Malcolm Shabazz endured a life of ‘unbearable’ expectations

OPINION - So many in the media have always and will continue to refer to Malcolm Shabazz as 'troubled'...

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Many reports will continue to refer to Malcolm Shabazz as “troubled.”  That same chorus will insist on attaching the heavily-weighted moniker – grandson of Malcolm X – to any and all mentions of Malcolm Shabazz, his life, and now, his sad and tragic death.

But as these mentions and legacy monikers pile up, we should also pause to reflect upon the unbearable weight of revolutionary expectations confounded by the inescapable scrutiny of state surveillance, aided and abetted by an unforgiving media machine.  Malcolm Shabazz lived this life.

He endured constant surveillance and was confronted with the meaning of legacy in the context of black revolutionary movements, those movements’ anti-climactic aftermaths and the singular impact of his grandfather’s life.

In 1997, at the age of 12, Malcolm Shabazz pleaded guilty to charges of arson, for a fire set in the home of Betty Shabazz, his grandmother, who dedicated her life to black revolutionary activism and the rearing of her six daughters: Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malikah, and Malaak.

Malcolm was sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile detention center but ended up serving four years for alleged behavioral issues and various successful escapes.  After his release, Malcolm had intermittent “run-ins” with the law and was in and out of trouble for drug dealing and attempted robbery.

The following should read more as an explanation than as an excuse.

Malcolm came of age during the explosion of what is now commonly referred to as the ‘prison industrial complex.’  One awful byproduct of our ultra-aggressive criminal justice system is that many young men who are incarcerated early in life will return to prison for different and often worse crimes.  (Forty percent of the entire prison population to be exact)

Malcolm’s gang affiliations, as well as his connections to the underground economy of the drug trade, were cultivated over the course of his time in and out of the criminal justice system.

His “trouble” did not begin in the fire that consumed his grandmother’s life.  Two years before the fire, Malcolm’s mother, Qubilah, was charged with conspiring with her boyfriend to assassinate Minister Louis Farrakhan.  As it turned out, Qubilah’s boyfriend was an FBI informant and ultimately the charges were dropped.  But the damage was done; Malcolm went to New York to live with his grandmother and aunts.