Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found dead in the Hudson River back in April. Initially, authorities suggested it looked like suicide but then the NYPD backtracked after an initial autopsy proved inconclusive. Today the city’s medical examiner announced Judge Abdus-Salaam had indeed committed suicide. From the NY Daily News:
Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, whose body was found in the Hudson River in April, drowned herself, the city medical examiner said Wednesday.
Abdus-Salaam, 65, the first African-American woman to serve on the state’s highest court, had struggled with depression, according to some friends and sources.
The Medical Examiner’s office said in a statement that the cause of her death was drowning, and the manner of death was suicide.
But because Judge Abdus-Salaam was the first black woman on New York’s Court of Appeals and because her death happened a few days after another black judge was shot and killed in Illinois, conspiracy theorizing took place in some quarters. On Twitter people suggested it looked more like murder than suicide.
On April 19th, Shaun King gave voice to some of this in an article for the Daily News titled “The many elephants in the room about the suspicious death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.” King agreed it was entirely possible she had killed herself and mentioned her history of depression, but he also wanted to explore other possibilities:
What I am saying is that if Judge Abdus-Salaam was a white atheist man who simply went with the flow of society instead of against it, my base level suspicions surrounding her death simply wouldn’t be as high as they are right now. But she was none of those things. She was a black woman in an age of anti-blackness and white supremacy. She was a woman in an age where violence against women is too often dismissed. She was an anti-corruption judge in a time where our President and his team are under criminal investigation by the FBI.
Sheila Abdus-Salaam may have very well chosen to check out of this world. That was her decision to make, but the troubling reality is that we live in a time where many ugly forces of evil could’ve also seen her as a threat and killed her. Here’s to hoping we get to the bottom of it.
It turns out the “forces of evil” Shaun King was worried about had nothing to do with Judge Abdus-Salaam’s death. The exact reasons for her suicide may never be known, but it seems likely there were more mundane forces involved, i.e. stress and depression. May she rest in peace.