Harlem grieves for family of Malcolm X

Looming high above the Hudson in the westernmost reaches of Harlem, the Riverside Church will this afternoon swell with grief in a memorial service for Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X. The tears and the music will be for her. The prayers, however, she will share - with the grandson accused of killing her.

The boy, also named Malcolm, has been in juvenile detention since 1 June. On that day, Dr Shabazz was found in her apartment in Yonkers, a northern suburb of New York, with the gruesome burns - third degree over 80 per cent of her body - that finally brought death last Monday. Police say Malcolm has admitted setting the fire that engulfed his grandmother.

All of last week, while New York sweltered in the upper nineties, the anguish that settled over the city was palpable. For two days, a slow snake of thousands, almost all black, formed outside the funeral home on 126th Street where Dr Shabazz lay awaiting burial. It was the same parlour that 32 years ago washed and shrouded the bullet-ridden corpse of Malcolm X.

That there should be such emotion is not hard to fathom. The black community has lost a special bridge to the charismatic orator and civil rights leader. It also lost a woman who was herself an icon of black history.

But look for any expressions of hatred against the 12-year-old Malcolm, any demands for revenge against him for what he has apparently perpetrated, and probably you will do so in vain. For reasons more complicated than they first appear, most of those mourning Dr Shabazz mourn also for him.

Thus, when prosecutors suggested following her death that they were considering upgrading the charges to murder, there were cries of dismay even if, as a juvenile, Malcolm could not be imprisoned beyond his 18th birthday. Former mayor of New York, David Dinkins declared: "He is a bright child... what we are all interested in is that he gets appropriate care and attention."

Percy Sutton, longtime Shabazz family friend and lawyer, was more blunt. "What is there that drives a prosecutor to take the last measure of pain from a family?" he asked. "What did Malcolm X do? Is it a payback? What did Betty Shabazz do to cause this pursuit? I don't understand it."

Partly, it is a matter of simple sympathy. Even before this month, the Shabazz family was afflicted by almost imponderable tragedy. On the February night in 1965 when Malcolm X was shot dead in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, among those present was Betty herself, then pregnant with twins. Also in the hall was their four-year-old daughter, Qubilah, who is the mother of the young Malcolm.

Qubilah has since led an unsettled life that seemed to implode in 1995 when she was charged with attempting to arrange the assassination of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. The Shabazz family had long believed that Farrakhan had been behind the killing of Malcolm X.

Eventually there was a sentence of probation for Qubilah that was suspended in May this year. Earlier this year, however, Qubilah apparently despaired of bringing up her son in Texas, where she lives, and sent him to stay with his grandmother. Friends say the boy set the fire as a protest at the separation.

In their restraint about the boy's crime, many blacks also, however, have more than half an eye on non-black reactions. The fear is straightforward: that the killing will simply feed the white stereotype of young black males having no regard for either property or human life.

"Many of us know that he did wrong and know that he must be made to stand up and accept responsibility for that and that he must be helped," said Roberta Evans, a Manhattan nurse. "But we don't want him dragged over the coals by the other groups. This is what the black community is afraid of and the black community is very protective".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003