Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: A sad tale of two Malcolms

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Opinion,Gregory Kane,Columnists

Here's a question young Malcolm Shabazz probably didn't ask himself the last night of his life: "What would my grandfather do?"

The mourners -- hundreds of them, according to news accounts -- gathered Friday at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland, Calif.

They came to mourn Shabazz, who died in? Mexico City more than a week earlier in circumstances that can probably best be described as bizarre.

Shabazz was only 28; it had been some 16 years since he was charged with setting the fire that took the life of his maternal grandmother, educator and activist Betty Shabazz, the widow of the man most Americans know as Malcolm X.

For years, Malcolm Shabazz had to struggle with the legacy of being the grandson of one of the nation's leading human rights icons. Like his grandfather, Malcolm Shabazz was a devout Muslim.

Unlike his grandfather, the last night of his life, Malcolm Shabazz did something his grandfather probably never would have done, at least not in his days as a zealous Muslim convert to the Nation of Islam.

Those praising Malcolm Shabazz at his funeral never alluded to it. Instead, what mourners heard were things like comments from a guy named Hussein Mekki, described in news stories as one of the mourners.

"If I could put into one word how I feel about Malcolm, it would be 'inspiration.' Hopefully that will continue, and he can inspire us for the rest of our lives."

Then there was Abdel Malik Ali, described as an Oakland community activist, who added these comments:

"He [Shabazz] was looking for his own voice, his own place in this world. He had his struggles just like everybody else, but he eventually took on a huge responsibility in embracing his family's legacy that's harder than anybody can imagine."

Listening to such encomiums, you'd never know Shabazz died after being found beaten nearly to death outside of a seedy Mexican strip club.

If there is a lesson to the life of Malcolm Shabazz, it's probably this one: Young people need to make better choices. Shabazz made not only a bad one, he made a fatal one.

He was in Mexico to meet and support Miguel Suarez, co-founder of a group known as RUMEC (Revolutionary United Mexicans in Combat), according to Internet sources.

The few details we have learned about what happened the night Shabazz died have come to us from news sources giving Suarez's account of events.

The following account comes from the ABC News website:

"Shabazz, 28, had traveled to Mexico to meet with a leader of a California activist and civil rights group known as RUMEC. ... The leader, Miguel Suarez, had been deported last month to Mexico by U.S. officials.

"Suarez told the Associated Press that Shabazz had traveled to Mexico to support him and his movement. He said he was with Shabazz when Shabazz was beaten up at a bar near Plaza Garibaldi. ...

" 'We were dancing with the girls and drinking,' Suarez said. Then the owner of the bar wanted them to pay a $1,200 bar tab for music, drinks and the women's companionship.

"Suarez said a man with a gun took him to a separate room and he heard a violent commotion in the hall. He said he escaped and came back minutes later in a cab to look for Shabazz, whom he found on the ground outside the bar."

That story raises more questions than it answers, and I'll leave it to conspiracy theorists to punch holes in it.

But the bottom line is that Malcolm Shabazz's grandfather would never have found himself in a notorious strip joint running up a tab of even 12 cents, much less $1,200.

Had Malcolm Shabazz done what Malcolm X would have done, he might still be alive today.

Washington Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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