The long moral arc of fucking history

One Sunday late afternoon, three months before my ninth birthday, I was sitting by myself in my parents’ bedroom, at the foot of their bed. I don’t know why I was there, perhaps watching their large TV. It would not explain my memory of hearing the news that Malcolm X had been shot dead in the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights from my father’s alarm clock radio. I knew what it meant right away, and it felt like a punch in my young stomach. It was not that long after the JFK assassination and not long before several more lone gunmen would kill other leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

I read today that two of the three men who’d been convicted and jailed — fifty-five years ago — for the killing of Malcolm X (who by then had renamed himself El Hadj Malik el Shabbaz) will be exonerated tomorrow, one posthumously. The FBI, NYPD and prosecutors had withheld evidence that would have likely prevented the conviction of each of the “murderers” who spent decades in prison. The one assassin who was caught at the scene confessed in court and said he didn’t know the other two guys, that they hadn’t been the other shooters. It turns out he wasn’t lying.

The New York Times reports:

A trove of F.B.I. documents included information that implicated other suspects and pointed away from Mr. Islam and Mr. Aziz. Prosecutors’ notes indicate they failed to disclose the presence of undercover officers in the ballroom at the time of the shooting. And Police Department files revealed that a reporter for The New York Daily News received a call the morning of the shooting indicating that Malcolm X would be murdered.

Investigators also interviewed a living witness, known only as J.M., who backed up Mr. Aziz’s alibi, further suggesting that he had not participated in the shooting but had been, as he said at the trial, at home nursing his wounded legs.

Altogether, the re-investigation found that had the new evidence been presented to a jury, it may well have led to acquittals. And Mr. Aziz, 83, who was released in 1985, and Mr. Islam, who was released in 1987 and died in 2009, would not have been compelled to spend decades fighting to clear their names. . .

. . . Representatives for the two exonerated men said that the moment meant a lot to Mr. Aziz, and to Mr. Islam’s family. But Mr. Shanies, one of the civil rights lawyers representing them, said their convictions had a “horrific, torturous and unconscionable” effect that cannot be undone.

The two men spent a combined 42 years in prison, with years in solitary confinement between them. They were held in some of New York’s worst maximum security prisons in the 1970s, a decade that bore witness to the Attica uprisings.

Mr. Aziz had six children at the time he was convicted; Mr. Islam had three. Both men saw their marriages fall apart and spent the primes of their lives behind bars.

Even after their release, they were understood as Malcolm X’s killers, affecting their ability to live openly in society.

“It affected them in every way you could possibly imagine, them and their families,” Mr. Shanies said.

source

We learned, decades after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., that the FBI had been secretly recording King in hotel rooms and had sent compromising materials to him along with at least one letter urging him to kill himself. That’s just the way it was in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, and the two hundred or so years before that. Racism was out of control, American Blacks were organizing and fighting for civil rights (Malcolm rightly called them Human Rights) and even a nonviolent pastor was considered an enemy of the state by the guardians of American power, since he was seen as galvanizing a tremendous moral force.

It’s hard to untangle how fucked up all of this is, or to overstate that the final crime for which King was condemned to death was his sermon opposing the War in Vietnam (one year to the day before his murder) and his Poor People’s campaign (on behalf of all of America’s poor). Once you stray from fighting for the right to use the same water fountain as whites to criticizing the power structure of the country itself, it is probably time for you to be shot through the voice box by a lone gunman with a shady past.

I try to imagine what it’s like to be exonerated fifty-five years after your life is destroyed, or posthumously. Then I consider that this re-investigation and exoneration would never have happened at all, but for an excellent documentary Who Killed Malcolm X? by a dogged historian/researcher who thoroughly investigated the killing of his hero. Netflix aired the documentary and outgoing Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance opened a re-investigation as soon as he considered the letter from the filmmaker, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, and watched the compelling film.

I think of the long game of history. In 2060 or so perhaps the final story of the party-line confirmation of deeply divisive uber-conservative partisan Boof Kavanaugh will finally be told, once his forty year reign on the court is done and the appropriate amount of time has elapsed for the release of the thousands of pages of Kavanaugh-related documents the judicial committee was not allowed to see. Citizens, if there any left by then, will also learn the details of the 4,000 tips the FBI received, during a rushed farce of a five-day investigation into allegations against Kavanaugh, tips that went directly to Kavanaugh’s sponsor at the White House, fellow Federalist Society all-star Don McGahn, who promptly rejected them all.

Had these documents been seen, and publicized, had the FBI followed up on any of the tips, or even interviewed Kavanaugh, his friend Mark Judge and Christina Blasey-Ford, the Justice’s fiery, angry, paranoid, hyper-partisan speech in defense of himself as a victim of a cabal of powerful lying enemies would not have won the day.

For now, all we have are the words he uttered that day, after Blasey-Ford’s credible testimony, angrily snorted, slightly unhinged words that should have disqualified him from sitting on the Supreme Court, words he proudly (and unaccountably) told the world he wrote himself:

And this capsule biography of the longtime right-wing partisan, from Wikipedia:

Kavanaugh studied history at Yale University, where he joined Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He then attended Yale Law School, after which he began his career as a law clerk working under Judge Ken Starr. After Starr left the D.C. Circuit to become the head of the Office of Independent Counsel, Kavanaugh assisted him with various investigations concerning President Bill Clinton, including drafting the Starr Report recommending Clinton’s impeachment. After the 2000 U.S. presidential election, in which he worked for George W. Bush‘s campaign in the Florida recount, he joined the Bush administration as White House staff secretary and was a central figure in its efforts to identify and confirm judicial nominees.[3] Bush nominated Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2003. His confirmation hearings were contentious and stalled for three years over charges of partisanship. He was ultimately confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in May 2006 after a series of negotiations between Democratic and Republican U.S. senators.[4][5][2] Two law professors performed an evaluation of Kavanaugh’s appellate court decisions in four separate public policy areas for the Washington Post. It found he had been “one of the most conservative judges on the D.C. Circuit” from 2003 to 2018.[6]

Once this ambitious Zelig of right-wing absolutism (he was involved in each of this century’s most outrageous pre-Trump right-wing stunts– Ken Starr’s most zealous assistant, involved with stopping the Florida recount in 2001, secret rulings for Dubya as White House staff secretary, rewarded by quick lifetime elevation by Bush II– after an ugly confirmation fight) has ruled on countless cases, restricting the rights of workers, voters, consumers, poor women, his political enemies, once all the unappealable damage is summarily done — and bitterly recorded in dissents — our descendants will get to learn the rest of the story of how this entitled partisan warrior managed to get a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court and steer that court for decades. I imagine they will feel like the previous generations (and they, themselves) got fucked, just the way those two guys who had nothing to do with the killing of Malcolm X got fucked, and then exonerated, in the long moral arc of fucking history.

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