Forty-seven years ago today — on Feb. 21, 1965 — assassins murdered one of the most important Black leaders in American history: Malcolm X.
One legacy of the fiery Malcolm X involves his articulate opposition to pathological prejudice manifest in its multiple forms like police abuse, abusive practices of politicians and aberrant acts of individuals.
Although an inspiration to millions, some still paint Malcolm X as a hate-monger despite his persistent declarations that action, not image animated his stance.
“We’re not against people because they’re white … we’re against those who practice racism,” Malcolm X stated during a Feb. 16, 1965, address.
Today in England, nearly 3,500 miles from Philadelphia, activists plan an event highlighting the international influence Malcolm X still evokes.
And today, in Center City Philadelphia, a federal court proceeding scheduled for a civil rights lawsuit filed against top officials in nearby Montgomery County evidences that pathological prejudice Malcolm X constantly criticized.
That lawsuit filed by fired Montco County detective Reggie Roberts lists a litany of bigoted actions that bludgeoned him during his nine-year tenure as the only Black among 36 detectives working for Montco’s District Attorney’s Office.
Those bigoted actions include slights like assigning Roberts to a damp basement office filled with visible mold that caused Roberts to develop tuberculosis.
Montco officials withheld an environmental report documenting the health hazards in that basement office from the detective for two years as part of an apparent effort to sabotage the detective’s efforts to obtain heart-lung benefits related to his contracting TB.
Montco District Attorney Risa Ferman fired Roberts’ in August 2008, curiously one day after the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission held a hearing on Roberts’ discrimination complaint. However, Ferman denied her firing was retaliation against Roberts.
Incredibly, actions by federal judges seemingly siding with that Black detective’s tormentors now aggravate the discrimination documented in Robert’s lawsuit. Those judicial actions corrupt the sworn duty of judges to preside impartially.
On Jan. 9, 2012, for example, Judge Timothy Savage held an unusual ‘off-the-record’ pre-trial conference in his office where instead of handling announced scheduling matters Savage issued substantive rulings crippling Roberts’ case, inaccurately claiming Roberts “consented through counsel” to his rulings.
Savage knew a prior judge had removed Roberts’ lawyer from the case last year in another unusual maneuver favoring the discriminatory defendants.
When Roberts requested the removal of Savage (a President Bush appointee) Savage late last week suddenly switched today’s proceeding from off-the-record to on-the-record and invited Roberts to attend after excluding Roberts from that Jan. 9th proceeding.
The lawlessness by law enforcers evident in Roberts’ legal struggle evidence the validity of an observation Malcolm X made on January 7, 1965 where he said officials across America routinely ignore established laws in pursuit of “whatever is expedient to protect the interests that are at stake.”
Today, activists in England plan to unveil a historic plaque honoring the February 12, 1965 visit Malcolm X made to Smethwick, a small town outside of Birmingham, the second largest city in England.
When Malcolm X made his brief visit to Smethwick during a European speaking tour that town roiled in racial unrest erupting from efforts by whites to block non-whites from purchasing homes there.
Malcolm X said he came to Smethwick because he was “disturbed” by reports of non-whites being treated unfairly, mistreatment he compared to Jews “under Hitler.”
That Smethwick plaque is part of an initiative by The Nubian Jak Academy to commemorate significant contributions of Blacks in England.
Black History plaques installed by Nubian Jak include one in London for Claudia Jones, the founder of the famed Notting Hill Carnival, the world-renowned Caribbean festival held annually in England’s capital city.
Jones initially attained prominence as an activist in the United States where she campaigned for the framed defendants in the infamous 1930s “Scottsboro Boys” case and fought for women’s rights.
Jones’ activism led to vicious attacks by federal officials including falsely imprisoning Jones three times before deporting her in 1955.
Claudia Jones, like Malcolm X and other prominent 20th Century Black leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., opposed abusive practices in the U.S. justice system involving police, prosecutors and judges.
That federal lawsuit filed by Reggie Roberts is a case study illuminating the extraordinary efforts and expense government officials routinely engage in to excuse racism — efforts exemplifying criticisms from activists like Malcolm X.
Two of the named defendants in Roberts’ federal lawsuit are Republican Montco Commissioner Bruce Castor (Montco’s former DA) and Democratic Montco Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, an ex-Congressman.
The discrimination charges raised by Roberts called for Montco Commissioners conducting an independent investigation but Castor and Hoeffel opted to allow Ferman (Castor’s former top assistant and replacement) to investigate her own alleged misconduct. They accepted Ferman’s claim that Roberts’ charges were unfounded.
The ability of asserted conservative Castor and alleged liberal Hoeffel to defend the indefensible discrimination clearly evident in Roberts’ case shows how partisan adversaries easily enter into bi-partisan alliances to protect pathological prejudice.
As Malcolm X once stated, both “political parties are controlled by the same people who have abused our rights, and who have deceived us with false promises every time an election rolls around.”
That anti-discrimination struggle by Roberts and struggles by too many others again confirms the charge Malcolm X made on Jan. 28, 1965, when he said conditions in America are “not only unjust, but criminal!”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.