MEXICO CITY — Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of political activist Malcolm X, died in Mexico City after a violent dispute in a bar, Mexican authorities said Friday. He was 28.
City prosecutors are investigating the attack that sent Shabazz to a nearby hospital where he died Thursday of blunt-force trauma injuries. United States officials confirmed that Shabazz was killed in Mexico City.
Much like his grandfather, Shabazz spent his youth in and out of trouble. At 12, he set a fire in his grandmother’s apartment, a blaze that resulted in the death of Malcolm X’s widow. After four years in juvenile detention, Shabazz was later sent back to prison on attempted robbery and assault charges.
In recent years, the first male heir of Malcolm X seemed to seek redemption, saying he was writing a memoir and traveling around the world speaking out against youth violence. Before his trip to Mexico, he reached out to a group of Mexican construction workers in the U.S. and then visited in Mexico with a leader who had been deported.
Malcolm X, who inspired books and the 1992 Hollywood movie named after him, was shot to death as he delivered a speech in a Harlem ballroom in 1965. Shabazz’s mother was only 4 at the time.
The Shabazz family said in a statement they were saddened to hear of the death of Malcolm X’s grandson.
“To all who knew him, he offered kindness, encouragement and hope for a better tomorrow,” said the statement. “We will miss him.”
Labor activist Miguel Suarez, who was traveling with Shabazz, told The Associated Press that his friend was beaten up at a bar near Plaza Garibaldi, a downtown square that is home to Mexico City’s mariachis.
Plaza Garibaldi is popular with tourists, but the pair were at a bar across the street from the plaza in an area of rough dive bars tourists are warned against going to.
Suarez said he and Shabazz were lured to the bar on Wednesday night by a young woman who made conversation with the American in English. The Palace bar is on one of Mexico City’s busiest avenues.
“We were dancing with the girls and drinking,” said Suarez. Then the owner of the bar wanted them to pay a $1,200 bar tab, alleging that they should pay for music, drinks and the girls’ companionship.
“We pretty much got hassled,” he said. “A short dude came with a gun.”
Suarez said he was taken by the man to a separate room. Shabazz stayed in the hall. Suarez said he heard a violent commotion in the hall and escaped from the room and the bar altogether as he saw half-naked girls running away, picking up their skirts from the dance floor.
Minutes later, Suarez came back in a cab to look for Shabazz and found him on the ground outside the bar severely injured.
“He was in shock. His face was messed up,” said Suarez. “He was alive.”
“I grabbed him, and I called the cops,” said Suarez, who was recently deported from the United States.
He said he took Shabazz to a hospital but his friend died hours later of blunt-force injuries.
Suarez said Shabazz had traveled to Mexico to support him and his movement advocating for more rights for construction workers. He crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana with Suarez’s mother and then the pair took a bus all the way to Mexico City.
“We were planning to go to Teotihuacan, to see the Aztec pyramids,” he said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell did not offer details on whether they are working with Mexican investigators.
“We’ve been in contact with family members and have been providing appropriate… assistance,” Ventrell said. “At their request, we have no further comment at this time.”
Ruth Clark, Shabazz’s godmother, said that her heart was heavy, but that she believes he is now “among angels.”
“Malcolm is part of a welcoming kingdom, sharing his bright smile, intelligence, and wisdom.”
Shabazz was born on Oct. 8, 1984 to Qubilah Shabazz, one of six daughters of Malcolm X and his wife Betty Shabazz.
In June 1997, Malcolm Shabazz set the fire at his grandmother Betty Shabazz’s home. She died from severe burns, and he served four years in juvenile detention.
He later expressed regret for his actions, telling The New York Times in 2003 that he would sit on his jail cot and ask for a sign of forgiveness from his dead grandmother.
“I just wanted her to know I was sorry and I wanted to know she accepted my apology, that I didn’t mean it,” he said. “But I would get no response, and I really wanted that response.”
Despite the encouragement and support by his family’s numerous supporters in New York, he struggled. He joined the Bloods street gang and after moving to the small city of Middletown, near New York’s Catskills region, he had additional legal scrapes.
Shabazz also served time on a 2002 attempted robbery conviction, and was released in 2005. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to criminal mischief for smashing the window of a Yonkers doughnut shop.
More recently, Shabazz had taken on public speaking engagements and traveled, describing himself as a human rights activist. On his Facebook profile, he said he was attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Yet his entanglements with law enforcement continued.
In one of the last posts on his blog, in March, Shabazz had complained that FBI agents had recently questioned him about his international travels. He also accused officers with the Middletown police department of harassing him since the fall, and said an arrest in the city over the winter prevented him from traveling to Iran in February to participate in a film festival.
Shabazz also wrote about traveling to Damascus, Syria to study and to Libya as part of a delegation of Americans who met with Muammar Gaddafi, prior to his ouster and death.
Police officials in Middletown didn’t return phone messages Friday. An FBI spokesman in New York had no immediate comment.
He proudly embraced the legacy of his grandfather, one of the most influential Black people in history who had a more radical, angry approach than Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent movement in the 1950s and into the 1960s.
On his Twitter page, Shabazz posted a picture of himself mimicking the famous photograph of his grandfather, peering out at a window with a rifle in one hand.
“Grandson, name-sake and first male heir of the greatest revolutionary leader of the 20th century,” he wrote.