Nation of Islam member Ronald Stokes, who was also known as Ronald X Stokes, was fatally shot by Los Angeles police on April 27, 1962, triggering protests and a battle between the Los Angeles Police Department and the NOI.
Police claimed it was a matter of mistaken identity and that they shot in self-defense. They claimed that they thought the group of Muslims removing clothes from a car outside a Los Angeles mosque were criminals. Patrolmen Frank Tomlinson and Stanley Kensic approached Monroe X Jones and Fred X Jingles as they unloaded clothing out of the back of a Buick by the NOI mosque in South Los Angeles, New America reported. An altercation between the NOI members and 75 police ensued. The incident escalated to a police raid inside the mosque. In the end, seven Muslims were shot, one killed, and one paralyzed from a bullet wound to the back.
William X Rogers was left paralyzed, and mosque secretary Ronald X Stokes was killed, shot through the heart as he walked toward officer Donald Weese with his palms raised in the air, the NOI claimed.
Weese, on the other hand, told an all-white coroner’s jury that Stokes “came towards me, chanting. He put his hands out … I thought he was going to choke me,” New America reported.
News of Stokes’s death engaged the NOI and Malcolm X, the NOI’s national representative, into a call for justice for their fallen Muslim brother and a call for an end to police brutality against Black people.
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Malcolm X was in New York when he heard the news of Stokes’ death and he gathered NOI Fruit of Islam soldiers and headed straight to Los Angeles. Although the NOI leader Elijah Muhammad reported warned Malcolm not to “go to war,” Malcolm was determined to hold the LAPD accountable, according to the book “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.” by Peniel Joseph, excepted by Literary Hub.
Upon arrival in L.A., Malcolm held a press conference describing the melee between “devout Muslim worshippers, fresh from evening service, and gun-toting police officers as an act of racist violence,” according to “The Sword and the Shield.”
Malcolm also challenged LAPD police chief William Parker’s version of events. Parker described Stokes and the six other men who were shot as anti-white militants who prayed for “the destruction of the Caucasian race.”
Malcolm claimed that Stokes had been savagely beaten in the head with a nightstick after he had been shot. “The police went wild—went mad—that night,” he claimed. Malcolm compared the LAPD’s history of violence against Black people to the Gestapo tactics of Nazi Germany, “The Sword and The Shield” wrote.
During the press conference, Malcolm X read a telegram from Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP, which termed Soke’s death the result of “police brutality.”
“Never in history,” said the Wilkins telegram, the Independent reported, “has the NAACP withheld condemnation of and action against police brutality because of race or color and it will not do so now.”
Malcolm X accused the LAPD of shooting down “seven innocent unarmed Black men.” Malcolm had founded the Los Angeles temple five years before the death of Stokes and knew him personally.
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During the eulogy at the funeral of Stokes on May 22, 1962, Malcolm described him as “a brother who was one of the most religious persons, who displayed the highest form of morals of any black person anywhere on this Earth… everyone who knew him had to give him credit for being a good man, a clean man, an intelligent man, and an innocent man when he was murdered.”
Malcolm X also praised civil rights organizations standing by the NOI’s fight against police brutality in the case of Stokes. “The so-called Negro organizations and leaders should be given great credit for their failure or refusal to let the white man divide them and use them one against the other during this crisis,” he said.
Malcolm told the 2,000 people who attended Stokes’ funeral that Black people were being “brutalized because we are Black people in America.” He added, Black communities were living in “a police state.”
Malcolm launched a nationwide speaking tour that turned Ronald Stokes into a major figure in a larger civil rights struggle.
“Malcolm transformed Stokes’s death into a political indictment against American democracy, linking systemic police violence in Black Los Angeles to structural inequalities that, he argued, gripped every facet of American society,” “The Sword and the Shield” stated.