In 1965, Malcolm X said the so-called “riots” in Harlem – after police killed a teen boy – were not riots at all!
“They were reactions against police brutality,” he explained. Malcolm didn’t dismiss the legitimate anger of Black people. Part of the reason why? Years earlier, he’d had a life-changing experience.
Los Angeles police killed a Nation Of Islam member named Ronald Stokes in 1962. Officers claimed they thought Stokes and others were stealing – so they raided a mosque and shot multiple people.
Malcolm was furious, and responded with direct action.
Malcolm knew Stokes personally, and initially planned to retaliate. Upset by our people’s lack of defenses against cops, Malcolm gave fiery speeches nationwide condemning the Stokes’ killing and fighting back against the idea we should not defend ourselves.
This incident would completely alter his perspective.
Malcolm X’s outspokenness on police brutality would influence many, including the generations that would follow.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would draw much of its inspiration from Malcolm when they decided to police the police. He paved the way!
Malcolm X’s militant response to the killing of Ronald Stokes showed he thought there was more to resisting oppression than passivity and non-violence.
Malcolm X encouraged Black people to be ready to fight back “by any means necessary.” That message shouldn’t be lost on us today.