Wednesday, April 28, 2010
It is hard to describe how one feels after hearing news that the man who killed one of the greatest civil rights leaders in history was released from prison. How does one put a time limit on how long an individual should spend caged up like an animal, for taking the life of another human being? Murder is indeed a touchy topic, in the context of this particular case. When a criminal is murdered by another criminal, in the sort of "trick of the trade" type of situation, there is little doubt that the murdered individual had sealed his own fate by the life that he had chosen to lead. But when a man like Malcolm X is murdered, a man who unified a people, brought pride and dignity to a race and wrote one the most inspirational auto-biographies ever written, you tend to wonder, "How in the hell could his assassin ever be released?"
Thomas Hagan, was the only person out of three other assassins, who admitted to the martyrdom of Malcolm X. The day of the murder, Hagan, then known as Talmadge X Hayer, was beaten by the crowd of spectators that had poured out of the Audubon Ballroom, onto the streets of Harlem much like Spike Lee's dramatic depiction, in the movie X. Hagan was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for Malcolm's murder. After being turned down for parole several times during his 40 plus years of incarceration, Hagan was finally released this week. Currently he resides in Brooklyn with his family. While incarcerated he obtained his Masters Degree, has repeatedly expressed remorse for his role in Malcolm's murder and plans on becoming a substance abuse counselor. He attributed his heinous act to impulse, the stupidity of youth and loyalty to religious leaders. Now a 69 year old man, with his life behind him and what I am sure are frightening memories of prison life, the issue of his release has inevitably become a platform for commentary and debate.
Should a murderer be punished based on the life they took and the victims potential impact on the world? Is Thomas Hagan more of an animal then the drug dealer who murders another murdering drug dealer over drug turf, or the organized crime syndicate, who only murder each other, fully aware of the rules of the the life that they had all chosen to lead? When judging Hagan, should we have taken into account the many lives that Malcolm X touched and would have touched had he lived? Should we take into account the demise of African American self-respect and the deterioration of the black family and associate this with the lack of leadership within the black community? A void which could have and should have been filled by Malcolm, had he lived? Do we remember Malcolm's life and the sacrifices he made for his people and despise the criminal justice system for allowing his assailant to walk free, in contrast to a man like Mumia Abu Jamal, currently on death row for the murder of a police office, a case that is full of doubt, yet he is continuously refused a new trial? Or do we forgive Hagan? Realizing that he was a victim of his times, that he was a very young man in his early 20's at the time and that his actions over the last 4 decades have proved that he his no longer a danger to society and that he has is generally sorry of the crime that he committed?
There is a scene in the film X, when Denzel Washington, who plays Malcolm, is sitting in a hotel room, talking to his right hand man on the telephone. It is the evening before his murder. The two men are discussing security arrangements for the following day's meeting at the Audubon Ballroom and his security head, is trying to persuade Malcolm to allow them to search attendees as they entered the building, much in the same fashion that has become the status quo. Malcolm does not allow this to occur. He states "We have to change our way of thinking brother. We don't want black folks killing each other." The irony of these words are chilling, given the nature of his own murder, at the hands of black men, and they still resonate to this day, as we face record numbers of "black on black" crime. Malcolm's killer may be a different man and may plan to spend his last few years trying to help others, but nothing Mr. Hagan does in this life, will ever make up for the life he snuffed out. A life that was suppose to linger on much longer than it did to help our people to reach a higher and deeper level of consciousness.