Fifty years ago, Nation of Islam Muslims Monroe X Jones and Fred X Jingles were reportedly taking a garment bag from their vehicle outside Mosque, No. 27, at 56th Street and Broadway late on the evening of April 27, 1962, when LAPD officers Frank Tomlinson and Stanley Kensic pulled up in their police cruiser and questioned the two men. The officers frisked the men and asked where the clothes came from.
Jones, according to one report, was about to explain that he worked for a dry cleaner, when the officers decided to separate the Muslims. Jingles reportedly heard one of the officer say, "Let's separate these niggers."
Those words, if true, may have lit the flame that began the worst confrontation between the police and the Nation of Islam in the city's history. Moments later, a fight between the Muslims and the officers ensued. A bystander ran into the temple for help and other Muslims reportedly poured out to join the fight. Two Black officers who worked the area happened upon the melee.
In the fighting, Kensic apparently lost his gun and Tomlinson was shot in the arm.
Police cruisers poured into the area, and some officers ran into the mosque, chasing Muslims who had sought refuge there. Later, officers converged on and ransacked the mosque.
Ronald Stokes, it appears, was shot dead outside the building, and William Rogers was paralyzed by gunshots wounds. Other Muslims were shot or badly injured from beatings. Several officers were also injured.
Depending on reports, Stokes, a Korean War veteran and the mosque secretary, had reportedly complied with police commands and was walking toward officers with his hands above his head, when he was shot at close range.
When the news reached Malcolm X, he said: "I've got to go out there and do what I've been preaching all this time." Elijah Muhammad, then the leader of the Nation of Islam, took a different approach, privately criticizing mosque members for " . . . allowing an aggressor to come into their mosque."
That incident compelled Malcolm X to head to Los Angeles to conduct a press conference at the old Statler Hilton Hotel downtown to protest the killing. "Seven innocent unarmed Black men were shot in cold blood," he told the press.
A telegram from Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP at that time, reluctantly offered the organization's "full support." Later, an all-White coroner's inquest exonerated the officers.
Political leaders saw this early case of police versus civillian violence as a verification of the worst fears about the so-called violent nature of the Nation of Islam.
African American politicians condemned the LAPD for what was considered to be a racially motivated attack. And although many Black Christian leaders were uncertain about the Nation of Islam, they too condemned the shooting.
"We are not brutalized because we are Baptist," Malcolm X said at the press conference. "We are not brutalized because we are Methodist. We are not brutalized because we are Muslim. We are not brutalized because we are Catholic. We are brutalized because we are Black people in America."