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Who is Eugene Roberts?

February 8, 2020
4 min read

Malcolm X is an undeniable icon to the black community, and in fact, to the oppressed all over the world. His radical indictment of the Americans, for their racial discrimination, did not go down well with everyone. The vocal man took charge fighting for civil rights of the African-Americans and was ultimately assassinated on 21 February 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom.

Malcolm’s untimely assassination was initially pinned on three individuals Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson. However, now Netflix’s docuseries ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’ has put the incident back in the spotlight. Along with that, Eugene Roberts or Brother Gene is back in the spotlight as well. He was famously photographed trying to resuscitate Malcolm at the assassination. However, in reality, he was an undercover NYPD detective, who was keeping tabs on Malcolm and his organization.

Often considered to be a traitor to his community and race, for doing what he did, Eugene Roberts might not be the most-liked guy, but he has certainly led an interesting life. Read on to find out who Eugene Roberts is.

Who is Eugene Roberts?

Eugene Roberts was a young Navy Vet when he was recruited by BOSS (Bureau of Special Services). This super-secret intelligence department within the NYPD was nicknamed the Red Squad. Roberts served for six years undercover, working for BOSS before he was identified as a cop, rather painfully and publicly.

Soon after he joined BOSS, he was assigned to report on Malcolm X, who had broken away from the Nation of Islam (NOI). Roberts spent a lot of time close to Malcolm as part of his security detail. The undercover cop was affectionately known as Brother Gene and was famous for his quiet competence, and sincerity of allegiance.

At the fateful time of the assassination, Roberts was on a break, when a diversion broke out in the ballroom. It allowed three men to approach the stage and open fire. Roberts threw a chair at Talmadge Hayer, who shot back, missing the undercover cop by inches. Roberts rushed to the stage and attempted mouth to mouth, to resuscitate Malcolm X.

The incident deeply troubled his wife Joan, who was with him at the time, and the horror of Malcolm’s assassination remained with both, for years to come. After this, Roberts was promoted to the rank of a detective and continued undercover work for around three years. His next mission was even more dangerous.

Roberts went undercover with the Black Panthers, becoming one of the founding members of the New York chapter of the Black Panther Party, in July 1968. Little did he know that the ‘Panther 21’ trial, that came later, would ultimately end his stint as an undercover cop. The highly dramatic trial, which included an escape to Algeria and a jail riot, involved Afeni Shakur, and Lumumba Shakur (yes, Afeni is Tupac Shakur’s mother). Roberts was put on the stand, as one of the undercover agents who could give an insight into the operations of the Panthers. His description was very different from what other undercover officers said.

This trial, where Roberts also spoke about how the NYPD failed to take note of his warnings about threats to Malcolm, essentially ended Roberts’ stint as an undercover cop. Other former cops have commented that Roberts struggled with the remaining years on the job. Patrick Harnett, who retired as the chief, said “I was a young cop when I met him. This guy had some pair of balls to do what he did, but he was a nice, unassuming guy. Everybody liked him. But he was basically new to the world of policing. And what makes you a great undercover doesn’t make you a great detective.”

You can check out this clip about Eugene ‘Gene’ Roberts below, talking about the time he spent with Malcolm X.

Where is Eugene Roberts Now?

After the Panther 21 trial, Roberts was assigned detective duties in the Bronx. By then, he developed an alcohol problem, which cost him his marriage. Harnett is of the opinion that the department failed Roberts. He was given medals but never promoted, and when his alcoholism acted up, he was sent to a quiet precinct. Roberts died alone in Virginia in 2008.

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