In late November, young Ben Keita went missing from his home in Lake Stevens, Washington, a small town an hour north of Seattle. “This kid vanished,” a detective told the local newspaper at the time. He was eighteen years old, and he left behind his car, his wallet and cell phone.

For more than a month, search and rescue crews combed through the forests near Keita’s home, and the local police department scoured surveillance footage of the city.

Ben Keita was black. He was Muslim. And in January 2017, his body was found hanging from a tree, suspended eight feet from the ground.

“He was planning to graduate this year from Lake Stevens High School,” Keita’s father Ibrahim told KUOW. “He was dreaming of becoming a medical doctor and work as a medical examiner. Now those dreams are over.”

Keita’s death was initially ruled a suicide by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. Keita’s family maintains that Ben had no history of mental health issues or depression. A few weeks after its initial report, the Medical Examiner’s Office changed the classification of Keita’s death to “undetermined,” despite being hung with a fifty foot rope eight feet from the ground. And despite The United States’ legacy of lynching of Black people from trees by the same white supremacist groups that are feeling emboldened today. 

In a post-Trump world, one in which countless mosques have been burned down, Jewish cemeteries vandalized, and immigrants carry fear in their hearts every day, it takes little imagination to connect the dots and imagine what could possibly cause the death of a young Black, Muslim teen. 

“To be clear we don’t know what happened but we want a comprehensive investigation into [Ben Keita’s] death,” Arsalan Bukhari, the executive director of CAIR-Washington, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday. “This is the death of an African-American Muslim male teenager, and historically, we have had deaths in this manner to minorities that were not self inflicted — it had been inflicted by others.”

In the era between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, thousands of African-American men and women were lynched by white mobs solely because of the color of their skin. “Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials,” according to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based racial justice organization. Tellingly, for example, the Senate never passed any version of the 200 anti-lynching bills introduced at the height of the racial nadir.

“These lynchings were terrorism,” the report states. Along with Jim Crow laws, they were a tool of reinforcing white supremacy in a time of supposed racial progress marked by the passage of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.

Keita’s parents, with support from CAIR-Washington, have asked the FBI to further investigate the circumstances of their son’s death, and ask the public to come forth with any information they might have. 

We do not know why Ben Keita went missing more than three months ago. We do not know why search parties found no trace of him for months, only to find his body hung from a tree in an area that had been searched before. We don’t know why this happened.

We do know that the circumstances of Keita’s death invoke the memory of a long history of racial violence — a history that we might be able to forget most days, but one that resurfaces in the face of our collective amnesia.

In recent weeks, we’ve already seen our president engage in this kind of erasure and selective grievance. President Trump and his administration are quick to mourn (or in some cases create out of thin air) the victims of brown Muslims — hours after the news broke of an attack in front of the Louvre in Paris, the president tweeted about a “radical Islamic terrorist,” urging the United States to “get smart” on its immigration policy, in loud, capital letters.

Yet Trump’s reaction to the murders of six Muslims in a Canadian mosque at the hands of a white supremacist speaks to us through the smoke screen. The shooter is reported to have been a fan of the president and his far-right policies. He opened fire at the mosque on the heels of the President’s xenophobic and Islamophobic executive order on immigration.

Where were Trump’s trademark, caps-lock heavy tweets condemning this violence? Nowhere to be found. And his silence on the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian man killed at the hands of a white supremacist, tells us that the lives and the pain of Muslims, immigrants, black and brown citizens, are easily forgotten and erased.  

“Get out my country,” the shooter in a Kansas bar yelled at Kuchibhotla and his friend– men he mistook for being Iranian.

A country that reached its zenith before the immigrants arrived, before black men and women were freed from the chokehold of Jim Crow, and before Muslims were simply neighbors, friends, co-workers. This is the vision that Trump, sometimes explicitly, and always implicitly, has for America.

And it seems his followers are set out to create just that vision.

Rest in Power, Ben Keita.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.


14 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps you should update your article? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4280766/Muslim-teen-hanged-tree-not-murdered.html

    The FBI said no evidence of a murder. . . you also left out the fact that the young man stopped attending class a few weeks before his disappearance. . . . a clear indication of depression. . . .

    While there have been (and still are) horrific atrocities that go unpunished, and they need to be brought to the light. . . .

    We also need the integrity to admit it when our information was incorrect or incomplete. . . I am saddened by this young man’s death, and I feel horrible for the grief and pain that his family and friends are now going through. . . .

    However, as a suicide, unless you have some evidence that the FBI missed, this was not because he was black, it was not because he was Muslim, and it clearly was not a lynching.

    • The FBI report is not definitive and other news outlets are still questioning the report. (http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/03/us/washington-teen-ben-keita-hanging/) The FBI report had not been released when this article was published. The Daily Mail from the UK is not always a completely reliable source. The FBI only said it concurs with the conclusions of local police that “evidence collected to date does not provide any indication of a criminal act,” but that it would reevaluate its position if new evidence develops. If you read the CNN report, the fact that he “stopped attending class a few weeks before his disappearance” is not considered a “clear indication of depression” as you suggest. We will admit when our information is “incorrect or incomplete” when that actually proves to be the case.

      • Thank you Chicago Monitor for “checking” Mark Brown. It saddens me when people lose sight of the fact that a person has died, his family is grieving, and questions need to be answered.

      • Again. . . I am saddened by this young man’s death . . . and the heartbreak that his family is going through.

        I pray that the truth is revealed.

        I know that if it is not revealed in this world. . . there IS a Judge who will bring justice one day.

        I meant no disrespect. . . . I am simply trying to find a way to open peoples’ eyes on “my side” of the aisle. . . . I am an old white man who did not realize how bad racism still is until very recently. . . . And I am trying to be a voice to those who will listen . . . and I find sadly than many will not. . .

