A letter shared by the family of a deceased former New York police officer alleges that the officer, the New York City Police Department and the FBI played a role in the murder of the powerful civil rights leader Malcolm X.
The outspoken antiracism activist and former spokesman for the Nation of Islam died on February 21, 1965, after being shot while delivering remarks at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City.
Ray Wood, a former undercover police officer, wrote in a newly released confession letter that the NYPD and FBI worked with him to make sure the two men in charge of Malcolm X’s security detail were arrested in the days before the speech.
Ray Wood first shared his confession with family when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2011. At the time, he asked his cousin, Reggie, not to share the letter until after he died. Ray Wood died in November, and Reggie Wood shared his cousin’s confession publicly on Saturday, flanked by a group that included Malcolm X’s daughters, Qubiliah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz and Gamilah Shabazz, and civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump, Ray Hamlin and Paul Napoli.
“For 10 years, I have carried this confession secretly in fear of what could happen to my family and myself if the government found out what I knew,” Reggie Wood said Saturday.
Ray Wood confessed that he, the NYPD and the U.S. government all made sure Malcolm X wasn’t adequately protected from assassination during his final speech. “I participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to the advancement of my own, Black people,” Wood said.
According to his letter, in 1965, Wood’s NYPD supervisors instructed him to devise a plot to bomb the Statue of Liberty along with two key members of the Malcolm X’s security detail, Khaleel Sayyed and Walter Bowe, in order to ensure the two security guards were arrested and separated from Malcolm X during his Feb. 21 speech.
“It was my assignment to draw the two men into a felonious federal crime so that they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away from managing Malcolm X’s Audubon Ballroom door security,” he admitted. Sayyed and Bowe were arrested on Feb. 16 in connection with the plot, although Bowe testified at the time that it was Wood who devised it. Wood’s letter released more than a half-century later corroborates Bowe’s claim.
Wood also confessed to helping frame a man named Thomas Johnson, most recently known as Khalil Islam, for Malcolm X’s murder. While serving a life sentence for the murder, Islam maintained his innocence until he died in 2009.
“On February 21, 1965, I was ordered to be at the Audubon Ballroom, where I was identified by witnesses while leaving the scene,” Wood said in his letter. “Thomas Johnson was later arrested and wrongfully convicted to protect my cover and the secrets of the FBI and the NYPD.”
Reggie Wood said his cousin withheld his role in Malcolm X’s assassination all these years because he “worried about what the NYPD and the FBI would do to him and his family if he had told the dark secrets he had held that helped destroy Black leaders and Black power organizations.”
Ray Wood said law enforcement officials threatened him with “pending alcohol trafficking charges ... if I did not follow” their instructions to help thwart civil rights groups. His confession also shared details of the NYPD’s efforts to frame a group of Black Panthers, known as the “Panther 21,” who were acquitted after being wrongly accused of plotting terrorist attacks in New York in 1969.
Ray Hamlin, an attorney representing Malcolm X’s family, said they are owed recompense if the government played any role in his murder.
“If this heinous act was with the help and support of law enforcement and our government, then certainly I think the Shabbazz family is deserving of some sort of retribution by way of compensation,” Hamlin said Saturday.
Ilyasah Shabbazz said “any evidence that provides greater insight” into her father’s murder should be “thoroughly investigated.”
Attorney Benjamin Crump drew a direct connection between the attempts by law enforcement to infiltrate and stifle activists movements in the 1960s and the more recent efforts by law enforcement groups to stifle activist movements like Black Lives Matter. In the past year, for example, the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump deployed surveillance tools to spy on protest leaders during the height of last summer’s antiracism protests.
“Even though this is an astonishing revelation from the past,” Crump said of Ray Wood’s confession, “I’ll remind you: The past is prologue. Malcolm X is Black Lives Matter.”
Crump called on the Manhattan district attorney and members of Congress — in particular the Congressional Black Caucus — to investigate Ray Wood’s confession and the government’s potential role in Malcolm X’s murder.