding that she feared for her mother’s life. Unbeknown to Shabazz, Fitzpatrick was already an FBI informant. He swiftly passed on the information and started recording the conversations they both had.
Following Shabazz’s arrest, her court-appointed Federal public defender, Scott Tilsen, said that she had been set up by the man who was supposed to assassinate Farrakhan. “We believe the evidence will show that the other person, at all times, was working for the Government and that she was seduced into this whole alleged scheme to kill Farrakhan,” Tilsen said, adding that the man was having problems with the FBI and wanted to improve his standing with Federal agents.
Authorities at the time had audio and video equipment but Tilsen said he would argue that those tapes show Shabazz as the victim rather than “the plotter.”
“The analogy is that if your mother or father had been murdered,” Tilsen said, “and somebody came to you and enticed, cajoled you into discussing what happened, you’d listen, and it could be made to appear that you were in a conspiracy.”
In the end, prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against Shabazz if she “agreed to accept responsibility” for her role in the plot. She was to also seek counseling and stay out of legal trouble.
History notes that Shabazz “escaped the most serious charges because the tapes seemed to show entrapment on the part of Fitzpatrick and Shabazz seemed to be a tentative and unwilling conspirator. Also, Fitzpatrick was a fairly unsympathetic informant.”
Two years after Shabazz’s legal troubles, her mother Betty was severely burned in a fire at her apartment. Betty’s 12-year-old grandson, Malcolm, who was Shabazz’s child, had set the fire deliberately, officials said. Child welfare workers had taken the boy from her mother’s home on suspicion of neglect. He was, therefore, living with his grandmother Betty when, in June 1997, he doused a hallway of their apartment with gasoline and set the fire because he was angry he had to live with her.
Malcolm was convicted of the juvenile equivalent of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree arson for setting the fire that killed his grandmother.