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National civil rights organizations call for investigation into American Muslim teenager’s death

Ben Keita was found hanging in the woods after missing for a month. His death may have been a hate crime.

Dear Mayor Spencer:

The undersigned advocacy, civil rights, community, and faith-based groups are deeply saddened and troubled by the tragic death of a young African-American Muslim teenager in Lake Stevens, 18-year-old Ben Keita. We write to respectfully urge you to direct your police department to investigate objectively, thoroughly, and efficiently to ensure that justice is served for the victims and their families.

According to media reports and accounts from family members, Mr. Keita was reported missing in November of last year, having left home without his car, wallet, and phone. Over a month after his disappearance, Mr. Keita’s body was found hanging from a tree in the woods. We were disappointed to hear that local officials quickly ruled out the possibility of a bias motivated crime in the case when the medical examiner first classified the manner of his death as “suicide.” Now that the Snohomish County Medical Examiner has changed the classification to “undetermined,” it is critical that local and federal law enforcement officials thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr. Keita’s death.

The death of this young man comes during a time when hate crimes against Muslims, African Americans, and immigrants are occurring at alarming rates in this country. Hateful rhetoric and violence has quickly swept across the United States, and many communities feel fearful. In particular, faith communities have recently been the victims of violent attacks:

  • Jewish centers and institutions have received over 75 bomb threats since the beginning of this year, and at least three Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized;
  • A mosque in Tampa, Florida was intentionally set on fire causing significant damage to a prayer hall; and,
  • Mosques around the country have received threatening letters and messages.

As organizations that work with and represent affected communities, we cannot underscore enough the need for both federal and local law enforcement to conduct an unbiased and exhaustive investigation in this case. It is not sufficient for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to simply review the matter. If there is any evidence to suggest that Mr. Keita’s death was motivated by bias, federal and state hate crime legislation require that this incident be prosecuted as a hate crime.

Sincerely,

Muslim Advocates
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good
Center for New Community
Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, California State University San Bernardino
Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Muslim Community Network
Muslim Wellness Foundation
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Network for Arab American Communities
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
OneAmerica
Progressive Congress Action Fund
The Sikh Coalition
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights