Hamisi’ Mahdi has never met Malcolm X, but it hasn’t stopped him from identifying with the slain activist and visiting the man who was his idol. All of which led Mahdi, 43, to find himself in Los Angeles County crime scene investigators’ offices Tuesday to learn about the crime that changed the racial landscape of American life.
That was the result of the Netflix documentary Who Killed Malcolm X? — based on journalist Vashti Harrison’s book of the same name — which examines how Malcolm X was killed in Harlem after a confrontation with a group of pimps, including an aspiring boxer, who were set to perform in Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater.
Faced with evidence suggesting a young Raoul Spears, who fled to Jamaica after the slaying, was not the shooter, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office handed the case to police.
Mahdi, who is Black, asked investigators at the investigation’s door whether he could attend the hearing. And a short while later, with tears welling in his eyes, he was escorted into a conference room where he heard the prosecutor read a statement for 14 minutes.
Taken aback by the “outrageous and painful” statement, Mahdi said that the prosecutor at first believed that his life was in danger if he was present.
The statement then listed a roster of crimes “against African Americans,” where prosecutors indicated Spears, 34, was present, possibly hiding under a bush or a telephone booth or at the top of a church.
“I just can’t get the facts about that statement out of my head,” Mahdi said later that day at an off-campus event organized by the Chicago, Illinois-based Chicago Black Families of America, a group that works to end intergenerational poverty in African American families.
I personally don’t believe that anyone who has seen Malcolm and who has ever had an opportunity to talk to him, would say that he said anything derogatory about whites or whites of any color. – Lawrence Faulkner, scholar of Malcolm X
“He immediately saw that I was there to ask questions and raise more questions,” Mahdi said, and the prosecutor was able to arrange his own visit to the Kingsbridge site where Malcolm X was killed and said it would be free to media.
That gave him a major break in the investigation.
“I get nervous when I interview people and they give me a speech,” said Mahdi, who now lives in Chicago but is an associate professor at Howard University. “I’m very intimidated. But I knew that when I asked the questions that I should be followed by questions back and that the answers to that would be the ones that would be told.”
Mahdi, who has written extensively about the civil rights leader, got to meet some of the most prominent figures in law enforcement and the criminal justice system on the day he visited the homicide case.
“I met one of the FBI agents that had trained you. I heard that in the prosecutor’s statement [in Who Killed Malcolm X?]. I heard where she thought Raoul Spears was,” Mahdi said at the off-campus event. “I met with Sharon Fuller, the DA’s chief investigator. I had all the documents related to Raoul Spears, that he may or may not have been present at the home. And I was informed by the prosecutor, (at a higher level) that a young man was taken into custody … and charged. And I sat down for 15 minutes.”
The prosecutor did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.
David Wagner, another professor at Howard, also described his experience at the Los Angeles Police Department and spoke about his own connections to Malcolm X.
“We had to keep going. A timeline was written, a timeline was compiled,” Wagner said. “I, Lawrence Faulkner, (at Howard) had a book out this year, An Interview with Malcolm X: The Black Scholar. And I am now working on a book with Blaise Compaoré, and we had to go to the New York Public Library to bring down research material.
“I personally don’t believe that anyone who has seen Malcolm and who has ever had an opportunity to talk to him, would say that he said anything derogatory about whites or whites of any color,” Faulkner said.
Edited for length and clarity by Charles Gant and Astrid Zweynert.