The exonerations this week of two of the three men convicted in the 1965 slaying of Malcolm X are arguably the most high-profile conviction reversals in American history.
The 22-month investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and the defendants' attorneys was an attempt to right a monstrous wrong. This week's announcement, of course, came far too late for Khalil Islam and Muhammad A. Aziz, who spent more than 20 years in prison for a crime they did not commit before they were paroled in the mid-1980s. Islam died in 2009; Aziz is 83 years old.
The news resonates at a time of heightened concern about how black suspects are treated by police. As reported by the New York Times, the re-investigation of Aziz and Islam revealed that “prosecutors and two of the nation's premier law enforcement agencies – the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department – had withheld key evidence that, had it been turned over, would likely have led to the men's acquittal.”
This is even more than a case of justice denied and black lives mattering. It can serve as a historical landpost, and an argument can be made that the seeds of today's problems were sown by the very real misdeeds of some law enforcement agencies in the turbulent 1960s.
Finally getting to the facts about the assassination of one of the nation's best-known Black leaders should be seen as a corrective for today's racial justice issues, not an accelerant. Our system is far from perfect, but American governmental and judicial systems have the capacity to face up to past mistakes and try to right them.
Peeling back the lies, deceptions and secrecy in the investigation of Malcolm's murder serves not just justice, but truth.