Malcolm may have publicly commanded his followers to obey the law, but this did little to lessen suspicion of the Muslims by law enforcement in major cities. Nowhere did tensions run hotter than in Los Angeles, where Malcolm had established Temple No. 27 in 1957. For most whites who migrated to the city, Los Angeles was the quintessential city of dreams. For black migrants, the city of endless possibilities offered some of the same Jim Crow restrictions they had sought to escape by moving west. As early as 1915, black Los Angeles residents were protesting against racially restrictive housing covenants. such racial covenants as well as blatant discrimination by real estate firms continued to be a problem well into the 1960s. The real growth of the black community in Southern California only began to take place during the two decades after 1945. During this twenty-year period, when the black population of New York City increased by nearly 250 percent, the black population of Los Angeles jumped 800 percent. Blacks were also increasingly important in local trade unions, and in the economy generally. For example, between 1940 and 1960, the percentage of black males in LA working as factory operatives increased from 15 percent to 24 percent; the proportion of African-American men employed in crafts during the same period rose from 7 percent to 14 percent. By 1960, 468,000 blacks resided in Los Angeles County. approximately 20 percent of the county’s population.
These were some of the reasons that Malcolm had invested so much energy and effort to build the NOI's presence in Southern California, and especially the development of Mosque No. 27. Having recruited the mosque’s leaders, he flew out to settle a local factional dispute in October 1961. Such activities were noticed and monitored by the California Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, which feared that the NOI had “Communist affiliations.” The state committee concluded that there was an “interesting parallel between the Negro Muslim movement and the Communist Party, and that is the advocacy of the overthrow of a hated regime by force, violence or any other means.” On September 2, 1961, several Muslims selling Muhammad Speaks in a South Central Los Angeles grocery store parking lot were harassed by two white store detectives. The detectives later claimed that when they had attempted to stop the Muslims from selling the paper, they were “stomped and beaten.” The version of this incident described in Muhammad Speaks was strikingly different, with the paper claiming that “the two ‘detectives’ produced guns, and attempted to make a ‘citizen’s arrest.’ Grocery packers rushed out to help the detectives . . . and black residents of the area who had gathered also became involved. For 45 minutes bedlam reigned.” About forty Los Angeles Police Department officers were dispatched to the scene to restore order. Five Muslims were arrested. At their subsequent trial, the store’s owner and manager confirmed that the NOI had been given permission to peddle their newspapers in the parking lot. An all-white jury acquitted the Muslims on all charges.
Following the parking lot mêlée, the LAPD was primed for retaliation against the local NOI. The city’s police commissioner, William H. Parker, had even read Lincoln’s The Black Muslims in America, and viewed the sect as subversive and dangerous, capable of producing widespread unrest. He instructed his officers to closely monitor the mosque’s activities, which is why, just after midnight on April 27, 1962, when two officers observed what looked to them like men taking clothes out of the back of a car outside the mosque, they approached with suspicion. What happened next is a matter of dispute, yet whether the police were jumped, as they claimed, or the Muslim men were shoved and beaten without provocation, as seems likely, the commotion brought a stream of angry Muslims out of the mosque. The police threatened to respond with deadly force, but when one officer attempted to intimidate the growing crowd of bystanders, he was disarmed by the crowd. Somehow one officer's revolver went off, shooting and wounding his partner in the elbow. Backup squad cars soon arrived ferrying more than seventy officers, and a full-scale battle ensued. Within minutes dozens of cops raided the mosque itself, randomly beating NOI members. It took fifteen minutes for the fighting to die down. In the end, seven Muslims were shot, including NOI member William X Rogers, who was shot in the back and paralyzed for life. NOI officer Ronald Stokes, a Korean War veteran, had attempted to surrender to the police by raising his hands over his head. Police responded by shooting him from the rear; a bullet pierced his heart, killing him. A coroner’s inquest determined that Stokes’s death was “justifiable.” A number of Muslims were indicted.
News of the raid shattered Malcolm; he wept for the reliable and trustworthy Stokes, whom he had known well from his many trips to the West Coast. The desecration of the mosque and the violence brought upon its members pushed Malcolm to a dark place. He was finally ready for the Nation to throw a punch. Malcolm told Mosque No. 7’s Fruit of Islam that the time had come for retribution, an eye for an eye, and he began to recruit members for an assassination team to target LAPD officers. Charles 37X, who attended one of these meetings, recalled him in a rage, shouting to the assembled Fruit, “What are you here for? What the hell are you here for?” As Louis Farrakhan related, “Brother Malcolm had a gangsterlike past. And coming into the Nation, and especially in New York, he had a tremendous sway over men that came out of the street with gangster leanings.” It was especially from these hardened men that Malcolm demanded action, and they rose to his cry. Mosque No. 7 intended to “send somebody to Los Angeles to kill [the police] as sure as God made green apples,” said James 67X. “Brothers volunteered for it.”