On Wednesday, April 12th Honorable Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found dead in the Hudson River. The police are treating her death as a suicide as there were no apparent signs of trauma. Abdus-Salaam was the first African-American and Muslim woman to serve on the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
Per her biography on the State of New York Court of Appeals website, she was born in Washington D.C. in 1952 and received her Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School in 1977. She was elected to the Civil Court of the City of New York in 1991, and the Supreme Court of New York County in 1993 and 2007. She was then appointed as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department in March 2009 and to the Court of Appeals by Governor Cuomo and confirmed by the State Senate on May 6th, 2013.
Her death is sudden and suspicious given her unique circumstances, according to the 2014 Annual Report of Vital Statistics in New York State women are 1/6th as likely to commit suicide as men and Black and Hispanics are over half as likely to commit suicide. However, the leading external cause of death in New York state in 2014 among Black people is homicide and legal intervention, that is three times more likely than suicide. Whereas suicide is ten times as likely among White people than homicide. Basically, as a Black woman in New York, she is very unlikely to commit suicide and more at risk to be murdered. Additionally, accidental drowning is at the bottom of the published chart and is approximately twenty times less likely than the leading external causes of death across the board.
Being a triple minority, Judge Abdus-Salaam was exemplary of the shift to a progressive political climate. Her death however markedly is a blow for that movement in light of the regression brought on by the Legislative, Judiciary, and Executive branches of government. Although the thought of a political ‘hit’ à la Martin Luther King is possible, the major media has downplayed the possibility. The coverage which normally would be headline news has since been buried by the news of Trump deploying the MOAB the following day. These world-changing events seem to be occurring exponentially and the public has little time to digest the information and ramifications, losing sight of the significance behind them until long after they occur.