Last week news broke that 18-year-old Ben Keita’s body had been found hanging at 50 feet from a tree in Seattle. Most of the world only found out now about Keita’s death, but his body was actually discovered in late January. After a quick investigation by the Snohomish County medical examiner, his death was ruled a suicide. Recently the cause was changed to undetermined. The teen’s family and organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have asked the FBI to investigate the case properly. Who was Ben Keita and why are we just now hearing about the story?
Keita was a young black Muslim. He came from one of Seattle’s marginalized communities whose voices are largely ignored in the media. A bright young man who was going to graduate high school this year, Keita had dreams of becoming a medical examiner. He was so determined to fulfill his goal that he started taking college classes at Everett Community College as a high school student. His family was shocked to hear his death ruled a suicide because they say they never saw signs of depression or mental illness. Keita’s father said he was known by most as a happy young man. The associate medical examiner stated the same. In the autopsy there was no evidence of trauma beyond the hanging.
Amid a recent wave of killings of dark men across America, young activists around the world are now claiming that Ben Keita’s race and religion were the root cause of his death. This shouldn’t be a surprise. We’ve seen the rise of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in this country, which greatly accelerated with the presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump. The FBI reported that overall in the U.S., Islamophobia has increased by 66 percent since the election.
Lynching may sound like a foreign term to many people in 21st century America. Not anymore. The Seattle community is now demanding a proper investigation into Keita’s death. “Black people have been victims of many atrocities including lynching,” said Sundus Ahmed, a student a Highline College in Des Moines, Wa. Young activists say Ben Keita’s death wasn’t the first mysterious death of a Black Muslim in Washington.
In late 2015, 16-year-old Rainier Beach High School student Hamza Warsame was said to have accidentally fallen to his death from the balcony of a classmate’s six-story apartment building. It occurred three days after the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. Warsame, like Keita, was an ambitious young black Muslim who was attending a community college while still in high school, and who had dreams of attending MIT one day.
Authorities ruled his death a suicide after a quick investigation, but the community became outraged. Authorities then investigated again and changed it to an “accidental death.” “Hamza’s death was ruled similarly, and today we are experiencing another recurring problem that has left families and communities devastated,” said Jamal Abdile, a black Muslim student at University of Washington.
Some argue that Keita’s death hasn’t been adequately vocalized by the community. Nafiso Egal and Olivia Smith, both of whom are black students at University of Washington, said that neither Everett Community College nor Lake Stevens High School – both schools that Keita attended – have written letters informing students of his death nor sent condolences to his family.
Students at University of Washington chose to honor Keita’s life by hosting a vigil on campus. Over 70 students and community members came to pay their respects. The Somali Student Association and Black Student Union emphasized their hopes that justice would be served and that Keita would not simply become another statistic. Keita’s family and CAIR have publicly asked for anyone who knows about Keita’s death to contact the police or the FBI’s Seattle office.