The grandson of a civil rights legend lost his life because he was targeted as a foreigner in one of the oldest scams around. Could this have happened to you? Don’t let it.
When word first surfaced that Malcolm Shabazz, the 29-year-old grandson of civil rights icon Malcolm X, had been killed in Mexico City, more than a few jumped to the conclusion that he had been “assassinated” by nameless sinister forces associated with “the government.”
It does indeed appear that the unfortunate young Mr. Shabazz was targeted. Not by some nefarious all-seeing spy agency, but by a couple of bar girls from one of Mexico City’s more notorious neighborhoods.
They apparently lured him and a Mexican friend to a dive called the Palace Bar, not far from Plaza Garibaldi, a popular tourist spot famed for its strolling mariachi musicians. There, they hung out with the girls until about 3 a.m., when the waiters presented them with their bill: an outrageous $1,200.
When they refused to pay up, things turned deadly.
This scam as old as alcohol itself, and you don’t have to be in Mexico to run afoul of it.
There’s not a thing wrong with hitting the clubs and partying when you travel. If you let yourself get too relaxed, however, you very easily could walk face-first into trouble you never saw coming.
In Mexico City, the Palace Bar is in a neighborhood called Tepito, whose reputation for crime predates the arrival of Cortez and the Spanish conquistadores. When tourists wander into areas like this, it’s like dropping Charlie the Tuna in front of Jaws. The results are predictable.
But you don’t have to be a tourist.
A good friend of mine, a professional photographer from Britain who had worked in some of the most dangerous settings in the world, decided to live in Mexico City and work as a freelancer. Smart and streetwise as he was, though, even he wandered into places with his cameras where he shouldn’t have gone.
He ended up being mugged, twice, losing his gear and some of his teeth.
As a traveler, you don’t have home-field advantage. You always need to know where you are — and where you shouldn’t be.
How do you find that out?
Do a little research before you leave home. Consult a good guide, such as those published in book form or online by Frommer’s or Lonely Planet. Tap into Trip Advisor on the Web.
Once you’re “in country,” ask around. You can always find someone knowledgable willing to steer you away from trouble. And always be aware of your surroundings. Neighborhoods can go from pristine to problematic in as little as one block.
Some guys will all the warning signs. They think they’re invulnerable, too smart, too “badass,” too something. They do their deepest thinking somewhere south of their beltlines.
You know what I’m talking about.
As a mainstream journalist, I saw a lot of guys like that over the years. Mostly, I saw their names, on police reports…or death certificates.
The death of Malcolm Shabazz is a cautionary tale of what can befall travelers who let their guards down.
Whenever you go in the world, you’re free to throw caution to the wind. Just know that the wind may not return it.