        I only raise the questions because I want to be one who helps bring things into the light. . . even if they are vile and unimaginable.

        Bless you.

    • Perhaps Mark Brown need to take a Dumpf=(DJ TRAMP) and stick his head in the toilet and wash his brain, then he will be able to think a little clearer; because right now he is thinking with a dirty mind. DENY THE TRUTH.

    • UNLESS YOU WERE THERE, YOU CAN’T DIFENDTIVELY SAY IT WAS NOT A HANGING. LET ME EDUCATE YOU, WE DON’T, LET ME REPEAT WE DONR COMMIT OUR SUICIDE BY HANGING, THAT IT WHAT YOU ALL DO.

      • I could use your same logic and say that unless you were there, you can not know that it was a lynching. If it were, I honestly pray to God that the truth come out, and the murderers be brought to justice.

        And regardless of what happened, I pray that this young man’s family gain peace in this horrible tragedy that should never have happened. I lost a cousin to a suicide. . . I know that my aunt and uncle never really got over it. . .

        And again. . . I meant no disrespect . . . I am trying to educate myself so that I can help others fight against racism. I know you don’t know me. . . but I really do mean that.

  2. No question this was a lynching, for 400 or more years this has been gong on in America. Trump and Bannon are the current cause of this. Trump was raised by klansmen. The alt right is the new version of the klan and Bannon is a self proclaimed member of alt right

  3. He was murdered by Caucasian Amerikkkans ‍‍⚕️. You will answer to TMH AHAYAH and you will pay for every non-human,evil unstable action that YOU people ‍‍♀️ Ever done to The Hebrew Israelites ‍ AHAYAH’S CHOSEN PEOPLE….. we Israelites know that you Caucasians ‍like to hang us from a TREE just like you hung YAHSHAYA from a tree.

  4. I cant wait to see the judgement of God and the faces of these wicked devils, children of satan, when God pronounces the fires of hell for all eternity where the worms dieth not and the fire is never quenched, psalms 91, only with our eyes will we behold and see the reward of the wicked

  5. Omg they need to stop bring racism, religion, and politics into this.. It’s literally lake Stevens like NO ONE is racist here except maybe one or two pricks. People are using Bens death as a way to slam Trump. Get off your political high horse honestly. They’re saying “black Muslim teen” when they should be saying “teen, Ben Keita” maybe it was a murder maybe it was suicide. Those who are suicidal usually don’t openly express that, and a murder could be anyone, Jesus 90% of the murder mystery stories are of when a family friend or family member just snap. Idk i’m just saying there are other possibilities besides racism, politics and religion…but that’s all people can seem to focus on. At the end of the day he died. People are forgetting that that is the focus of this not dumbass religion or politics of them whatever. Ben was an awesome kid, funny, a great friend, and just a great person in general. It’s people like the person who wrote this article and the people commenting on this that spread rumors and create threads that aren’t true and spread false accusations. Research before you speak. His family and friends are hurting and all of you were just being rude and forgetting that. He may not be someone in your life that you care about but he someone and someone else’s life that meant the world to them. Be respectful.

  6. It’s kind of sad that I can’t raise questions without someone having to fling insults. . . I read your article carefully. . . Until a year or two ago. . . I was very ignorant of the racism so many face in this day and age. . . My mother taught me better than that. . . I did not realize how foolish and hateful many still are. . . I know that there is a lot of wickedness that still goes on and it is wrong. However, when I did research on this, the family asked the FBI to investigate, and they did so. . . There were no signs of a struggle, no defensive wounds, nothing. What I read said he had no symptoms of depression. . . I have suffered with depression, so I have first hand knowledge of that. . . for someone as intelligent as this young man clearly was, who wanted to go to medical school, to stop attending school for a couple of weeks before he disappeared. . . that IS a symptom of depression. . . One of you wonderful readers wants me to stick my head in a toilet. . . another says that if I was not there, I can not say that it was not a hanging. . . . I am saddened by this young man’s death. If it was a murder, I pray to God that the murderers be brought to justice. But if it were a suicide, perhaps some good can come out of this by making people aware of the symptoms of depression to help another young man before it’s too late.

    I am trying to understand the evils going on in this country. . . and I am trying to get others who have been blind to open their eyes to the vile hatred, bigotry and inequality that are going on in this country. . . .

    But when someone slams me because my skin is too white to understand. . . or tells me that their people don’t commit suicide by hanging, that is what you all do. . . . tell me who the racist people are.

    I am trying to get people to listen. . . I have actually gotten a number of people to at least begin to listen. . .

    But when I get hatred back for asking (what are for me) honest questions. . . I have to stop and ask is it worth it. . . .

    I really am sorry for the wickedness being done. . . . and I want to see a change. . .

  7. this was me neighbor.. may his memory be a blessing.. and may news articles stop EXPLOITING THIS FAMILIES PAIN for political reasons.. this is another example of fake news lets get some facts straight..

    the kid was watching his siblings.. his parents got home late that night (midnight) they went to sleep.. that morning they noticed he was gone…which means at some point he left that house with out keys wallet phone car etc… and went for a walk…. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.. how can a few KKK members determine if he was muslim? so bringing up his islamic religion is irrelevant… you can barely tell that family was muslim.. they dont wear traditional muslim clothing nor do they wear signs that say “Im a muslim” so how would one know? secondly.. this happened DURING OBAMA’s PRESIDENCY so how can we blame trump? THIS IS FAKE NEWS and CHICAGO MONITOR SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF SPREADING their bigotry and lies … this murder happened way before trump was president.. and in ALL the articles Post-Trump.. his islamic religion was NEVER mentioned.. it wasn’t until after trump became president websites started RE-Reporting on this situation with their political spin..

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