Raymond Wood had cancer in 2011, so he wrote a letter. At least that’s what we’re told. And that’s why it’s a problem now.
The 2011 letter by the now-dead officer, Raymond A. Wood, stated that Wood had been compelled by his supervisors at the New York Police Department to coax two members of Malcolm X’s security team into committing crimes, leading to their arrests just a few days before the assassination. They were then unable to secure the entry to New York’s Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X had been speaking when he was killed.
If true, this is huge. And it may very well be true. The NYPD wasn’t a big fan of Malcolm X and the idea that they and the FBI would be integral in his assassination isn’t exactly surprising.
Wood maintained that the arrests were part of a conspiracy by the NYPD and the FBI to murder Malcolm X, who had become disenchanted with the Nation of Islam and left the Black separatist group to start his own organization, the Muslim Mosque.
“I was a black New York City undercover police officer between May of 1964 through May of 1971,” Wood’s letter began. “I participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to my own black people. … Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts.”
Wood said he was hired by the NYPD to infiltrate the civil rights groups “to find evidence of criminal activity, so the F.B.I. could discredit and arrest its leaders.”
Could this have actually happened? You bet it could. But did it?
The letter was presented at a news conference Saturday in New York by Malcolm X’s three daughters and civil rights attorney Ben Crump. A cousin of Wood, Reggie Wood, joined them in revealing the letter’s contents at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, on the site where the Audubon Ballroom once stood.
Raymond Wood, who had written the letter shortly after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, had stipulated to his cousin that he did not want his involvement to be made public until after his death. His cancer went into remission in 2012, and he did not die until Nov. 24, 2020.
We now have a letter, with a story behind its writing and its revelation. But Ray Wood has passed away. No one can ask any questions of Ray Wood. No one can get any more information. No one can prove him a liar or prove him a truth teller. And that’s the problem.
There is, according to Cy Vance, an active and ongoing investigation into the death of Malcolm X, and perhaps there is evidence, information buried somewhere in a paper file in an archive deep in the belly of 1 Police Plaza, that will confirm the letter, prove NYPD involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X. Perhaps the letter is one more piece to the puzzle of what happened back in 1965.
Some will remember when the Erllichman story broke about how Nixon’s War on Drugs was an intentional effort to put black people in prison. The problem was that this huge revelation was based on Dan Baum writing for Harpers in 2016 about an interview he claims occurred in 1994 with Erlichman. The scoop wasn’t published then, but only after Erlichman died. That made it a double problem, requiring one to not only believe what Baum wrote but believe that if Erlichman in fact said what Baum says he said, Erlichman was telling the truth.
This presents much the same problem. But just as the Erlichman revelation has since morphed from dubious and dubiously presented claim into mythical reality, people tend to forget the circumstances surround the revelation when they really want the revelation to be true.
One might expect that, if Wood’s letter was real and accurate, there would have been some evidence of NYPD’s complicity in the murder of Malcolm X. There have always been controversial claims swirling around it, but nothing concrete until now. Here’s a letter. Here’s a name, a person. Here’s a smoking gun. If it’s true. If Wood was alive, perhaps there would be a way to validate the claims, but he’s not.
If could be that Vance will find something, and if so, reveal it. There ought to be evidence buried somewhere if the NYPD did something so horrific as to facilitate the murder of Malcolm X. There ought to be one other person, still alive, willing to come forward to confirm what Wood wrote. But if Vance comes up empty, and no one steps forward, and there is nothing more than a letter written in 2011 by a guy who is no longer with us, will this become the legend anyway?