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By Simon Gardner and Gabriel Stargardter
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Left crumpled in the gutter after an ill-fated visit to a seedy club in a rough part of Mexico City, the grandson of murdered U.S. civil rights leader Malcolm X lay dying engulfed in the stench of sewage and a blaring cacophony of Mariachi music.
He was beaten to death early on Thursday morning, police say, in an ignominious end to a short, tormented life flecked with tragedy.
Malcolm Shabazz, who was convicted of manslaughter as a 12-year-old for setting a fire that killed his grandmother, was in Mexico City to visit Miguel Suarez, an immigration activist who was recently deported from the United States.
On Wednesday night, the pair visited the run-down area around Plaza Garibaldi, a popular tourist area where Mariachi music groups play on the streets amid seedy strip clubs, dive bars and bordellos.
Despite its proximity to the city's grand colonial center, the area is infamous for petty crime.
Shabazz, who Mexican police say was 29, and Suarez strayed into Palace, a karaoke bar-cum-brothel away from the main drag. Police say they drank beer in the club and media reports said they then clashed with management over the bill.
The Mexican attorney general's office has opened a murder investigation, saying Shabazz had been in "a place of entertainment, drinking beers" and that he suffered several injuries, apparently from blows.
Terrie Williams, a friend of the Shabazz family, said she had no details of the circumstances behind the death. She was unaware if his family, which Reuters was not immediately able to reach, had any details.
"This is a family that has experienced extraordinary trauma and pain over the years," said Williams, who issued a brief statement on behalf of the Shabazz family following news of the death.
Efforts by Reuters to contact Miguel Suarez were not successful.
Two doors down from the Palace club, just past gay nightclub Divercity, garage attendant Mario Tzompantzi recalled how he had turned in for the night, bedding down in a tiny cubby hole where he guards patrons' keys.
"I woke up because there was a commotion. I could see him lying on the floor. There were lots of people crowded around him," Tzompantzi, 41, told Reuters.
"He was lying right there," he said, pointing to the kerb leading into the garage. A pool of greenish-yellow car radiator fluid now marks the spot. "I couldn't tell if he had been beaten up or run over by a car."
"He's dead?" he added, clearly shocked. "But he was alive there on the ground when the ambulance came and took him away."
He and others in the area described Palace as a brothel.
"When you go to a bar like that, you expose yourself," said Alberto Gomez, a spokesman for the Mexico City police.
Fights at Mexico City strip clubs are fairly frequent. Booze-fueled patrons who buy drinks for the women working in the clubs can find themselves confronted with staggering bills they cannot pay.
FAMILY AREA MEETS DARK UNDERBELLY
Police have sealed Palace, its neon sign extinguished. At the door, two agents sat like menacing bouncers on Friday night, filling their clips with bullets. Their unmarked car blocked the entrance.
Dozens of Mariachi bands play for a fee in Plaza Garibaldi, competing to drown each other out. Vendors hawk hats and rugs, and families in party attire mill about while their children play on the ground with toys.
Beside them, club promoters hand out flyers emblazoned with pictures of near naked women.
It was a seedy end for Shabazz, who spent years in juvenile detention after being convicted of manslaughter and arson for the fire that killed his grandmother Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's widow.
Malcolm X was an outspoken leader of the Nation of Islam and is also known by his Muslim name, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He was shot to death in 1965 at a speaking engagement in New York and three men were convicted of the murder.
Staff at the Divercity club said the spot was closed in the early hours of Thursday when Shabazz was dumped on the sidewalk.
"There used to be lots of fights around here, but then they outlawed drinking openly in Plaza Garibaldi, and it's quieter now," said Sergio Adrian, a Mariachi dressed in a cowboy hat, orange leather jacket and pointed white boots and lugging a battered bass.
Several people Reuters spoke to in the area said they heard a young man had died after jumping out of a window when drunk.
"That's the story I've heard. That he was so drunk, that he opened a window and jumped out," said 31-year-old Javier Angeles, who stood on the far side of the main road from Palace, waving down taxis for customers leaving the square. He described Palace as a "place for adults, not a family place."
But there are no windows above the area where Shabazz lay dying, and others had no doubt he was murdered.
"Here they kill you and nobody even realizes," said 48-year-old local Antonio Moncada, as he stood outside Palace. "On a Sunday, a Tuesday, at any time of the day."
(Reporting by Simon Gardner and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Kieran Murray, Frances Kerry and Sandra Maler)